Criticism Can be Harmful
Criticism can be incredibly toxic and painful in a relationship. In fact, Drs John and Julie Gottman found that it’s one of the top four predictors of divorce. There is nothing more harmful than your partner exaggerating and berating you with critical comments. As I mentioned, they lead to feelings of disapproval, mistake, blame, and defectiveness. These leave long term and painful wounds in your relationship. They bring about a sense of distrust towards yourself and your partner
Talking to your partner is and can be tough, especially if you’re going to critique them. It always runs the risk of them taking it the wrong way and getting upset. As a counselor, I personally believe it is perfectly fine to talk about the toughest of tough subjects with your partner. I’m fully aware that not all therapists believe divulging critical or negative information between a couple is necessary. However, I believe once safety and understanding are established, couples should have the strength and ability to talk about even the toughest and most critical topics. But how you talk about these topics is what makes the difference.
How You Bring Up Criticisms Makes All the Difference
Criticism is not always a bad thing, and can be a tool to inspire acknowledgement, growth, responsibility and appreciation. If you take the word criticism and switch it with critique, evaluation, or comment the word loses some of its power. Now when you use an “I statement” – I feel, I believe, I need, etc…the criticism loses all power – and it loses a lot of possibility to hurt.
Taking a relatively harsh form of communication and finding growth, connection and understanding takes change and commitment. You can start simply by changing ‘you never’ or ‘you always’ statements. Partners should want to make this change; each of you should want the most optimal forms of communication and connecting.
Gentle Startup Fixes Criticisms
The Gottman’s state, if you use a ‘gentle startup’ towards your partner you can work through the critical conflict. This is simply begins with using an I statement (I feel left out when you hang out with your friends on the weekend) and putting your need (I would appreciate it if we could spend some time together this weekend before or after you see your friends) out there to your partner. The partner’s responsibility is to hear the statement, acknowledge what their partner is feeling and then assess the need and compromise how the need can be met.
This is simple people! Give it a try. You won’t believe how easy it is to talk about differences or issues without criticism. You can talk to each other without hurting or damaging your partner or relationship.
Tristan Beymer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and marriage and family counselor at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She specializes in helping couples rebuild their relationship to be strong, healthy and passionate. She also works with individuals to overcome difficulties related to trauma and addictions.