17 Ways To Shift Criticism To Maintain A Healthy Relationship
What is criticism?
Criticism is the act of focusing on your partner’s flaws and passing judgment. Over time, a critical stance can turn into a habit of disapproving, critiquing, correcting, blaming, nitpicking, or trying to fix your significant other.
Is criticism something that comes with a relationship? Do you simply have to learn how to take criticism in a relationship?
In my previous article, How To Know If You Are Too Critical In Relationship & Why, I offered 10 signs to tell if you might be highly critical, which will help you identify whether or not you may be more critical than you think. I also provided 16 reasons why people are highly critical, which will help you understand if you fit in with this particular group of people.
What criticism feels like to your partner.
You may feel like things are degrading, hurtful, cutting, demeaning, and painful- especially if there is constant criticism in your relationship. When your partner is constantly remarking about your flaws and blaming you for your shortcomings, it’s very difficult to feel supported, respected, and loved. Most people want to feel positive feelings and a loving bond with their partner, and this is very difficult to accomplish within a constant criticism relationship climate. It can be incredibly painful to feel scrutinized and judged by the person you love the most.
In today’s article, I am going to discuss why criticism is a problem in an intimate relationship and what you can do to replace being critical.
Why Is Criticism A Problem?
At times, a critical remark or tone may seem innocent enough, but when we look at the cumulative effect of criticism we see how damaging and destructive it can be. Criticism does not offer constructive feedback or useful information for improvement or growth. It doesn’t demonstrate goodwill, nor is it encouraging. More than anything, criticism breaks down the strength of the emotional bond and connection between two people who love each other. Over time, criticism can be deadly to a relationship.
Criticism is thought to be a major predictor of divorce.
John Gottman, a prominent relationship researcher and psychologist, claims that criticism is a major predictor of divorce; as criticism is usually the culprit of other destructive behaviors. When someone hears criticism from their partner, they have a natural response to feel defensive or to shut down. In more extreme cases, criticism leads to distance and disdain.
Gottman teaches about the “Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse,” which are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. In a series of short videos, Gottman talks briefly about each behavior and offers examples from his research. In video one, he discusses criticism and contempt. In the second video, he talks about defensiveness and stonewalling.
What to do instead of experiencing constant criticism in relationship:
I highly recommend reading How To Know If You Are Too Critical In Relationship & Why, as it will give you some context for the following suggestions.
For a quick and easy reference tool, download this 1-page chart Shifting Criticism To Maintain A Healthy Relationship (you will be asked for your email address). On one side of the chart, you will be shown what criticism looks like and on the other side you will be shown what to do instead of taking criticism in a relationship.
17 Ways To Shift Criticism To Maintain A Healthy Relationship:
1. Focus on what you CAN control. If you like to be in control, remind yourself to look at the difference between what you have control over and what you don’t. Remember the serenity prayer?
2. Learn to practice acceptance. Fighting for what you cannot change or control will only cause more struggle and pain. If you can learn to accept the things you cannot change, you will be more likely to put your energy into more positive and constructive outcomes. You will have more strength, depth, resilience, and flexibility than you think you have.
3. Challenge yourself to share. You and your partner are creating a dynamic together. If you are dominating the relationship and your partner is not getting what he/she wants, then your partner is probably not going to be in the happy long-term. If your partner is unhappy, then your relationship will not be happy and healthy. Wouldn’t you rather have a mutually rewarding and beneficial dynamic, where both of you are happy and fulfilled?
4. See the value in having different opinions. If you think your way is right, then you probably value your opinion and your thinking. Wonderful! Now, try to see the merit in your partner’s perspective and preferences. As an exercise, try putting the quality of your relationship bond as the priority above being right. Ask yourself, what is more important- being right or being happy?
5. Learn the significance of your reactions. If you are having a strong judgment or criticism of your partner, then take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself, “How come this issue is so important to me? What meaning does this concern have for me? How come I am so sensitive to this issue? Am I making my partner’s shortcomings my problem?”
6. Give yourself support. If you are anxious and trying to control the world around you (to feel more comfortable), you may not even realize how you are feeling. Pause. Breath. Ask yourself, “What am I really feeling? What am I worried, anxious, or fearful about?” Be there for yourself. Attend to your needs. Practice self-care (i.e. set limits on your amount of giving, get good rest, nutrition, activity, etc.).
7. Learn to appreciate you. Do you struggle with feelings of inadequacy or insecurity? Learn to develop a more acknowledging inner voice. Acknowledge three things you appreciate about yourself every day.
8. Learn to value what you have to offer. Create a list of 10 ways you bring contributions to others. Stay with it until you get 10 or more. Sometimes it is hard to generate ideas of self-appreciation because you are not used to thinking in this way. If you stay with it long enough, you will begin to recognize more ways you bring value to the world.
9. Learn to have a constructive inner voice. A critical inner dialogue constantly critiques and corrects in ways that are undermining to your self-esteem and self-confidence (i.e. “You idiot. You are so stupid. You fool.”). How do you reframe your critical statements? What would be a kinder, more gentle statement? Focus on how to improve. Be encouraging. Believe in yourself. Build your self-esteem and inner security.
10. Focus on the relationship. If you are in the habit of critiquing, correcting, and criticizing, try pausing before commenting. Think and consider what you want to say to your partner. Reframe your original judgments. If you were to put your judgments into positive language, then what would you say? Create a climate for learning, patience, and kindness. Focus on behaviors that foster a healthy, happy, rewarding relationship.
11. Practice forgiveness. Can it be forgiven? If not, set-up a time to address the concern constructively. Create an attitude of generosity.
12. Learn to reveal what is true. Learn how to be more open, transparent, and present. If you take a risk to be open and present to the people you trust, you will increase the likelihood of being received, loved, and appreciated for being yourself without any pretense. By doing this, you will build healthy trust from your partner.
13. See the value in your partner. Shift towards an appreciation. List three positive aspects of your partner or the situation. Catch your partner doing something good. And sincerely offer appreciation to her/him.
14. Let your partner be them. Let you be you. Acknowledge to yourself, “If it were me, I would do things differently. However, it is not me in this situation.” Respect your partner’s autonomy. Would you feel different if you knew you were not responsible for what your partner is thinking or how they are behaving?
15. Try a 7-day fast of no criticism to break old habits. Be in the practice of looking for the good in others and within your life. This will help retrain your mind.
16. Choose criticism free times or zones. Make an agreement with yourself and/or your spouse to have times where you will not engage in critical comments. For example, an hour before bedtime, in the morning, or after dinner.
17. Practice gratitude. Bringing your attention to something you are grateful for is one of the quickest and most powerful ways to shift your mindset. Try to identify a few things that you are genuinely grateful for. Take it one step further and feel what it feels like to be truly grateful. If this is a difficult task, perhaps experiment with keeping a gratitude journal for 30 days.
Bonus- Practice this over and over again.
Are you interested in getting support to eliminate constant criticism in your relationship? If so, you can contact me here. Let’s have a conversation to see how I might be able to help. It’s free and there are no obligations.
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