17 Ways To Shift Criticism To Maintain A Healthy Relationship

By Posted in - Blog & Criticism in a Relationship & Relationships October 26th, 2015 12 Comments constant criticism in relationship

What is criticism?

Criticism is the act of focusing on your partner’s flaws and passing judgment. Over time, this stance of constant criticism in relationship can turn into deeper habits of disapproving, critiquing, correcting, blaming, nitpicking or trying to fix your significant other.

Is criticism something that automatically comes with every relationship? Do you simply have to learn how to take it and just deal with it?

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 helps to identify whether or not you may be more critical than you think. I also provided 16 reasons why people are highly critical, which helps to understand if the behavior is more common for you than not.

What criticism feels like to your partner.

constant criticism in relationshipYou 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 painful and 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 in relationship climate. It can be incredibly painful to feel scrutinized and judged by the person you love the most.

In this article, I am going to discuss why constant criticism in relationship is a problem and what you can do to make a shift in your behavior.

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.
constant criticism in relationshipJohn 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.

Also, you can download this guide: 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 constant criticism in 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?

constant criticism in relationship2. 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?”

how to take criticism in relationship6. 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.

how to take criticism in a relationship11. 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.

how to take criticism in a relationship16. 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 gratitude 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.

Thank you for taking the time to improve the quality of your life and relationships. Please Click here to subscribe if you would like to receive free articles and podcast conversations about how to have an empowered, lasting and loving relationship.

Thank you. ❤

(12) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Zoe - Reply

    July 18, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Agree with you critical people are insecure themselves, they want to bring people to their level,it can destroy the partner who receive s this constant barrage of criticism.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      July 19, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Zoe,

      Thank you for commenting. Yes, often times people attack when they are feeling afraid and/or insecure. Unfortunately, many people do not know how to advocate for their needs or ask for what they want directly and proactively. I am sorry if you have been hurt by this painful dynamic. You are right…it does damage the love and connection within a partnership. Hopefully, you are getting support to shift this dynamic.

  • Angel - Reply

    October 5, 2016 at 2:40 am

    I do this a lot with my partner and I am not sure what fuels it. Part of me feels like as the person closest to him I am helping him by pointing out what he could do better (he is the kind of person that needs encouragement often) because I know he is capable of more but is simply being lazy or not expressing himself to his potential.
    However, I know i overdo it a lot and must ‘ choose my battles.’ I sometimes think an underlying feeling is that I simply do not think he is ‘good enough’ for me on some level. And so I am constantly frustrated. Its such toxic behaviour and my final thoughts are always – if all this annoys you about him, either break up with him or learn to let it go because I am probably damaging him. Would you agree these are my best options? How can I stop my toxic behaviour without feeling like I am repressing my issues with him 🙁

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      October 19, 2016 at 8:59 pm

      Hi Angel, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your reaching out. By chance, have you listened to my podcast…Empowered Relationship? I offer a lot of feedback on these types of relationship dynamics? https://drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

  • Eli huff - Reply

    October 31, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I am the critical person in the relationship. ..with my wife and my oldest daughter. I feel like I have not tried hard enough to develop the skills of communication based in acceptance. I believe my critical nature has to do with high expectations….I get irritated and lash out because this or that is not being done at the time I believe it should….I am big on structure..and the idea of having a method to “success”. I think I need help with accepting my wife and daughter as they are…without freaking out. How do I do that? ..without medication.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      November 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

      Hi Eli, Thank you for your comment and reaching out. I would love to be of support. If you are looking for more tips and tools, you might my podcast to be helpful. There are several episodes on criticism. Here is the link: https://drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/. You can also search Empowered Relationship on iTunes, Google Play, and other podcast players. If you are looking for some direct support to develop a customized plan and guidance in implementing the strategies, please email me at [email protected]. Thank you.

  • Cal Cullen - Reply

    November 8, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    This was very helpful to read. I have been with my partner for over three years and have known her for more than ten. It has begun to feel like I am receiving more criticism, more often from her although we still love each other and enjoy one another’s company. The critiques are not large character or cutting attacks on me as a person, but largely on what I do on a day-to-day basis which I am realizing still has a big impact on me over time. Either I did not recognize these things earlier in our relationship, I have changed since we began dating, or I am more sensitive to these remarks the more I think about the future I want to build with her. We agreed from the beginning that we chose to be with each other since we began dating later in life, and that we would communicate, however, the form of daily criticism is having a profound impact on my self esteem and sense of love in the relationship. I want to own my part of what is spurring this, but I also don’t think this kind of dynamic is healthy for either of us in the long term. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      November 24, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Cal, Thank you for your comment and reaching out. I understand this dynamic can be extremely painful, and I would love to be of support. If you are looking for more tips and tools, you might my podcast to be helpful. There are several episodes on criticism. Here is the link: https://drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/. You can also search Empowered Relationship on iTunes, Google Play, and other podcast players. If you are looking for some direct support to develop a customized plan and guidance in implementing the strategies, please email me at [email protected]. I am thinking about putting a program together for people to address this issue in relationship. This may be another option. Please let me know what will work best for you in the way of support. Thank you.

  • Helen Cornelia Godolley - Reply

    March 10, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    Very helpful, thank you. I realized that I am highly sensitive. I praise my husband for his wonderful nature, humor, and hard work, and even for his rugged beauty. However, I get, increasingly annoyed, by absent-mindedness, lack of hearing, and forgetfulness. His decision-making is not always right. I became short-fuzed and impatient.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      March 11, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am happy to hear this article has been helpful. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

  • Tired - Reply

    June 11, 2023 at 11:05 am

    When I am trying to have a conversation with my husband about something that has hurt me, he takes it as criticism. Over the last 20 years, I have become more critical despite an initial focus on communicating my hurt. I feel like he has pushed me into this dynamic, which better reflects his upbringing and gender norms. Now I feel like the only way I’m “allowed” to communicate hurt is through one sentence critical statements… because he will walk away or stonewall if I try to have a conversation. For example, instead of having a discussion about why I’m hurt that he doesnt care about my heavy workload, I can point out when he has increased my workload through carelessness. I realise this is a problem, but I feel like the dynamic is too entrenched, and my true self is smothered by the expectation that women are always critical.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      July 7, 2023 at 3:16 pm

      Hi Tired,

      Similar to my reply to April (see below), I would recommend getting support for the dynamic that is at play, which sounds so painful!!! It seems very wise of you to recognize there are deeper layers at play, which make vulnerable sharing and connected communication very difficult. Getting support will help create a safe space where you can both engage, begin to access all the layers, blocks and the disconnect cycle between the two of you. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. I hope you don’t try to shift the dynamic alone. Good support is so helpful!!!!

      Hi April,

      Oh my goodness, this sounds like an incredibly difficult dynamic!! You are right…this is not just about being critical. It sounds like it is more about your not being able to reach to your husband to get his consideration or to get a need/concern addressed. It makes sense (and very common for people) to escalate and intensify your attempt to feel heard. I highly recommend the two of you to get support to improve your dynamic together. I imagine there is a reason why your husband has a hard time hearing and/or responding to you (which may relate to his experience in life). Please let me know if I can be of any support.

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.


Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching