ERP 038: Why Criticism Is So Painful In Relationship

By Posted in - Criticism in a Relationship & Podcast & Relationships October 24th, 2015 2 Comments constant criticism in relationship

Why Constant Criticism in Relationship is so Painful

Most of us know that constant criticism in relationship is not the best behavior to use when relating to our significant other. Yet, we still struggle with it and resort to the approach when we’re unhappy. When we feel challenged by something with our partner, it is easy to address the issue by complaining or criticizing.

In this podcast, I provide explanations for why we criticize the ones we love the most.

If you recognize ways in which you might be critical, try to make an internal shift to have an attitude of exploration. Ask yourself “how come I get critical sometimes?” Usually, we learn how to be critical along the way from our family or friends. We do the best we can, but we don’t have a better way of addressing our concerns.

In my recent article, How To Know If You Are Too Critical In Relationship And Why I offered 10 signs to identify whether or not you may be more critical than you think. In the article, I addressed 16 reasons why people are highly critical, which will aim to help you understand the reasons why you might be highly critical of your partner in certain situations.

(Show Notes: Be sure to listen to the episode to hear stories, examples, and more tips.)

3 of the 10 Signs of Being Critical:

  • constant criticism in relationshipYou are very critical of yourself when you make a mistake (i.e. what do you automatically tell yourself when you make a mistake?). If you are highly critical of yourself, then you are likely to be more critical of others. Examples: “What an idiot! Ugh, I suck! I can’t do anything nice. So stupid.”
  • You micromanage. You have a hard time letting go. If your partner didn’t complete a task in your preferred way, you will go afterward and fix it to your liking.
  • It is easier to find fault than praise. You will find the flaw rather than focus on the positives.

“I give feedback; you’re critical. I’m firm; you’re stubborn. I’m flexible; you’re wishy-washy. I’m in touch with my feelings; you’re hysterical!” ~ Steven Stosny

3 of the 16 Reasons Why You Might Be Critical:

  • You think if you can manage the world around you, you’ll feel less anxious and/or vulnerable (or out-of-control). It is hard to look inward at your own internal discomfort (i.e. feeling anxious or not good enough).
  • Constant Criticism in RelationshipBeing critical of others helps you feel in power and dominant focusing on others weaknesses or shortcomings.
  • You grew up in a critical environment, and it was learned behavior.

Why Constant Criticism in Relationship is Problematic:

  • Criticism is expressed through disapproval, critiquing, correcting, blaming, nitpicking, or trying to fix your partner.
  • It is also a major predictor of divorce, according to John Gottman, a major couples researcher.
  • Constant criticism in relationship is usually the culprit of other destructive behaviors. When someone hears criticism, they have a natural response to feel defensive or to shut down. In more extreme cases, criticism leads to feelings of hurt and disdain.

“Even in stable, happy relationships: When conflict begins with hostility, defensive sequences result” ~ John M. Gottman

How do we get into this mess? Many of us lead with a complaint or criticism when we talk to our partner about a concern. However, underneath the complaint or criticism, we have an important need, feeling, or desire.

Many of us are sensitive to criticism. Being criticized brings up feelings of feeling bad, being in the wrong, inadequacy, shame, hurt, injustice, etc. We get defensive and push back on the critical statement, by providing evidence as to why the critical statement is not true.


  • constant criticism in relationshipHusband: “You never clean the kitchen.”
  • Wife: “Yes, I do. I just cleaned the kitchen last night.”
  • Husband: “Sure, you cleaned the kitchen once and you expect that to mean you carry your load.”
  • Wife: “What! You don’t think I carry the load in our family.”
  • Now they are off and running. As you can see, the conversation is escalating quickly. The couple is reacting and defending, which could easily lead to attacking each other. Yet, they are not addressing the underlying needs or concerns.

Over and over again, I see examples of this being played out in love relationships. The complaint or criticism could be about a whole number of issues, like:

  • Amount of time spent together
  • The quality or quantity of the sexual connection
  • How decisions are getting made
  • Financial approach, process, and standing
  • Chores and responsibilities
  • Handling extended family, etc.

Constant criticism in relationshipOne person addresses a concern without knowing what their underlying need is and they approach their partner by criticizing them. Their partner gets defensive and the cycle ensues. They are missing each other. They are not talking about the most important aspects of the issue. Thus, the conversation escalates and both partners leave the conversation feeling attacked, misunderstood, and lonely.

This dynamic can be particularly difficult when one or both partners are feeling threatened on a deeper level. Feeling threatened can activate a person’s fight, flight, or freeze response as well as attachment insecurities. The importance of the need can vary in intensity. It can be helpful to ask each other, “how important is this to you, on a scale from 1 to 10?”

Most of us want our partner to just get it and interpret what we are saying and feeling, even though we are not explicitly stating it. Can you imagine how the conversation would be different with these statements if they were communicated at the beginning of the conversation?


A concern about time:

  • Fear/worry/feeling: I am worried you don’t enjoy spending time with me.
  • Desire: I would like to spend some time with you.
  • Need: I want to feel close and connected to you.

A concern about sex:

  • constant criticism in relationshipFear/worry/feeling: I feel sad when you don’t want to make love.
  • Desire: I want to feel connected with you sexually.
  • Need: I want to have a healthy sex life.

A concern about decision-making:

  • Fear/worry/feeling: I feel angry when you make big decisions without me.
  • Desire: I want us to come together when we have big decisions to make.
  • Need: I want to feel equality in our relationship.

I help clients go through the process of identifying how they feel, take ownership for their experience, and voice their desires and feelings to their partner. The shift is powerful!!! The communication is clean and clear. Their partner can actually hear the message directly and more openly, without getting defensive.

Next week, I will offer you tips on how to shift criticism into powerful communication. I will also talk about the benefits of creating a more constructive and non-critical learning environment for your relationship.


Are you interested in getting support to end constant criticism in your relationship? If so, please grab my
Free Guide: How to Shift Criticism Into Loving Communication or contact me here. Let’s have a conversation to see how I might be able to help. No obligations.

If you have a topic you would like me to discuss or a situation you would like me to speak to, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here.

Thank you so much for being interested in improving the quality of your relationship! I believe in your relationship success!

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

  • snowpea - Reply

    February 18, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Thanks for these great resources. I have a highly critical, high achieving husband who will sometimes emanate disdain towards me for days at a time before eventually being highly critical of my shortcomings. i.e, I’m childish, selfish, self absorbed. This can be over something as benign as forgetting the milk.

    I have told him repeatedly how much it hurts me to hear this. He then apologises until the next time I “let him down.”

    Should I run for the hills to protect myself as I’m losing hope on his ability to recognise and proactively change?

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      February 29, 2020 at 4:51 pm

      Hi, This is tough. I understand how painful it is to be in this dynamic. And yet, it is likely that your husband has feelings and needs that he has a difficult time expressing in fair and constructive ways. Have you suggested taking the Shifting Criticism into Connected Communication together?

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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