Bend Relationship Counseling Divorce Predictors: Pt. 2 – Criticism

March 27, 2014 by

In the last blog, I wrote about contempt and how it can drive people apart and destroy marriages and relationships. Contempt is one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” as is the divorce predictor that we’re going to discuss today – criticism.

Now, no one likes to be criticized or told that they’re wrong, but when two people are in a long term relationship, you have to be able to talk to your partner about the things they do that bother you. Unfortunately, far too many people just don’t know how to do that without insulting or badgering their spouse. This can lead to an “under siege” mentality where one or both people in a relationship constantly feel attacked and react defensively, with no one actually believing that they’re being heard.

Common (Wrong) Ways That We Criticize

Making universal statements. Most of us are guilty of doing this from time to time. Things like, “You never clean up,” “you always leave everything to me,” and “you’re lazy.” These kinds of statements are hurtful because they encourage defensiveness and discourage change. Instead of working with the person to get them to change (e.g. “I would appreciate it if you could clean up more often.”), it assumes that there’s no possibility for improvement.

Attacking the person, not the problem. This one can be hard for people in long term relationships because they are often arguing over ongoing behavior, but it’s important to address situations and behaviors rather than attacking the individual. For example, instead of saying, “You’re so forgetful! How hard is it to remember to put the toothpaste cap back on?” you might say, “You’ve forgotten to put the cap on the toothpaste the last few days and it dries out. Can we come up with a way to help you remember?”

Whenever you’re talking about criticism, though, it’s important to remember that it is not the same thing as voicing a complaint. Whereas criticism is destructive, complaining is constructive. Yes, that’s right – when you address concerns in a productive way (e.g. complaining), it’s actually something that can strengthen a relationship.

How do you determine if something is a complaint or a criticism? Generally speaking, criticism is given in a universal way and tends to tear down the recipient. In contrast, complaints are very specific and focus on the issue, not the individual – basically, the exact opposite of the methods of criticism described above!

It’s not always easy to stop criticizing and start complaining, but you should always try to be as specific as possible and work on using “I” statements that focus on how the issue in question impacts you. Couples who have difficulty solving this problem on their own should set an appointment for a Bend relationship counseling session.