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Stop Criticizing Your Spouse

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Criticism is one of the most toxic behaviors that can rapidly break down intimacy and build up walls in your marriage. You may believe that you’re offering “truth” or that you’re trying to correct a behavior or attitude, but your partner cannot hear it (much less act on it) if it is perceived as an attack, or if it's addressed as a swooping generalization. 

Criticism can easily become a relied on tactic when things are not going poorly, but it sabotages your efforts to communicate with your partner. Criticizing your partner is not the same as voicing a complaint.

What is criticism?

Criticism is a non-specific statement that emits negative feelings or opinions about your partner’s character or personality.

You never help with laundry. Instead, you assume I’m going to do it. I’m really busy at work, and I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate!

Criticism causes your partner to declare war or retreat. It increases stress for both of you and breaks down intimacy. We often use criticism as a form of self-protection. It’s much easier to poke our partner by telling them that they’re the one with the problems, than to drop our shield of criticism and say, “my needs are not being met, help me.

A complaint is an alternative to criticism.

A complaint is focused on a specific behavior or event.

“I realize I didn’t tell you that I’ve been really busy with work lately, and I’m frustrated that the laundry is piling up. Could you do a load or two of laundry when you get home tonight please?”

Healthy complaining improves intimacy, actually solves problems, and strengthens the relationship.

A healthy complaint involves:

  1. Taking some responsibility(“I’ve realized I didn’t tell you“) – instead of pointing fingers and blaming your partner, take responsibility. Taking responsibility prevents conflicts from escalating.
  2. Here’s how I feel(“I’m frustrated”).
  3. About a particular event(“the laundry is piling up”). – Be specific when you complain. It will help your partner understand why you’re upset.
  4. Here’s what I need(“Could you do a load or two when you get home?”). – Should be a positive need.

Learning how to complain healthily will improve your relationship, because you’ll get more of your needs met. And your partner will understand you better. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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