What is Criticism?
While not quite as damaging to a relationship as contempt, criticism gives it a run for it’s money as one of the top four negative communication styles Dr. John Gottman has found contributes to divorce. He calls these the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Let’s start with a good operating definition. Criticism is sharing your complaint with your partner in a way that essentially blames some personal aspect of them, personality, character, etc.
What does this look like?
So criticism usually comes across as statements like “ you always…” or “you never…” or maybe things like accusing your partner of being lazy, selfish, or not caring. Or “…her husband never says things like that to her. He…”
I get this one too! Trust me. If I’m being perfectly honest, I would venture to say that us ladies are probably a little more likely to engage in criticism with our partners. I could be wrong, maybe I’m just saying that because I am a woman and I mostly treat women. But I do think we are socialized in a way that contributes to indirect forms of communication that are unsustainable, so then we resort to more manipulative forms of trying to get someone to change. At any rate, I know I resort to criticism more than my husband!
How can we do better?
Similar to correct contempt, doing better with criticism involves stating our emotions and then a positive need. Keep it positive. Way better to tell your partner what you need than what you don’t need. I say this a lot to my clients. You know that express “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?’ Yeah, there’s some truth to that! Do you hear the difference between “what I need you to not say anymore is XYZ” versus “I’d love to hear you say XYZ sometimes.” It takes practice, but reducing and eliminating criticism in your relationship will go a long way with your partner and help you feel more connected!
If you’d like to know more or hear about this in a different way, here’s our video about the 4 Horsemen on YouTube.