Being criticized is a serious concern for many people, and worse, people worry about criticizing others, due to the fact they hate being criticized themselves. It’s a horrible feeling sometimes, especially if done in a vicious fashion.
The truth is, having critical feedback can often be a good thing and is a vital part of any healthy relationship. However, in a bad relationship it can deteriorate relations and pull people apart, especially if the criticism is constant and excessive.
Criticizing can indeed make or break a relationship, depending on if it’s done right or used as a weapon. There are a few guidelines you should follow if you want some things to change in your relationship, but are scared you’ll insult your partner by telling them:
# Start with a compliment before criticizing; don’t jump straight into your ‘attack’.
# Express yourself explicit and don’t use words like “always, never”; exaggeration only fuels the potential for an argument.
# Make sure that your partner still feels loved and respected.
# Make sure that your partner knows that this is your opinion only, not necessarily fact.
# Ask what you partner thinks about it. Be open and honest.
# Ask if you don’t 100% understand the criticism; your partner might be saying one thing and you hearing another. Give them a chance to clarify what they mean; it might be totally different to what you heard the first time around!
# Remind yourself that this is not criticism about you as a human but on a part of your behavior.
# Remind yourself that this is only a personal opinion.
# Accept whatever has been criticized and really think about if you feel that you want to change that; is it something you agree with?
A good friend of mine who has been together with his girlfriend for 2 years came to me one day and told me: “She is constantly nagging and criticizing me that I should change myself, and only then she could truly love me. I’m feeling so pressured and I ask myself sometimes ‘is it worth to maintain this relationship with her?’”
My Answer To Him:
You are not in this relationship to live up to HER expectations. A relationship that begins with the condition that you need to change first before she can truly love you is almost doomed to fail (if this problem isn’t addressed early on).
However, it’s unrealistic to expect a relationship where both partners love each other completely unconditionally.
At certain points, you just need to accept the behavior or opinions that you don’t like about your partner. Being accepting of your partner’s imperfection and character flaws is a fundamental part of loving your partner and developing a strong bond.
Healthy relationships are also based on approaching your partner and try to find compromises that you both can handle.
However, when compromising on something, you need to ensure neither of you are trying to attain something unsustainable, or one or both of you will likely end up deeply dissatisfied and unhappy.
If you change something about yourself just to please your partner then you are at risk at losing yourself. While your partner’s happiness should be deeply important to you, don’t sacrifice your own sense of self and dreams. Remember that no matter what, you are still the most important person in your own life.
If you change fundamental parts of yourself simply to please your partner, you’re going to end up depending on them for your self-worth and validation, a responsibility no partner can bear long-term.
It would only make sense to change yourself, when your partner is the initiator, if you’ve already been considering it yourself – i.e. you make his/her goal, your goal.
If something bothers you about your partner enough that it’s actually impacting you negatively, it is absolutely vital to tell your partner about it. Otherwise, your anger and disappointment will cause a rift between you two that your partner might not even be aware of or know the cause of.
Try to tell your partner explicitly what’s bothering you and also let them know you’re telling them because you love him/her and you’re saying that because your relationship and your partner are important to you.
Allow your partner to be disappointed, angry or hurt. You don’t have the power to prevent that from happening and it’s only natural your partner will express disappointment after finding out something about them is making you unhappy.
How can I tell her that it’s driving me nuts when she’s coming home late? That he should wash the dishes without having to ask him every time? That I hate it when he smokes when I’m eating? That it annoys me so much when she’s interrupting me when I’m talking to someone else?
We always encounter situations where we want to criticize our partner because he or she does or say something that annoys and upsets us.
You know what you want to say but you might be afraid of the reaction of your partner, that he or she will take it as an offense, and become hurt and resentful.
You want to tell them how you feel, but feel it would come off as insulting and critical (remember, when I say criticism, I’m talking constructive, not the hurtful kind).
Try as you might, you have no idea how your partner will react to your criticism. You cannot determine or predict how your partner will take it and you need to be aware that no one likes to be criticized, even if you are trying to be helpful.
But, and this is a big ‘but’, criticism is absolutely inevitable, whether you like it or not. Without feedback about doing something “wrong”, or that something’s getting out of control you and your partner won’t be able to develop further as a couple and move past things that are bothering you.
Example: If the majority of the guests in a restaurant answer the question of the waiter/waitress “Is everything alright?” with “Yes, thank you” – although you didn’t like the food, then the chef won’t have a reason to improve his/her cooking skills.
Criticizing and also accepting criticism is very important in any healthy relationship. There are a few possibilities to tell your partner what’s bothering you without him or her feeling snubbed which makes it easier to accept your criticism as a well-meant feedback. Here’s how…
Tip 1: Express your criticism in the “I-form”: “I’m feeling uncomfortable when you are smoking while I’m eating and would like you to…” instead of saying “You are so reckless, how can you smoke while I’m still eating?”
The “You-form” e.g.: “You should…” and the assessment of your partner as a person like “You are being impossible, mean, unfair…” lead to your partner feeling offended which will automatically result in your partner getting extremely defensive and you will likely end up fighting over who is right, not necessarily over the issue itself.
Tip 2: Ensure that your criticism is concrete and formulate it in a way that refers to a certain behavior in a certain situation. Generalizations as “You never do this…” or “You always do that…” will again result in your partner feeling treated unjustly which provokes the defensive behavior.
Instead express it this way: “I don’t like it when you interrupt me when I’m talking to someone else. I feel stupid and disrespected.”
Tip 3: Try to tell your partner what you like about his or her behavior. It will make it much easier for your partner to accept your criticism as he or she notices that you don’t dislike him or her generally.
A better approach: “I like that you…I’m having difficulties that you…”
Tip 4: It is also very helpful if you try to empathize with your partner a little bit and say: “I know that this is very important for you. However, I would like you to…”
1.) Never criticize your partner, but rather the behavior you don’t like.
2.) No matter how clearly and calmly you express your criticism, you have no control of how your partner will take it and react. Be prepared for a difference of opinion; it’s normal.
3.) It is normal that people who are being criticized will get defensive over their behavior; no one likes being the baddie.
4.) Criticizing is important for your own well being and the amount of happiness in your relationship; the worst thing you can do is allow nagging little things grow into resentful big things.
5.) Feedback is necessary to develop yourself and your partner further – even though your partner might feel hurt at first. Just remember to remind your partner that you love them, despite some of the things you don’t like.
No one is perfect, but there’s always room for improvement!
With more than twenty years experience in the field, Elizabeth Davis is a well known and respected relationship adviser. Through her site she offers free, no-holds-barred counseling, friendship and support to anyone experiencing difficulties in their relationship. Let her help you to a life filled with the unconditional love and laughter you deserve.