Last week, I talked about what Dr John Gottman refers to as The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse or the signs that a relationship may be headed for disaster. Criticism is the first of those four horseman and shows up the most frequently, even in the most stable of relationships.
It’s okay if he comes to visit on occasion, especially when we are feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, but we certainly don’t want him to stick around as he often brings his buddies once he gets comfortable.
So what exactly is criticism anyway? Criticism occurs when we bring up an issue with our partner in a way that isn’t directly about the issue itself but rather attacks their character.
All relationships are affected by conflict. No two people are exactly alike, and we are going to always have issues or complaints about our partners. It is important that we are able to talk about and come to agreements regarding these issues for the health of our relationship. We need to be able to complain and air our grievances with one another.
Let’s look at an example:
Margot and Johnny have been married for some time, and each night after dinner Johnny takes out the trash. Johnny has been under a lot of stress at work with a major deadline looming over his head.
He forgot to take out the trash, and when Margot returns from work the next day, the whole apartment wreaks. Margot takes out the trash and spends the remainder of her late afternoon airing out the apartment until Johnny comes home.
If Margot were to complain to Johnny about the situation, it might go something like this: “Honey, I know you have been really stressed out about work recently, but you forgot to take the trash out last night. When I came home today, the whole place stunk, and I felt really disgusted and frustrated.”
In this scenario, Margot has brought to Johnny’s attention a specific situation and shared with him how it affected her.
If Margot instead chooses to criticize Johnny, it might sound like this: “You forgot to take the trash out again last night, and the whole place smells awful. You’re so forgetful and take me for granted. You just think I’ll just come behind you and clean up your mess.”
Here, Margot has attacked Johnny’s character rather than bringing up the specific issue. To rub salt in the wound, Margot may even begin to bring up all the other instances in which Johnny was forgetful or inattentive. You know, for good measure.
So how do you know if criticism is present in your relationship? Honestly, it probably already has come and gone as most couples do miscommunicate from time to time. The following statements will help you determine if it’s a problem in your relationship. Answer each one as either True of False.
When we begin to discuss our relationship issues:
- My partner is very critical of me.
- I often feel ridiculed and blamed.
- I hate the way my partner raises an issue.
- Before we know it, we are fighting.
- Arguments seem to come out of nowhere.
- My partner criticizes my personality.
- I often feel like I have to defend myself.
If you answered true to 3 or more, it’s likely that criticism is affecting your relationship.
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