If there is anything that kills love, it is criticism.
Criticism is that negative, unsolicited correction that tells someone else that they are wrong, less-than, failing, or otherwise not good enough. It is the antithesis of supportive, caring or encouraging views that build confidence, esteem and connection. Criticism is a relationship killer.
Criticism Kills Love
Many loves have died the slow and agonizing death of criticism. We start out seeing the good in each other. We feel the hope. We think we can “work through” things, but for many people what they really mean is they think they can shape, mold or change the things they don’t like over time to make this other person “better”. Yeah, right. Let me introduce you to the current divorce statistic, Mr. 53%. He doesn’t even include the ones who remain where they are but are miserable.
Remember back as a child when you were learning your way around the basics of life; stove can be hot, street can have fast moving cars, taking things that don’t belong to you isn’t right? Yep, those were the days…that was when criticism has more to do with how to survive and even prosper in the world and less about who you are personally. Nobody expects great things from a toddler who is just starting out.
Then things change. We start getting fed images and stories of what we and other people “should “ be like. We start looking at others with a more critical eye of who they are instead of just what they do. Touching a hot stove is bad because it can burn you. That has nothing to do with your quality as a person. Having opinions, thoughts, or feelings that do not agree with mine is something completely different, right? To some , it makes a huge difference and they somehow feel compelled to set others “right”. Criticism.
What does criticism look like? Rolling eyes. Tense mouth. Smirking expression of disapproval or mockery. It’s body language that looks like someone leaning away from you.
What does it sound like? Accusatory, YOU language. You do this. You do that. You ALWAYS do this. You, you, you, you, you. You SHOULD do (fill in the blank) instead. WHY do you do THAT??!? How could you be so (dumb, gullible, insensitive, rude, stupid, niave, blah blah blah)? Is THAT how you REALLY think? WHATEVER (insert eye roll).
Criticism is absolutely a connection killer. Criticism firmly places negative judgement, usually in a form of “correction” to “help” someone understand things in a “better” way. It is bullshit. Want to hurt your relationship? Criticize. Show you partner how they are falling short. Show them the error of their ways. Show them how much smarter you are and how right you are and how wrong they can really be. Watch love DIE.
Don’t be fooled. Not being critical doesn’t mean you don’t get to voice your needs or wants when they are important. But there is a way to do this that supports your relationship, instead of tearing holes in it. Your needs and wants matter, but if your connection to your partner matters too, then you would be wise to learn how to communicate these things in a constructive way.
So, what are you to do when there really is something that you need changed and you need to talk about it but don’t want to criticize? THANK YOU for wanting to know!
Here are my top tips for talking about tough things and saying them in a love building way, not a critical, damaging way;
1) Use “I”language. Everytime you start a sentence with “You…”, there is an automatic human response to defend from whatever comes next. Nobody likes to be “told” or “judged”. Listen to the difference here:
- YOU always defend the kids whenever I say what I don’t like about what they are doing!
- I understand that we don’t always see things the same way when it comes to the kids. I want to feel like my thoughts are important and understood, even if we don’t always agree.
Seriously, which one of those would tick you off and which one would give you enough emotional room to put your defenses away and be able to listen? The message is real and expresses the importance of everyone being entitled to their own experiences and feelings without having to be wrong at the same time. It also leaves out the accusatory (and highly inaccurate) word of ALWAYS. You ALWAYS screams of a deep laden unchangeable character flaw that is apparently so much a part of the other person that it would make them question why in the heck they are even there with you if they are ALWAYS wrong.
2) Keep your emotions in check. If you know you are embarking on a sensitive subject, take a breath and decide what your core message is. Check your emotional state. If you are feeling extra agitated for any reason, or are already angry or frustrated, think twice about approaching the conversation in that moment. If you can wait until you are at a more even place, do that. If that is not possible, start your sentence with an acknowledgement of where you are at: “I just want you to know that I am not in my best frame of mind and so I want to be careful here. My intent is not to fight or say this wrong, so I am going to try to get to what I really need to say and hope I will be able to articulate it clearly.” Not at your best? See if you can put this off until you are…or, if not, be clear about where you are at and ask for mercy up front. People who love you will appreciate that you are thinking ahead and trying to keep from saying anything hurtful.
3) Consider the other side. Your point of view is important…and so is your partners. The couples who lose empathy for each other; who lose interest in actually caring about what the other person is experiencing are the couples headed for trouble. There is no immediate “right” and “wrong” unless you say there is…and that usually ends up in a scenario of a winner and loser. Nobody likes to be the loser. People holding love in high esteem don’t like to be the “winner” if it means their partner has to lose either. Step past your ego and look with interested eyes in what the experience of your partner is. Consider, whenever possible, that there is room for TWO rights (even if they are different).
4) Live and let live. This is also known as Pick Your Battles. Not every infringement on perfection needs a correction by you. This can’t be understated. If you are consistently giving the message of “let me fix this for you” or “let me tell you how this REALLY is” then you are also giving the consistent message of “you aren’t good enough or smart enough”. This hurts at best and creates a loss of respect and a greater distance between you at worst. Both are bad if you want love to not just last, but to grow.
Many of us learned how to be critical as small children. We may have had parents who corrected us constantly. We may have gotten the message from peers that we had to be better than we already were in order to be acceptable. We may be hard-driven people inside who criticize ourselves as much as we do others. Criticism is a thinking pattern. It is a habit. It can be changed and it can be stopped. Nobody can stop it for you.
Trying to cut down on criticism? Before you open your mouth to someone you love with something to share that might be taken as critical, ask yourself these questions:
1) Is it true? (is more than one “right” possible?)
2) Is it kind? (am I wanting to say this to help them or because I am annoyed?)
3) Is it necessary? (is this really important? Is it worth the risk of hurting our connection?)
So often, it is the people closest to us that we treat the worst. That is, until we know better, choose to be more aware of our own thoughts and actions and make a better choice.