Eliminating Criticism From Your Relationship

Famed relationship expert and researcher, Dr. John Gottman, uses science to determine the main predictors of divorce or instability in a relationship. Criticism is one of the primary behaviors that destroys relationships.

Criticism feels like an attack, but sometimes you may not see it coming until it has already hit you.

So what are the Antidotes to Criticism?

1. Learn to recognize Criticism in all its subtleties:

Words like "you always" or "you never" lead into Criticism with an air of finality. Even merely describing your partner rather than yourself can sound critical. The underlying tone is "What's wrong with you?" One benefit of counseling is that the therapist can help couples notice Criticism and steer them towards repair.

Once you recognize Criticism, you can use simple devices to build awareness and change habits. This includes cautions, such as asking yourself, "am I giving my partner the benefit of the doubt here? and "what is it I really need or want right now?" This can be followed by thinking "turn what you're saying to focus more on describing yourself."

2. Transform your Criticism into a Complaint and Bid:

Using the soccer ball metaphor, Criticism is equal to you kicking your partner around, rather than the ball.

A Complaint allows you and your partner to see the problem as outside of either one of you, and kick the problem around, gently back and forth, until the issue is resolved or at least better understood. Complaints convey, "You, I love. This problem, not so much."

You can soften a Complaint with appreciation or by giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. For example, say things like: "You may not be able to do anything about this," "I'm sure you didn't realize or mean to... ," "I appreciate your help with this."

Complaining focuses on your experience rather than your partner's actions. Statements begin with "I feel" or "I think" rather than "You are" or "You do" statements.

If your Complaint includes a Bid for what you need or want, you are helping your partner know how to respond more effectively. In fact, I've often found going straight to making a Bid for what you want or need is even more effective than making the entire Complaint.

3. Make a Repair:

Repairs can come from either the speaker or the listener in the interaction

The speaker may have started with "what were you thinking?" or the made statements that began with "you did," "you didn't," "you need to" and "you should." The speaker can make a Repair by saying, "Sorry. That came out too harshly." "Whoops, can I try that again?" Or, "What I meant to say is: I need/want/would appreciate it if... "

The listener can help, too. An effective Repair can also sound like the listener saying, "I'm feeling criticized. Could you please try saying that differently?" Or, "I need you to speak more softly/kindly to me."

Get Help:

This 3-step method to eliminating criticism from your relationship may seem overly simplistic. However, trust me, it works! Over time, my private therapy clients have seen positive, noticeable improvements in their emotional, mental and physical relationships with their loved ones.

While private therapy is not a feasible option for many couples, a couples weekend workshop is an time and cost effective way to improve your relationship - no matter where your relationship presently stands.

The Art and Science of Love, a Couples Workshop, developed by the Gottman Institute, is a unique weekend workshop experience for couples because it presents methods and teaches skills - such as how to eliminate criticism from your relationship - based on proven research and drawn from what the Masters do.

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