In a previous article we outlined the four sure-fire ways to end your marriage. Criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. These aren’t just unpleasant. They predict divorce with a high degree of accuracy. In short – don’t do them. Now, that’s easier said than done. Looking at that list, we’re all guilty of these infractions some times. Despite being common, they’re no joke. In this article we’ll be dealing with how to get around the problem of criticism.
Criticism is complicated. On the one hand, no one likes to receive it. At the heart of it, we all don’t like the idea we’ve let others down. It’s painful to know where we’ve failed and how we haven’t hit the mark. On the other hand, criticism is essential to any relationship. Research shows that avoiding criticism is as predictive of divorce as over using it. No one likes a complainer and no one likes a laky. Think of criticism as fire. You need it to heat your homes and do your cooking. Just don’t get too careless with it so you don’t end up burning your house down.
The antidote to criticism is being willing to do some soul searching. What is your spouse doing that you absolutely hate? What is he doing that’s driving you nuts? Maybe he stays up too late playing video games. “Give me a break, can’t you grow up?” Is she constantly interrupting you? “I love the sound of your voice but not that much! Can I get a word in?” Despite the abundance of colorful metaphors, we have to take responsibility for what bothers us.
By owning what upsets you, your spouse ceases being an oppressor and becomes someone you can negotiate with. There also needs to be a fair amount of willingness to have that negotiation five dozen times. Probably about as many times as your spouse has to raise their criticisms with you. By having those negotiations without character assassinations you’ll put the emotional emphasis where it needs to go. “It makes me angry when you do that behavior.” The emotional emphasis needs to be on you and the technical instruction on your spouse. Bottom line – this is about you. Not them. His video games bother you. Her interruptions bother you. Rest assured, there are plenty of people in this world who don’t mind your spouse’s quirks. Running the risk of your spouse figuring that out and ending up with them is no picnic. Since this is about you and not your spouse, frame your criticism as a description of a behavior. They are not an idiot, moron, ingrate, or baby. If they were, that would say more about your taste in spouses than their character flaws. By balancing personal responsibility and being precise in only describing behaviors, criticism is reigned in enough so you can nurture your relationship and not burn it to the ground.
Yonasan Bender, SW graduated from Hebrew University’s School of Social Work. He has his psychotherapy practice at The Place: The Jerusalem Centre for Emotional Wellbeing. To share your thoughts, experiences, questions, or a different perspective, you can reach Yonasan Bender at 053-808-0435 or email him by clicking HERE. To learn more about him and his work, click HERE.
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The Place is where therapists, individuals and the community connect to create safety, strength and success. At The Place, men and women discover the freedom and safety to move past those issues which are preventing them from living life to its fullest. Our goal is to help each of our clients discover his or her own strengths as powerful tools in the healing process.
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At The Place, male and female therapists work independently or as a team to explore sensitive issues and facilitate positive change for individuals, couples and families from all sectors of the community. Some of our specialties include emotional eating, grief counseling, internet addiction, phobias, anxiety & OCD, childhood challenges, premarital counseling, couples therapy and intimacy issues, postpartum support, personality disorders, psychiatric care, and more. Connect with a caring professional in person at our comfortable Jerusalem offices, or by video, phone, and text. We’re here for you.
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