Criticism, defined as the expression of disapproval or disappointment, can take many forms and can range from constructive feedback to harsh or attacking statements. In this article, criticism is defined as language that blames, shames, or belittles your partner.
Regardless of the form it takes, excessive criticism can be harmful to the health of a relationship and can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including decreased intimacy, increased conflict, and the slow or rapid deterioration of connection.
The underlying reasons for being critical of one’s partner can be complex and varied. Some common reasons include feeling frustrated, unfulfilled, or undervalued in the relationship. When individuals feel this way, they may express their feelings through criticism as a way to communicate their needs and desires.
If criticism is so bad, why do we do it?
Why would individuals communicate their needs and desires through criticism when it’s so destructive? It may be due to past experiences or past traumas that have stunted their ability to communicate effectively. For example, individuals who have grown up in an environment where criticism was a regular part of communication may be more likely to use criticism as a means of attempting to get their needs met. No one in their lives has modeled effective communication.
Criticism as bullying
In some cases, individuals may be critical of their spouse as a means of asserting power and control in the relationship. Criticism can be a way to manipulate or influence the behavior of the other person, especially if one partner feels like they are not being heard or valued in the relationship.
It can be hard to be vulnerable
Additionally, some individuals may be critical of their partner to protect themselves from vulnerability. When individuals feel emotionally exposed, they may use criticism as a way to distance themselves from their own emotions and to avoid vulnerability. Criticism may also be a means to elevate oneself by diminishing their partner. This has been described as “cutting off the heads of others to make yourself feel taller.”
Alternatives to criticism
There are ways to get your needs met in a relationship without resorting to criticism. One of the most effective ways is through speaking openly and honestly about your needs and desires, while also listening to and valuing the needs and desires of your partner. Asking directly for our needs and desires to be met places us potentially in a tough position. Our requests may be declined. We may feel rejected. We may actually be rejected. But open and mutually respectful communication can help to build trust, intimacy, and feelings of connection in a relationship.
Another alternative to criticism is to approach conflict in a constructive and solution-focused manner. Instead of criticizing your partner, focus on finding solutions that meet the needs of both partners. This can involve working together to find a compromise, or seeking help from a therapist or counselor to facilitate communication and find a resolution.
Additionally, practicing self-reflection and self-awareness can also be an alternative to criticism. Taking the time to understand your own emotions and needs can help you communicate them in a way that is non-threatening and non-critical. It can also help you to understand why you may be feeling frustrated or unfulfilled in the relationship, and to identify ways to address these issues in a constructive manner.
Overall, alternatives to criticism in a relationship involve open communication, constructive conflict resolution, and self-reflection. By focusing on these strategies, individuals can maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship, and avoid the connection-killing consequences of excessive criticism.