Do you criticize your partner?
In private or in public?
If the answer to most of the above is “yes,” you are probably harming your relationship.
If your partner objects to criticism, you probably fight a lot. Maybe he or she then criticizes you back. You both feel hurt and, later helpless.
Criticism on a regular basis inflicts emotional pain. But maybe you don’t even realize what you are doing, because your partner has already withdrawn from you to protect himself.
What is going on here?
The Oxford Dictionary defines criticism as “the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.”
This definition contains two important elements regarding why criticism can harm your relationship: “disapproval” and “perceived faults.”
Disapproval is a major ingredient in toxic relationships. It’s a negative judgment, a withholding of affection and support. It also usually signals a position of power, or perceived superiority that gives the “disapprover” a sense of entitlement to criticize.
Disapproval is meant to hurt.
It’s involved with toxic parenting, inducing feelings of shame and inadequacy. Many people learn the strategy of disapproval in order to control very early in their lives, from disapproving parents.
Criticism says a lot more about you than about the person you are criticizing.
The faults that you are pointing out are filtered through your own perception. In other words, they reflect and express your judgment. From another point of view, they may not even be faults at all.
What is missing is a sense of self-awareness.
What is also missing is a sense of respect for your partner as an equal, who makes his or her own decisions in life.
Criticism is a form of aggression
If you have trouble expressing angry with your partner, criticizing can be a less open form of aggression. You hide behind a “comment” on his behavior, so that you don’t have to own your own feelings.
Because of the element of toxic disapproval, people often feel shamed when they are criticized. This is particularly true when it’s directed at who they are, rather than at what they do.
And the worst experience of being shamed is public humiliation. Public criticism can cause major psychological and emotional wounding that will affect your partner and your relationship for a long time.
The invention of the term “constructive criticism” is an acknowledgment of the fact that criticism is usually destructive. Constructive criticism is more a form of participatory advice, showing that you are part of the “team,” and that you feel a stake in improving a situation.
What are you trying to achieve?
If you know all this, you’ve seen the effects of your criticism, and still cannot stop criticizing your partner, ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve.
If your partner changed his or her behavior completely in line with your criticism, would you be happier?
What can your criticism of you partner tell you about what’s missing in your relationship? Is he right when he assumes that, deep down, you don’t like him?
Criticism as a failed form of connection
When you criticize your partner, you’re trying to make contact. But the form of contact you are choosing is hurtful.
So what if you tried to make contact in a positive way?
What if you started by saying that you are upset or angry, and why that is?
What if you remembered that this is the person you chose to live with, and what you really want from this important relationship in your life, both for him and for yourself?
Maybe you can try that the next time you feel the urge to criticize.
Maybe it will give you a little bit of the contact you long for.