October Newsletter

Are you Staying Clear of these Relationship Killers?

Is this Happening at your home?

Bob’s frustration grew as he listened to Marcia’s attack. “I’ve asked you time after time to help me in the house. And again, you didn’t follow through. What’s wrong with you? Are you so selfish that you can’t just once follow through with what you say you’ll do?”

Marcia was beyond angry that Bob forgot again to help out and she was lashing out. Bob, on the other hand, was partly feeling guilty that he forgot to do what he had promised Marcia, but he also felt she was going too far. Feeling boxed in a corner he quickly replied “Oh, so you’re so perfect? Last week you never called our accountant like I asked!”

Can it Really be THAT Harmful?

Well…. YES! Marcia was NOT simply complaining about Bob not helping out. She was making a much more global comment about Bob by attacking his personality (for being forgetful). She was resorting to that dirty “c”word: criticism. Bob responded defensively by criticizing Marcia in a similar manner. This is an all-too-common attack & defend scenario that unfortunately occurs far too often in relationships.

It is important to point out the difference between a complaint and a criticism. While it may seem like there’s only a minor difference between them, do NOT be fooled! It is, in reality, a HUGE difference. (Kinda like being pregnant or… NOT being pregnant.) While a complaint is only about one specific action or behavior (or lack thereof), a criticism is much different. A criticism implies that there is something wrong or defective with the person themselves. Take a look:

Complaint: You didn’t do the dishes tonight. What happened?

Criticism: Of course the dishes were left untouched. Why can’t you ever get anything done?

Although criticism occurs very commonly, it can be very damaging to a relationship. When it occurs more and more frequently, it often leads to other more harmful ways of interacting that can very quickly destroy the remaining love and connection in a relationship.

You Want me to do What???

1. Complain without blame!

Well, if you can’t help yourself, go ahead and complain, but just refrain from criticizing or making personality judgments about your partner. No, I’m not really advising you to complain unnecessarily in your relationship, but it is sometimes important to confront your partner directly in the form of a complaint (but make sure you use a “soft startup” – read this article). In fact, it is quite normal to have some complaints about the person you share your life with.

2. Foster a culture of appreciation, gratitude, and respect in your relationship.

When criticism in a relationship starts to occur more frequently, it can turn into criticism‘s more deadly cousin, contempt. Couples who begin to show contempt, by displaying their disgust for one another, will usually see their relationship disintegrate quite rapidly. In order to rescue a relationship where each partner is frequently criticizing or showing contempt towards each other, you must follow a relationship “life-support” path. Each partner must work to foster a new positive culture in their relationship. This can be done in a few ways. The first way is to focus on the qualities in your partner that you admire. Unfortunately, it can be easy to get on a negative track where you can get tunnel-vision by only seeing the negative in life and in your partner. So, by focusing on your partner’s positive qualities and maintaining a healthy dose of respect for your partner, you can start to bring your relationship back from the brink. A second way to shift away from the “blame game” is to begin to reflect on happy times in your relationship and remember what you cherish most about your partner. This can also help to remind each other what brought you together as a couple in the first place. One last way to change the culture around in your relationship is to practice for two days straight ONLY being appreciative towards your partner without making ANY complaints. This can be quite challenging, but I bet you’ll notice the difference in your relationship!

Stop for a minute! I have some questions about this.

But criticism is just what we’re used to. Do I really need to worry about it or change?

Well, yes actually. At least if it’s happening more than once in a while. Although it might appear that your relationship is “fine,” the reality is that repeatedly questioning the character or personality of your partner (through criticism) can exert a heavy toll on your relationship. Over time, a more destructive type of interaction (contempt for one another) can develop. And when this occurs it often becomes the beginning of the end of many relationships.

Why should I stop criticizing when my partner seems to be doing so more frequently?

It is quite easy unfortunately to get caught up in the attack-defend cycle and it is very challenging to not criticize your partner when you are often on the wrong end of an attack/criticism. However, this is a destructive cycle that will only get worse if one partner doesn’t stop it. As previously mentioned, it can lead to a relationship full of contempt, which does not bode well for a long-lasting relationship. If complaining without blame and attempts to develop a culture of appreciation and respect do not help turn things around in the relationship, it may be time to seek professional help.

I’ve tried directly making a complaint without attacking or criticizing and that has only led to arguments. Now what?

The first step is to make sure that your complaints are communicated effectively. This can be done by ensuring you are utilizing a “soft-start-up” (discussed in detail in other article) where you are using “I” statements, showing appreciation, and describing your partner’s behavior without judgment. If you’ve done all of the above without much success, I’d recommend seeking professional help from a couples therapist.

It could have happened this way:

[Marcia and Bob could tell that they were heading down a dead-end path. Their arguments became worse and even included some contempt for one another. They decided to get help and went to couples therapy. Slowly they began to complain without blame and started to develop more of a culture of appreciation and respect.]

Marcia: Hi Bob. Thanks for taking care of that package I needed mailed.

Bob: Of course. No big deal…

Marcia: I see you didn’t fix the door handle yet. No time today?

Bob: Yeah, I actually got sidetracked in the garage this afternoon. I’m sorry I know I said I’d do it today… and you’ve asked me a few times now…

M: I am a bit disappointed. I really wanted it done for tomorrow.

B: Well, how about I do it first thing in the morning?

M: OK, that should work if it’s done before 11.

B: Should be done by then. Hey, what did the accountant say about…

Just Sum it up for me

1. Remember to tactfully complain, but not blame your partner.

2. Too much criticism can lead to contempt in your relationship – a serious problem.

3. Foster a culture of appreciation, gratitude and respect in your relationship by:

a) focusing on your partner’s positive qualities

b) think about what you admire the most about your partner

c) reflect on happy times in your relationship

d) practice for two full days to ONLY be appreciative of your partner without any complaints


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