Criticism in relationships

Frequently criticising your partner or being criticised by them can create a lot of tension in your relationship. It can make you feel like you’re constantly under attack or as though nothing you do is good enough.

A person being constantly criticised is likely to find it hurtful and demoralising and may grow to resent the person doing the criticising. If you find criticism has become an issue in your relationship, it’s important to nip it in the bud before the problem becomes any worse.

Types of criticism

Sometimes, criticism is overt, taking the form of comments or gestures that are clearly intended to rile or hurt the person they’re directed towards - saying things like ‘You’ve put on weight’ or ‘you look tired today’.

And sometimes criticism can be more subtle or passive-aggressive, directed through sarcasm or comments ostensibly made as jokes.

Dealing with criticism

If you’re struggling with criticism in your relationship, you may want to consider the following:

Don’t retaliate

If your partner makes a negative comment towards you, simply throwing one back at them will only add fuel to the fire. If necessary, take a moment to let the urge subside.

Speak to them gently but directly

Tell them how it makes you feel to be criticised. You may want to consider using ‘I’ phrases (‘I feel’, ‘I would like’) rather than ‘you’ phrases (‘you always’, ‘you don’t’). This way, you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings and your partner won’t feel like you’re attacking them. 

Think about any issues behind the criticism

It's not an effective way to go about it, but criticism can be a way of expressing dissatisfaction with a relationship. If you’re being honest with yourself, would you say there are areas in your behaviour that could be better? Talk about any problems openly and honestly. Again, don’t phrase your comments as attacks – but rather as genuine attempts to understand what is going wrong. If you need help with this, you may like to work with a relationship counsellor.

Turning ‘criticism’ into ‘feedback’

Of course, there will come times when you feel it’s legitimate to tell your partner you think they’re doing something wrong.

In these cases, it’s good to try to phrase your points as ‘feedback’ rather than ‘criticism’. Try to make your approach a constructive one so your partner doesn’t feel like you’re trying to get at them.

Focus on the situation or action, not the person

Instead of simply accusing your partner, comment on the consequences or context. I.e. instead of saying ‘You never want to go out anymore’, say ‘I feel like we haven’t been out in a while. Would you like to go to the cinema next Saturday?’

Focus on the positive as well as the negative

Remind them of what you like as well as what you don’t. ‘I really enjoy spending time with your friends, but I think it would be nice to doing something together this weekend’ instead of ‘We always hang around with your friends! I’m sick of it!’

Share how it has affected you

Again, a case of not phrasing your comment as an attack. ‘When I feel like the bad guy in front of the kids, it makes me feel put out’, rather than ‘Stop making me look like the bad guy!’.

Learn to take feedback yourself

 If your partner is giving you feedback, it’s important to try to take it in a constructive spirit. Don’t assume your partner is trying to hurt your feelings –rather, listen to what they have to say and think seriously about whether they have a point.

When is criticism abuse?

If your partner is constantly trying to control you through their behaviour or makes you feel intimidated by their comments, this is a form of emotional abuse and you should seek professional help.

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