Criticism-  the expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes. (Oxford Dictionary)

Let’s face it, we all criticize. Whether its people, people groups, places or things… We have all done it, we have all been on the receiving end of it, and we will continue to. BUT, we can overcome criticism by learning to minimize it in our relationships.

According to John Gottman, world renowned professor, psychologist and researcher, best known for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, criticism is one of the four most destructive and biggest predictors of divorce and separation. When we criticize someone, we are basically implying that there is something innately wrong with them. We are taking a problem that may exist in our relationship with a person, and putting it within them. When this happens, the person being criticized feels attacked, hurt and rejected… Not a whole lot of fun.

Criticism opens the doorway in a relationship for other negative responses and reactions that are destructive. It creates a relational environment that is typified by anxiety, anger and resentment. Quite simply, people don’t feel safe around criticism. When people don’t feel safe they become reactive, defensive and focused on self-preservation. When we are focused on preserving ourselves in a relationship, guess what?… We are not so focused on preserving the other person or the relationship itself. This is the foundation for a downward spiral of relational dysfunction and doom.

So what do we do when others’ behavior annoys us or we need to confront someone in a relationship? We can’t just suppress our agitation and try harder to be tolerant. If you do that, you will probably end up ‘blowing up’ at a later date when everything has built up to the point of explosion, and saying all kinds of things that you really don’t want to say… or do want to say, but really shouldn’t.

Step 1. Use ‘I’ statements. I know this sounds cliché, but it works. (i.e. “I feel scared when you drink too much). Don’t say, “you made me do this”, or “you always do that” etc. Don’t attack a persons’ character.

Step 2. Own your emotions. Your emotions fall within your boundaries, and are therefore your responsibility to manage. Be honest about how you feel and communicate it as accurately as you can.

Step 3. Communicate belief or hope in the other person. One of the reasons why criticism is counter -productive is that it focusses on the negative and strengthens it. When people are criticized, they can feel a deep sense of powerlessness to change. They feel condemned, so they often think, “why bother”. Do the opposite. Try to communicate hope and belief.

If you can minimize criticism in relationships and instead be emotionally honest, and communicate in a way that doesn’t ‘point the finger’ you will be making an investment that will guarantee a return.

Nick Gwynn

Breathe Counselling Perth