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The Four Horsemen of Relationship Communication. #1: Criticism

You and your partner have the same fights over and over again. You try to solve a problem and it just seems to go off the rails. Things used to be so great but now conflict and disagreement have taken over your relationship. What happened???

Lots of things can go wrong, including genuine incompatibility. But it’s hard to figure out where your relationship really is, if your arguments are destructive to your goodwill, never solve a problem, and leave you both frayed and frustrated. Without good communication skills, you may find yourself in a toxic relationship.

Evidence shows that if you adopt healthy communication, you can give yourselves the best chance at a happy relationship. And the good news is that communication skills can be learned. We know that these four communication styles are very destructive to relationships:

  • Criticism

  • Defensiveness

  • Contempt

  • Stonewalling

Today we’ll look at criticism. Criticisms sound like an attack. Why do you always _____? You never _____. You can’t do ____ right. Why would do things that way, it makes no sense? Remember you promised to do ______, what’s wrong with you? These are signs of a negative communication style.

We all know it when we’re feeling attacked, but it can be harder to realize when we’re throwing it on someone else. It doesn’t promote understanding, intimacy, and problem solving. In fact, it’s nearly guaranteed to make the other person defensive and shut down real intimacy.

Criticizer Tip 1: Go into the conversation with softness and positivity. Acknowledge any exceptions to the behavior you object to. Praise the things you love about the person. Distinguish between the person and the behavior.

Criticizer Tip 2: Tell how the behavior makes you feel, using “I’ statements primarily. Something like, “I was feeling hurt and annoyed when you did __________. It brought up the feeling for me that maybe I can’t count on you, and I really need to trust you.”

Criticizee Tip 1: Acknowledge if you’re feeling defensive. Take a short break if you need to. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings and own up if there’s any truth to their concern. Commit to working toward a solution together.

These relationship basics hold the potential to shift the impasse you may be in. Couples therapy can help you learn these and other communication skills. Contact Karen Keys to schedule an appointment.

From Gottman & Gottman. 11/30/21

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