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When Marriage Sends You Running for Cover: Criticism

Pulling again from Dr. Gottman’s excellent book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, I’ll be posting about the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for the next 4 weeks. These are four behaviors that can really harm a marriage: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.

This week is all about criticism. According to Dr. Gottman, criticism is “attacking someone’s personality or character – rather than a specific behavior – usually with blame.” Criticism is not about unacceptable or incorrect action: it is about a person being wrong, bad, or inadequate. This is why it is so harmful to relationships.  This is one of those behaviors that can begin innocently enough, and then become a destructive habit.

I get it. The first time your spouse washes your whites with your darks and you get all gray underwear, it’s still fairly easy to offer healthy feedback. “Please, remember to separate the whites from the rest of the clothes.” But the fifth or sixth time it happens, it’s much easier to say, “Why can’t you ever do the laundry right? I’ll just do it myself from now on!” Criticizing someone is much easier than offering constructive feedback, and when we are tired or overwhelmed, we go with the easy option. As we do this day in and day out we create a vicious cycle of criticism as communication, which is very destructive to our partnership, no matter what kind of marriage style we have (volatile, validating, or avoidant).

So the next time your spouse does something that irritates you, think before you speak. Will your words address the specific problem, or attack your spouse?

Like what you’re reading? I highly recommend you buy Dr. Gottman’s book!

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