Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan

Relationship Problems – Criticism

relationship problems, marriage therapySaying that you have relationship problems when you are married is like saying you got wet when you went swimming. It comes with the territory. And remember, it’s not the presence of relationship problems (i.e., arguments, fights) that leads to divorce. Rather, it’s how you handle your relationship problems that can cause divorce (from the research of John Gottman). 


4 Specific Relationship Problems To Avoid


John Gottman found 4 different relationship problems that were consistent among couples who divorced (Related Article: 4 Signs You Have Marriage Problems). Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are the big 4 to avoid. These were common in this group that didn’t make it. It doesn’t have to be you, however. We will address these 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as John Gottman would call them, separately in different articles (Related Article: How To Fix Your Marriage Problems). 


Relationship Problems: Criticism


Let’s talk specifically about one relationship problem in particular, criticism, what it is and what to do about it. Criticism goes beyond simple complaining. When you criticize you attack the person of your partner. It’s different than complaining, which is just about a task or logistical blunder of your partner.


Example of Criticism


Complaining would say, “I don’t like how you always ignore me when we are at your family’s house’. On the other hand, criticism would say, “You don’t even care about me. Every time we go to your parents house you ignore me”. It goes beyond the simple ignoring and attacks the person. This can be damaging in that it creates an atmosphere of fighting and mistrust. It becomes unsafe to be in a relationship when you are an imperfect human (Related Article: What Is Emotional Safety In A Relationship? and Create Emotional Safety Through Fixing Marriage Problems). Your partner leaves feeling hurt and attacked. They might attack back or withdraw from the relationship. Either way, it’s going to hurt your marriage. 


Criticism is kind of the gateway for other Horseman make an appearance. It paves the way for the others to appear. Just because you criticize, it doesn’t mean that your relationship is on a path towards divorce, but it does mean you are headed down the wrong path. Correction is needed and quickly. 


Fixing Relationship Problems: Criticism


Use a Soft Start Up (Gottman’s term) to combat criticism. Approaching your partner with a soft gentle tone matters. Your body language and tone of voice goes a long way to set you up to talk through problems or to have more of them. A soft start up includes talking about you more than your partner, assuming that they are good and trying their best, and looks for a solution rather than to blame or attack your partner.  


Approaching them with a heart at peace, even, can help (see the Arbinger Institute). Are you approaching them with malice and looking for a way to ‘get them’? If so, you don’t have a heart at peace, but have a heart at war. You aren’t looking for a solution but rather are seeing your partner as an object to overcome or dominate. 


Examples Of A Soft Start Up


Instead of criticizing you could say, “I have a hard time while at your parents when you don’t talk to me for an hour. It makes me feel lonely and hurt”. Your partner has a better chance of responding to this with understanding and validation than if you attack their character. 


Let a trained, effective marriage and family therapist help you overcome criticism and connect with your partner. We have offices in South Jordan, Orem, Spanish Fork and Orem. 


Written by Dr Triston Morgan, Utah Marriage and Family Therapist

Utah Therapy


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