Criticism involves attacking your partner’s personality or character, not just his or her behavior. There is usually an element of blame in the attack. Criticizing your partner leads to defensiveness and may encourage your partner to withdraw from you – after all, if your partner feels blamed because of a personality flaw, it would be difficult thing to repair. A complaint, on the other hand, especially if it is stated as an “I-statement,” is an expression of your feeling that allows your partner to correct the situation. Stating a complaint, though it may not be pleasant, can enhance the relationship because it gets problematic behavior out in the open where it can be talked about. Complaints often begin with the word, “I,” and criticisms might begin with the word, “you.”
To repair this pattern, try stating your criticisms as complaints that your partner can respond to and not take as a personal attack. Make your complaints specific and talk about them as a behaviors that can be changed. Take responsibility for your own part in the problem.
Examples of Criticisms:
• You never help around the house; you’re so lazy!
• You’re always late coming home from work. You are a workaholic—just like your father!
Examples of Complaints:
• I am angry that you didn’t take the trash out before the garbageman came today.
• I miss you while you’re at at work. I’ve been looking forward to spending time with you.
Caroline Madden is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Burbank, CA. She specializes in helping adults have more satisfying relationships. She can be reached at (626) 644-1609.
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