How do you express to your partner that your feelings are hurt or that you are annoyed or angry with him/her? The way you convey these concerns makes a big difference in your relationship, how your spouse is likely to feel and respond, and whether or not you will get your needs met.
Many of us are very adept at using criticism in these situations. Criticism is when we state our complaints as a defect in our partner’s personality, i.e., giving him/her negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.” Criticism is an attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling his or her whole being when you criticize. Saying “You never do anything around the house. You are so lazy,” when the other person didn’t do the dishes today is another example of criticism. Criticisms include statements such as, “you don’t ever do your share,” or “you always put your family before me.” When you hear yourself using phrases such as “you never” or “you always”, you can be pretty sure you are using criticism.
The problem with criticism is that it is not productive and is usually met with defensiveness and arguing. Your partner feels attacked and thus feels the need to defend him or herself. It causes the two of you to focus on the problem rather than the solution. Over time, criticism will erode the foundation of your partnership.
So how should we express our frustrations with our loved ones? Complain instead. A complaint is about you rather than about your partner. Expressing a specific complaint allows you to address the issue. It describes a problem without placing blame. It also opens up the conversation to a discussion about how to solve the problem.
A complaint consists of 4 separate parts:
- It’s about you. That means that a complaint starts with the word “I”.
- Next state a feeling. ie. I’m overwhelmed, I’m angry….
- State a FACT. This is important. A fact is “you did not do the dishes tonight”. “You NEVER do the dishes” is probably not a fact. Stay in the present. Don’t dig up old hurts.
- Offer a solution.
When we put these together it sounds like this. “I was really frustrated last night when you were late and did not call. Can you please call me next time so I don’t worry?” Do you see how that sounds and would be responded to differently than, “You never call me when you’re going to be late. You’re so inconsiderate!”?
If you have developed a habit of being critical of your partner, learn how to identify complaints as they arise. Stay focused on the current issue and don’t place blame on your spouse. Instead, invite him/her to participate in problem-solving so the two of you can develop a solution together.
Marriage counselling can be helpful to couples who struggle to manage their conflicts effectively on their own. Healthy communication styles keep relationships strong! If you think your relationship could benefit from learning healthier ways of relating to each other, please call or email me. Marriage counselling is a great investment in your present and future!