Criticism: The Not So Silent Killer of Relationships

This is another in the series where we’re looking at John Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and how they destroy relationships. I believe this is important for Spiritual Leaders to understand because you are called to be the instruments of God’s peace in bringing understanding, peace and unity within the family of God. Gottman did his research on marriages but these principles are found in every human interaction and applicable to any relational conflict.

The next horseman we will look at is Criticism.

Criticism is when we see an action or attitude that we dislike and personify it in that person.

For example, instead of saying that we are angry that our partner is late we call our partner a late person. It becomes the label we slap on that person so instead of just having been late they will forever be known as a late person. How incredibly damaging is that. Think about the labels we unconsciously put on people – or the labels that you have been saddled with. Did you ever get a bad grade in school were called stupid? Or maybe you dropped a fly ball and someone called you clumsy. Are you stupid or clumsy? Absolutely not. But what’s it feel like when you get labeled? Here are two options:

  1. You accept the label and eventually your world becomes smaller and your possibilities become limited. Because clumsy people don’t win ballgames and stupid people don’t go on to academic achievement.
  2. You fight against the label and attack the one who is labeling you or withdraw and stonewall. (We’ll discuss stonewalling next week).

The first option will destroy the person and the second option will destroy the relationship.

So how do we express our anger, frustration or disapproval without becoming critical? It is by separating the action from the person. We all have times when we are upset at another’s actions and we need to be able to express it to them. Good relationships are not conflict free; they learn to resolve those conflicts in a way that deepens and strengthens the relationship. Let’s take the example of being late (my personal favorite pet peeve)

Here’s the critical way of expressing your displeasure:

"You’re late, you were late last week and you’re late today. What it wrong with you! Why are you so inconsiderate!"

Here’s a way of expressing your displeasure without criticism:

"I need to tell you something that hurts me. I know you may not realize this, but when you are not on time it makes me feel like you don’t care about me because you know how important it is for me to be on time. I really don’t want to feel this way about you. How can we solve this problem?"

Okay, some of you may be saying; “when I’m angry those words don’t come out of my mouth” And maybe that’s one of the problems. We confront when we’re angry and we make things much worse. So calm down, share how you feel and believe that your partner really wants the best for you. It is ALWAYS best to default to the positive.

I hope this is helpful.

As always if we can ever be of service to you don’t hesitate to let us know.