by Kristin Kuiper, LMSW, MSW
I was sitting with a couple this morning, listening to them summarize their main frustrations about their relationship. “She just takes everything I have to say as criticism, even if I’m just asking her about her day” he said. She responded, “Well, I’m so frustrated with you that you just don’t get me, you’re only interested in proving your point all the time.”
How many of us can relate to how this couple is feeling? Last week, I blogged about the necessity of tough conversations—how they are almost unavoidable and require a lot of thought when we want them to turn out well. One step toward this is to stop blaming and begin sharing our point of view, realizing it might change if we really seek to understand the other person involved. My session with this couple this morning is also an example of how criticism so easily sets up these tough talks for failure.
Is criticism present in your relationships? Do you resort to criticizing your partner or your child when you are frustrated or feel misunderstood? When you feel like you’ve been criticized, how do you typically respond (anger, the silent treatment, tears?). Let’s take a closer look…
One easy way to detect criticism is to listen for “You” statements.
“You always talk about yourself.”
“You never help out with dinner.”
“You are always on your computer, you should spend more time with the kids.”
These statements basically state a feeling or complaint we have and turn it into a problem with another person’s character or personality.
A simple way to turn criticism into a valid complaint, and communicate this openly, is to turn the “You” into an “I.”
“I’ve been feeling lonely. I would like it if you would ask me about my day when you come home from work.”
“I’m feeling overwhelmed lately. I would appreciate it if you could make supper one night out of the week.”
“I’m frustrated with how often you play games on the computer. Can we figure out how to spend more time together as a family?”
Realizing that we have control of how we communicate our feelings, desires, and hopes to each other is an important part of setting a difficult conversation up for success.