YourTango Experts offer advice on combatting the criticism cycle that can arise in a relationship.
Rejection and criticism arise because of one word: fear. When we are in a state of fear in a relationship, the twin towers of negativity—rejection and criticism—become an embodied part of the couple.
We respond to fear negatively because it's not productive. It's "our stuff" that we don't want to own, so we attribute it instead to our partners. The blame game is a very convenient way to avoid responsibility of owning up to our own fears. Breaking that habit means that each partner needs to sensitively refuse to engage in these projections and step back.
Fight criticism with compassion
When criticism arises, give it some air, think it through and don't react immediately. Try to look at the situation with compassion. Is my partner afraid at this moment that I will abandon him/her and is lashing out? This is often at the basis of rejection and criticism. Many people in relationships play the "I'm going to reject you before you reject me," game. Rejection Fear Extra For Good-Lookers
Rather than combat this fear with anger, turn it around. Ask your partner if they are frightened or if something you did or said made them feel small, insignificant or alone. Compassion and empathy are surprisingly effective when two people are locked in a painful pattern. It diffuses the situation, slows it down and gives everyone a chance to be really heard—through the heart and soul—which is what we all want really in the end.
What your partner really wants is for you to truthfully understand them and their feelings. If you are approaching your relationship by trying to "win" arguments or "be right," you are guaranteed to fail. A relationship is about playing on the same team, not digging in and scoring points.
—Rebecca A. Roy, Counselor/Therapist
Where do rejection and criticism come from?
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the relationship water, your new love tells you "things just aren't working out." Or your partner offers you an unsolicited critique of the way you handle the kids or a project at home. Why do rejection and criticism feel so devastating, when minutes earlier you felt on top of the world? How can you weather the storms of rejection and criticism without lashing out or shutting off all feeling?
The fear of rejection goes back to the earliest days of the human race, when to be excluded from the clan was to face death from starvation or predators. Although we no longer deal with such threats to our basic survival, it is hardwired into us at a genetic level. In families where a child feels cared about and relatively safe to express feelings and ideas, that develops into a sense of security and confidence as a person. But if that wasn't the case in our family, that could set us up for continuing sensitivity to perceived rejection, with possible reactions that may appear out of proportion to the event. In other words, you may seem to others to be overreacting. In this case, your own responses may now be making the situation worse. The Excruciating-But-Critical Thing I HAD To Do To Save My Marriage
How can we respond in a way that leaves everyone emotionally "intact"? To start with, remember that if you are feeling a certain way, then the other party may be sharing a similar sensitivity. Give them the "benefit of the doubt." This will help to reduce automatic knee-jerk reactions in the heat of the moment. More importantly, begin now to build your own positive self-esteem by focusing on your own unique virtues. When we behave in ways that we respect, then our self-respect grows, and so does our esteem of ourselves. Adopting a philosophy of "live and let live" allows the other person to operate freely, in the same manner you want for yourself. In the end result, we can allow others the same freedom we allow ourselves.
—Avis Attaway, Counselor/Therapist
Stop the criticism cycle
Research in the journal Personal Relationships, 2010, suggests that criticized partners see the other as hard and controlling, and are likely to responded in a similar manner. In other words, criticism creates a vicious, critical cycle.
So how can we bypass this automatic trigger and act with grace and dignity?
1. Recognize feeling of hurt and express your pain in words. Research indicates that words calm the emotional brain and bring clarity to the interaction, making it more likely to end in an understanding. When a partner criticizes, rather than jumping to criticize in return, express how that perceived attack made you feel.
2. Realize that your partner must be feeling bad to have made that critical remark. Understanding the pain your partner must be feeling to have delivered a painful remark opens the door to sharing, not accusing, demanding or blaming. He Thinks Your Feedback Is Nagging
3. Invite your partner to open up about his/her sense of being neglected. Getting your partner to open up about his/her vulnerability means you can share your own vulnerable feelings, too.
—Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D., Counselor/Therapist