Why Criticism & Blame Are Killing Your Marriage: How One Couple Cracked The Code To Lifelong Happiness

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Criticism in relationships does more damage than good.

We didn’t always have a blissful relationship. Early on in our marriage, there was tension, conflict, and even fear.

Yet, many people who come to our seminars or see our videos think we’re the perfect couple. They see the harmony that exists between us and think that it must have always been this way.

Some even think we’re too good to be true.

They look at their own relationships and think, "Geez, I’m so far from that. Surely, they’ve clicked like this all along. Maybe they just have something we don’t."

But what we had wasn’t something you don’t have. What we had was a commitment to change our relationship.

And you can have that same commitment and follow the same path that we did.

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Our story: A wake-up call from blame and criticism.

During our first few years together, we slid into some common, destructive patterns that threatened our connection.

Gay had a tendency to be critical of Katie, pointing out everything from grammatical errors to the way she wrinkled her forehead.

Katie wound up feeling like she was always doing something wrong, bracing herself for the next critique, and blaming him for doing so.

It took us a few years to even realize we were in a pattern of criticism.

In fact, it wasn’t until Katie’s parents came to visit that the light bulb went off. They were bickering the whole time and it just made us cringe.

Things were tense and uncomfortable — not our picture of a happily married couple.

Where was the love? We certainly didn’t want to be like that.

Then we realized that we were doing the same thing! We thought we were just being clever — intellectually one-upping or taking slight digs at each other — but it was bickering all the same.

And it wasn’t good.

The turning point to bliss and connection.

We knew we didn’t want blame and criticism to run our marriage, let alone ruin it. So we thought long and hard about what we were going to do.

And then it came: "What if we could invent a relationship that ran entirely on positive energy?"

Right then, we had the idea that if we could eliminate blame and criticism, we could spend our time celebrating all the things we loved about each other and feel happy and connected moment to moment.

So, we went on a diet. We cut out all the blame and criticism from our lives.

We started with one day, then one week, until, eventually, we made it years and years!

It wasn’t easy at first, just like most diets. But together, we made it our commitment — sticking with it and developing tools along the way to make sure we didn’t get off track.

About three years later, we were able to switch to these tools immediately, even when things would get tense between us.

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Getting to the root of criticism and blame. 

The tools worked for us because we dug deep.

In exploring the role of blame and criticism between us, we discovered the underlying, not-so-obvious reasons why we were bickering, to begin with.

And it wasn’t because Katie was making grammatical mistakes!

On the surface, most relationship conflict looks like one person is the bad guy and the other is the victim. In this case, Gay looks pretty guilty!

But, relationship conflicts are never this clear-cut. There’s a dynamic at play, with each partner working off the other.

When you discover your hidden relationship dynamic, that’s where the real breakthrough happens and the door to intimacy is thrown wide open.

In our case, Gay (to his surprise) discovered that he was harboring a fear of intimacy that was keeping Katie at a distance, while Katie realized her childhood had inadvertently primed her to feel criticized.

Transform your marriage, just the way we did.

Once we unearthed the real cause of our relationship dynamic and committed to applying the tools, miracles happened.

Blame and criticism were replaced with bliss and connection.

We felt so satisfied in our marriage that we vowed to teach other couples how to achieve the same — with in-person counseling and seminars that ultimately landed us on Oprah’s stage.

We haven’t exchanged a single word of blame or criticism in more than 15 years and we know that if you’re committed to the process, a loving and joyous relationship is more than possible for you, too.

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Dr. Katie and Gay Hendricks are marriage therapists and dating coaches. Subscribe to their free relationship e-newsletter, Hearts In Harmony, to understand exactly why so many relationship problems can finally be resolved when you learn to identify the underlying issues within yourself.

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This article was originally published at Hearts In Harmony. Reprinted with permission from the author.