Is there a way to offer criticism effectively? It's important to distinguish between constructive criticism and destructive criticism, and to put thought into some of the ways you might be overly critical. In this episode, we explore the best way to manage criticism in a relationship and how to refrain from being destructively critical with a partner.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about criticism in relationships. One of the famed four horsemen of the apocalypse from the Gottman Institute, criticism can show up constantly in our romantic relationships. Is there such a thing as good criticism? Can constructive criticism work in relationships, or is it always a drag, man? We talk about all that and more on today's episode.
Dedeker: I have a question.
Jase: What, Dedeker?
Dedeker: You're the one who researched this episode. Why did you want to cover criticism?
Emily: I think it comes up a lot in relationships. I think it's interesting because I've definitely been accused of being critical at times, but then in the same token, I'm like, "My partner is critical." Like, "They can be critical of me." I feel like, yes, my mom was critical of me in my life, but then I also have heard people say like, "Well, but it's important to be critical of your partner and of your friends because that's the only way that they'll grow and stuff like that."
Jase: That's interesting.
Emily: I'm like, "Ugh," but then you hear things out there that say that it's basically the worst thing possible for relationships. That it's the reason why a lot of things stem in breed and contempt and other bad things happen in relationships. I don't know, I just thought this is an interesting one to touch on. I wanted to delve deeper into it because I do think that so many people accuse each other of being critical in relationships.
Jase: Boy, I feel like there's so much to unpack in everything that you just said. The thought that people would say, "You should be critical of your partner." It is fascinating because I think that there is a lot of truth to that. I don't feel like I've heard it stated so explicitly, but absolutely, that's how we're taught to think about it.
Emily: Yes. Maybe not specifically critical, but that you should always be pushing your partner to improve themselves.
Dedeker: That feels a little different from just being critical because I think of having a critical eye for your relationship and your partner and the people that you spend your time with, I think that's a little different from feeling like you should be the one--
Dedeker: Yes. To criticize or to be the one directly responsible for helping your partner improve.
Jase: Yes, I think to me, it's right there. That it's your responsibility or even that it's good for you to take on the role of being the person pushing them to grow, it's such a common concept, but I would argue it's bad.
Emily: It is. That it is really difficult or not really a feasible or attainable goal to have. That again, it needs to come from within. I think maybe there can be catalysts from partners, or people being like, "Hey, this is something that one should look at," but to be critical and say blanket statements about your partner that can sometimes just breed anger and resentment, I think over time. I did want to ask and look at the question of what is constructive criticism versus destructive criticism. Because I think that those are two very separate things. That when people talk about like, "Being critical is a good thing."
They're thinking of, "I'm just being constructive. I'm trying to help someone," but perhaps in reality, they're actually destroying the relationship by the way that they're talking about it or talking about their partner. First, I did want to look up what the hell is criticism. In the good old, big old book, the big damn book, that's what Steve Easton used to always say. Destructive criticism is criticism performed with the intention to harm someone, disparage, and destroy someone's creation, prestige, reputation, and self-esteem. In other words, I've seen criticism described specifically as like an attack on a partner's character.
There's a difference between specific criticism, and then critiques or complaints, which are more geared towards incidences or issues, but not specifically addressing a character flaw. Some people will label a complaint as criticism when it actually isn't one, which is interesting. It is a good thing, and hopefully, we're going to try to parse out and talk about the difference between both of those because complaints are not specifically geared towards someone's character. When it can get destructive, is when it starts moving in that direction of a character assault.
Dedeker: An example might be a complaint might be like you-- Let me think about how I want to phrase this or how healthier.
Dedeker: Yes. A complaint would be something like--
Emily: Is specific about an instance.
Dedeker: Specifically like, "Hey, I'm annoyed because you haven't taken the trash out the last three times that I've asked you to." Rather the criticism which would be, "You are so lazy."
Emily: "You're lazy. fucking lazy person."
Dedeker: "You are so lazy. You never listen. You ignore--"
Emily: "You never take the trash out. You never do what I need you to do."
Dedeker: "You are a terrible roommate," whatever.
Jase: Yes. "You don't value or household." Yes, all those things.
Emily: Yes. "You just rely on me to do something, blah, blah, blah." Talking about specifically their character. Hopefully, that's helpful, everyone. Took a moment to get there, but here we are.
Jase: I think that the term constructive criticism is interesting because the fact that that-- Destructive criticism is a word that I'm only familiar with because of constructive criticism, and it's just like, "Okay, that's the opposite of that." Whereas, I feel like criticism was a thing first, and then someone at some point was like--
Emily: "Wait, wait, wait."
Jase: "Maybe there's a way to do this better. Let's call that constructive criticism."
Dedeker: Constructively you are like, "Hey, maybe we should make a different term for this."
Jase: I almost want to make the case that criticism, by default, is this more negative, destructive thing, and that constructive criticism is almost not criticism. It's almost like something else that someone had to come up with a term for.
Jase: I don't know if that's helpful at all, but I feel like sometimes, we can get into this like, "Is this just criticism or is it destructive criticism?" I would say, "No, actually, the whole thing's maybe not the best."
Emily: Criticism is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in relationships. From the articles that I read, it is almost always the one that leads to the other three. Can we go over one more time what they are? Criticism and stonewalling. I know they're at opposite ends. Contempt is one, what is the third?
Emily: Which is funny, because this talks about also defensiveness. That there's a cycle of criticism and defensiveness.
Jase: Yes, that makes sense. It's like this is the gateway drug into it.
Jase: This is so common. We talked about this a little bit last week, but it's like there's this idea that we're either entitled to be more critical of our partners than we are of other people, of our romantic partners or that we're more responsible for their actions than we are for anyone else's, except for maybe our children. Therefore, and that's another person that we're taught to be critical of, or it's considered normal to be critical of because we're helping them. We're helping them grow. We're guiding them in what to do. Often, both with children and with partners, that can lead us down a road that's not helpful. That leads to defensiveness and can be destructive to the relationship. There's this negative cycle of criticizing, which, like Emily was saying, causes defensiveness. Again, we'll get to that more later.
Dedeker: In a relationship where criticism is really present, it's really hard to feel loved by a partner who's constantly criticizing us. It's also hard to feel love for that same person who's also constantly criticizing you. Related to what Jase was saying about how for some reason we feel more entitled to criticize our romantic partners rather than our friends, I’m not 100% sure why that is. I feel like that’s probably a combination of holding our romantic to this much higher standard for ourselves. Sometimes holding someone to a higher standard can be a good thing. There's also the super high standard that we receive from our culture of what our romantic partner should be.
I think combined with the fact that often you're just more exposed to your romantic partner than your friends, especially if you live with them. If you're with them almost 24/7, it’s yes, you get to see all their flawed humanity everything from interpersonal issue that they're dealing with in therapy down to gross bodily fluids and sounds to annoying habits that they have. You get exposed to that all the time, and I think that that can make it really to almost just-- Your mind just slowly shifts to this place of being critical of these things rather than being able to brush them off if you're constantly exposed to them.
Emily: Yes. It’s interesting because we’ve talked about like parents being critical and then us being critical of our romantic partners. This may be a little Freudian, but it is that idea that sometimes we act as parents to our partners in various ways, which I don’t that we should. Sometimes people do slip in those habits of doing things like that. Especially, you probably don’t want to have sex with a person who’s scolding you about not taking the trash out.
Jase: That’s a real killer of that intimacy.
Emily: Totally. Yes. Again, that’s what these articles and I think the Gottman's really get into and talk about is that it’s not sexy to feel criticized by your partner. Because then they become your parent almost. You get into that defensive childlike cycle.
Dedeker: I was going to argue in the flipside. I think it’s also not sexy to feel like-- When you're in the parent position, it’s also not sexy to feel my partner is a child who needs cleaning up after or who needs to be told what to do with their life or whatever, that’s also not very sexy.
Emily: I have kids but then also my partner is another one of the kids, you hear that frigging thing out there in the world.
Jase: I could see some people listening to this and going, yes, but partner’s doing this shit that I can’t just sit by and ignore it or have them take advantage of me or however it’s manifesting. I feel like it’s worth clarifying that this episode isn’t about you can’t ever-
Emily: Be critical or--
Jase: Have constructive feedback or ask for something.
Emily: There are better ways on which to do it. Asking for things, there are much better ways to ask for something rather than just being-- or attacking you partner’s character or making a sweeping generalization about who they are simply because of something that they're not doing for you or for the relationship. Can we get into potentially some examples of criticism in our own relationships like romantic or otherwise? I’m trying to think. With my mother, I know there were a couple of times-- I said it in the last episode that she said, “You're not a risk-taker,” maybe because at times I was a little bit more cautious than she was in various things, but for whatever reason she saw that as like flaw.
I wasn’t a risk-taker. She made a sweeping generalization about my character. I still remember that to this day. It is interesting because I don’t think of myself in that way now. But I do have moments of being, "Wow, did I not take enough risk when I was a kid? Do I not take enough risk now?" Things like that.
Jase: I’m thinking of examples in my own life. I feel like-- It’s often like that generalizing into saying, “Oh, well--
Emily: You always remember to do something?
Jase: Right. Not even just you always or never, but you're careless because of one time that you left something out instead of putting it in the fridge, or you’ve done something like that. That it’s easy to go to a judgment of who you are as a person like you're careless or you're selfish. I know that’s one that I’ve sometimes thought about partners because of some little thing that they do or don’t do. It’s like my mind will go to, “See, my partner' selfish.” Even for myself, even if I don’t say that to them, that’s still even destructive to how I’m thinking about them.
Dedeker: Just my mind is awash. It’s awash with both examples of being on the receiving end of destructive criticism and also on the giving end. I’m definitely no stranger to that. We’ll get into this a little bit later. I do see myself as a very critical person, and I feel this is the thing I have to reign in the most in relationships. I’ve learned from myself that anytime “you” statements get trotted out from me that there's going to be destructive criticism attached to it, pretty much 90% of the time. For me, that whole trick of doing the “I” statement s than the “You” statements is really helpful for me to avoid that, maybe less so with other people.
That’s what I think of on the giving end for me. As far as on the receiving end, yes, like the stuff that I think about that’s the more hurtful is, one is generalizations. When it is like, "You're just this type of person or you just don’t like to do this kind of thing or you just don’t like to this kind of thing." Whatever it is. Anytime someone makes a generalization about just who you are as a human being, that’s the toughest to swallow or hear.
Jase: Let’s go through some bullet points here of what counts as destructive criticism specifically. I’ll start it off is that the tone of how it’s delivered is important. If it’s a raised voice or visibly angry or upset or condescending in your voice. Another one would be starting a sentence with “You always” or “You never” or “You should” like Dedeker was saying like “You” statements.
Emily: I added “should” in there because of you, Jase is because-- yes.
Jase: Yes. The “should.” Oh, boy.
Dedeker: Wait, did someone deliver some “should” on someone else? What's going on? Why did you add it, because of Jase?
Emily: That he hates the world “should.”
Jase: I think it’s almost always a problem when it’s used. I think it’s almost always used for evil and very rarely for good, even when we use it for ourselves. I do it. I still use it. I try to be more aware and not rely on “should” because it’s like “should” carries with it this kind of a value judgment. Of like, “You should do this” rather than, “Maybe this would be a more skillful way to do this,” or “this might be a more advantageous way or a better way.”
Dedeker: Have you considered trying this way?
Jase: The “you should,” it’s like this, there's some outside force, kind of forcing you to do this thing like, “I should be better at this. Should do this more,” it’s just not a helpful way to think for ourselves and it doesn’t foster other people doing what it is that we’re saying that they should do. In fact, it does the opposite. It makes them feel shittier and be less likely to do it. I would argue.
Dedeker: Another clue that it’s destructive criticism is if someone is giving needless insults and don’t seem-- There doesn’t seem to be a way to placate the person, because I think that’s the other thing with criticism is that sometimes it can be motivated just by hurting or just be getting your angry feelings out. No matter how much you say, “Okay, I’ll do this” or “I’ll do that” or “I’m sorry about that,” but the person doesn’t seem satisfied. That that can be a clue that it’s like, “No, this isn’t like any productive or constructive conversation. It’s just destructive criticism.” Hearing from a partner them giving the caveat of, “No offense, but da-da-da” or “Not to ruining your parade, but da-da-da” before a comment.
Emily: It’s probably going to be destructive criticism.
Dedeker: Sometimes even “Don’t take this the wrong way, but da-da-da” Usually--
Emily: I think you are really terrible at this.
Dedeker: In the purpose of avoiding always and “never” statements, it’s not always the case that if someone who gives those disclaimers and caveats that it’s going to be destructive. I know in my experience, usually anytime I hear that disclaimer, I’m always, “Okay, here it comes.” Sometimes, I found it’s a signal that like the person isn’t cognizant of how to give criticism or feedback in a way that’s not destructive, that maybe they have a legitimate observation, but they don’t know how to say it in a nice way. They have to give the disclaimer of “Don’t take this wrong way. Don't let this hurt your feelings." At least that's been my experience. I don't know. I don't think that's necessarily representative, but yes.
Emily: They should listen to this episode.
Dedeker: We're not going to talk about that. This type of criticism as destructive is often filled with blame. It can be something like, "You're the person who just gets really distracted, and gets really caught up in new relationships that ignores my needs, and that's why I can never trust you like, it's your fault that I can't trust you is because you're this kind of person." That I think that it can be not just picking out something about the other person's character, but can also be a way of shifting the blame on to them for something that's going on. It could be something like, "Our houses never clean because you're a person who never cleans up after themselves or because you're lazy," or whatever, things like that.
Emily: Yes, or, "You're just overall a messy person," which is hard to hear probably. To go along with that, again, it's these blanket statements that aren't focused on improvement. They're not focused on like, "Hey, can we talk about some ways that I can help you clean the house more? That we can come up with a schedule to figure out the chores for the home." As opposed to just being like, "You're lazy, and you suck,"
Dedeker: Yes. I wanted to comment on that, because I feel this is something that I see when working with clients so often that there's such a big difference between the conversations where it's uncomfortable, and we have to maybe call each other out on some bad behavior on both sides, but we're also focused on like, "Let's come up with an action plan for how this can be better, let's come up with things that we both can do to make this better." That conversation is so different from the conversation that is just critical and not focused on improvement that is just like, "I'm just going to unload on you all of my years of frustration. I'm just going to unload on you all the things that disappoint me." Then I just feel hopeless and resigned, and I'm not actually interested in figuring out a way to fix it. It's very, very different, both conversations can be really uncomfortable and can be emotional, and can have quite a bit of upheaval in them, but one of them heads things up.
Emily: Is moving the relationship forward.
Dedeker: Yes, one of them is actually moving the relationship forward, and actually pushing us toward like, "Okay, but we're on a team regarding these things." As opposed to I think the other conversation encourages more of that me versus you dynamic.
Emily: Absolutely. To go along with that, there might be some belittle meant or patronizing behavior, and again, it's focused on the right way to do something. If there is some improvement message going along with this, it may just be like, "This is the way that you need to do something, this is the way that you need to load the dishwasher, and there is no other way."
Dedeker: Before you throw Jase under the bus, I was going to throw myself under the bus by saying, "This is one that I have a hard time with that I'm bad about this one because I just know the right way to do things."
Emily: Wow. Look at that. There it is, ladies and gentlemen.
Dedeker: No, really, though. Sorry. I'm making fun of myself a little bit, but I think that I definitely carry with me the sense of like, "I could just figure things out, I know the right way to do things. This is what I have to always avoid or try to avoid is reminding myself there's better ways to do things. You don't have the best way to do things. It's okay, let people figure out the way to do it, it's okay."
Jase: Yes, and this goes into the next thing here.
Dedeker: Jase, I thought for sure you're going to be like, "Yes, you're terrible at that." You just seemed very enthusiastic, when you're saying that. "Yes. I know it's like, 'Oh, boy.'" Here it comes.
Jase: No, I was just going to say that thing of saying, "This is the right way to do something." Is often a big part of this." Something that is really interesting is that I feel most often people who tend to go that route with destructive criticism that's more like, "This is the right way or you have to do it this way." They might think I'm being constructive, I'm helping them,. That the people who tend to do that, in my experience, tend to be people who consider themselves very smart, or very put together, or very skillful, or they just know the right ways to do things, or very logical, or all these sorts of things.
Emily: You mean, Dedeker?
Jase: Yes, I'm talking about Dedeker.
Emily: Yes, obviously.
Jase: No, I'm actually talking about lots of people, I'm including myself in this,. I've definitely been a perpetrator of this in the past, and friends of mine. The funny irony about it, is that these people who consider themselves very intelligent and very logical, are being incredibly illogical by approaching things this way, because that type of criticism fails, because it goes fundamentally against these two really important factors about human beings, and that one is it calls for the other person to submit, and as human beings, we hate submitting to authority, especially authority that feels unilateral, and unjustified, that it's we're not going along with something because it makes sense, but because we're told this is the right way or you should, there's that should again.
Then the other one is it devalues us, it devalues our opinion, it devalues values our own agency, it devalues our opinions about the way things are done. As humans, we also hate that. There is this funny irony of these people who feel they know how to do things so well, are doing this thing very not well, very, not skillfully, and very illogically, because we're all human beings, and they're dealing very illogically with human beings.
Dedeker: Very interesting,
Jase: I think there's a funny little irony there.
Dedeker: It's like the idea that like-
Emily: Yes, that's a very good thing to keep in mind.
Dedeker: - even if you think that you know how to do this particular task better or how to do it well, if you're communicating that on the meta level and not doing it well on the meta level, then you actually just suck. Is that the logical conclusion?
Jase: then maybe you're just not-
Dedeker: Some people will just say if you're not doing it well in the meta level then you're not as smart and as skilled as you think that you are.
Jase: Right, right. Perhaps you might know how to do one thing, but that doesn't mean you know how to do everything right. Then also, I think we'll talk about this a little bit later too, but you also miss out on the opportunity to understand why they do things the way they do it.
Emily: That's a really good point. I like that very much.
Jase: I know, I've got one friend in mind right now, who was very much this, of just gets real fixed in his way about what's the right way to do something, and particularly with his partner, but also with friends like me. We'll just tell them how this thing should be done, or what the right way is to do this thing, and we'll quickly come up with reasons why any alternative solution is not as good, which I think is really missing out on an opportunity to understand things. Then the second part is that sometimes the way that's the most efficient isn't necessarily the best. It's like we conflate this, whatever it is, orderliness, or efficiency, or quickness or something with goodness, and those aren't always the same thing.
Emily: That's specific and impressive, like devaluing thing, Dedeker is having a moment over there. All of those are true. I think ultimately, when I feel criticized, the feeling of being devalued, is the thing that hurts the most, and that is why I tend to internalize it so much, is because I'm like, "Fuck, thinks that I-- what I have to say, and what I do is not a value." They're criticizing me in this manner or telling me that what I do is wrong, and that really blows. Something for all y'all out there to think about if this is something that has happened to you or if this is something that maybe you yourself do, we're going to dive a little bit more into what a critical person looks like, right after this break.
For all of you out there, this might look like you or if you have ever asked yourself or if you've ever been accused of being a critical person, what are maybe some things to look out for if somebody is like, "I think you're really critical person." You're like, "No, I'm not."? If you're actually wondering, like, "What does that look like? What is a critical person look like." Then here's some things maybe to look out for. Number one, is you might be overly critical of yourself, and you might tend to speak to yourself in a demeaning manner, which is really interesting, because even though again, outwardly, you might be telling the world like, "I know how to do things right." You may internally be saying-
Jase: "I screw up."
Emily: - I screw up, but I'm not as smartest I think I am or as I project to the world," whatever, whatever.
Jase: When I was reading this before, earlier today in reading up on this, I read this one and I was like, "Well, fuck."
Dedeker: Jase, you don't have any fucks to give. Just hold my beer on this one.
Dedeker: Moving along, in the past, you may have had an overly critical parent. You may have felt like you never did anything right in their eyes. I definitely relate to this one, and it's funny because I don't look at my family as being critical necessarily or maybe this is just gosh. Maybe this is me being an apologist for my family, because the way I always thought of it was like, "My family just has very high standards." That's interesting, but that's how I've changed it in my brain. We can analyze that some other time. Sometimes coming from that background where if you felt like you were constantly receiving criticism from a parent, or if you felt like there was this just really high standard that you can never live up to.
Sometimes, you internalize that and then project that on to the world. I know that I definitely did, that I took like, "This is just the standard that everyone has to live by, I can't live up to it, but everyone else has to." I also, in turn, pay that forward, into the rest of the world.
Jase: I once heard it phrased that it's like, there's this standard that everyone needs to live up to, which includes all these things, like having your shit together all of the time, and always being successful, and always being thin, and all of these things. If you can't live up to those at least have the dignity to be ashamed about it. I think that very much when I heard that I was like, "Oof." I think that resonates, right?
Dedeker: You're like, "I am, I am."
Jase: I am so ashamed about it. I think that's where it comes from, right? It's like, "I acknowledge other people might not live up to these, but they better damn well be ashamed of it like I am."
Emily: It's, "Yes, oh Jesus, you really dropped all the bombs on me today."
That I have this defend myself with.
Jase: Oh dear.
Dedeker : This next one, I'm just going to keep on digging my own grave here.
It's easier for you to find fault with something rather than praise it. Yes, that's me. .
Jase: Just going to keep going here. Next one, you might micromanage or be a perfectionist.
Emily: Dedeker's "Oh boy, oh man."
Dedeker: The intensity of my funning is increasing.
Jase: If something isn't done exactly right, then you'll get overly upset about it, or only focus on the bad parts rather than seeing where the parts of merit are, or what the good parts are. We talked about with knowing the right way to do something, that there might be good attributes of a different way of doing it, that it's just if you're focused on this perfectionist, which to you perfect looks like what you think is the right way, you're not able to see the potential benefits of a different way of doing something or you're easily insulted or offended.
Dedeker: Now, that's the only one. I can dig out of my grave a little bit. That's the only one I don't think .
Jase: Yes, you think you're all right.
Dedeker: I think I'm all right there. I don't think .
Emily: Something to think about is that you might be harboring hurt feelings or resentment over something, and criticism might just be the first place that you go to because you're having a really hard time getting over that hurt. I think this can happen a lot in relationships. Honestly, if people have a relationship that they choose to stand where one partner cheats, and then there's criticism constantly over that, or over like, "Well, I don't know if I can trust you," or it always goes back to that, because you're still harboring this resentment and hurt, which is understandable, but then it perpetually becomes the thing that is causing a lot of criticism to be doled out.
Jase: Or criticism over other things, because I still need to get back at this person for how hurt I was over this other thing.
Emily: Sure, absolutely.That's something absolutely to think about in your relationship like, "Why do I keep being so critical with my partner? What is the underlying cause here?"
Jase: Yes, it's interesting.
Emily: Then finally, if others tell you that you're a critical person, you might be.
Jase: Maybe, listen to them.
Emily: Or if you tell other people that you're a critical person, which a lot of people do.
Dedeker: That's the nail on the coffin for me.
Emily: I'm just pretty critical like, I'm not going to lie.
Dedeker: The cosmo quiz, is on whether or not you're a critical person has ruled, and it doesn't look good for me.
Emily: When we talk about defensiveness, that's the one that I am. I'm defensive and I'm also really mopey. As my partner might say, I get in a victim-y place. All of those things are something that I know that I'm bad at. I may not be very critical, but I definitely am those other things.
Dedeker: Criticism can definitely go both ways. It isn't always just one person who's a critical one and the other person who's defensive or whatever. There are some instances where either partner can get into a pattern of criticizing the other, and then the other person gets defensive and then vice versa. The one I really had to train myself out of, and I like to believe I'm getting better at this, but a pattern I saw a lot growing up was the whataboutism criticism.
Emily: Isn't that a logical fallacy, Logic Lady?
Dedeker: Yes, then this idea of like, "I criticized this thing about you," and then the other person comes back with like, "Well, what about this thing about you, that's also worthy of criticism?" That was really present in my family, growing up and definitely really present in pretty much most of my early adult relationships, and something that I'm trying to get better at. Criticism is the thing that it's like, not only is criticism itself not very productive, it also generates defensiveness, which is also not very productive. We can just end up in this cycle of one person criticizing the other defending and then back and forth back and forth and then nothing actually gets resolved.
Jase: No one actually gets what they want, which is ironic because I think a lot of us tend to come to criticism, thinking, it's because I want it to be a certain way, and I want to get what I want so I'm going to say this, and will sometimes have good intentions, but we actually end up doing is criticizing which fosters defensive. It doesn't get us what we want, and hurts our partner and perpetuates this cycle.
Dedeker: I think an example that I've seen, that I've lived and also seen in a lot of my clients, is something where it's like person A, comes to person B and it's like, "Hey, you don't prioritize spending time with me," and then person B gets defensive like, "What are you talking about? I blacked out all this time last week that we spent together. What are you talking about?" Then even if that interaction doesn't go any further and no one says anything else, it's like no one's still gotten what they wanted. Person A hasn't gotten feeling, person B prioritizes their time together, and person B hasn't gotten feeling person A acknowledges the time that they do spend together. It really is like a weird zero-sum cycle, where it's like no one really comes out ahead.
Emily: It's interesting in both of those scenarios, where I think that so often, people just want to be heard and understood. Person A in that scenario is like, "I feel like you don't value our time together," and when they want to be heard because they feel lonely or as though their partner maybe is more excited about someone new that they're dating for example, and person B wants to be acknowledged with all of the time that they are giving to person A, and they want to be understood for that. I think that we're going to get into this next, is that there are ways in which to fight better, and to actually ask for what you need, and try to have the ability to give your partner what they need in those moments. Even just assessing those things for yourself like, "Why am I being critical here." It's really difficult for some people.
Jase: Yes, definitely. Well, shall we get into this list here?
Jase: How do we improve our criticism, make it constructive, also maybe let go of some of the need to be right, and instead focus on getting what we actually want, and what we need as opposed to just punishing someone for not giving it to us? Number one here--
Dedeker: This is a list we got from somewhere, right?
Emily: Yes, from psychcentral.com.
Dedeker: I just wanted to make sure we
Jase: We've also added a little bit to it. You won't get this list 100% from them.
Emily: Yes, they just have some of this. They have six easy ways to stop criticizing and improve your relationship. We added a seventh or an eighth thing.
Jase: I think a seventh thing.
Emily: Yes, a seventh thing. Okay, do a couple of them, Jase.
Jase: The Multiamory special sauce, all right.
Emily: double do you.
Jase: The first thing is to be realistic.
Emily: I put yours sorry.
Jase: I hate this, Emily.
Emily: Wait, I mean--
Dedeker: Hang on. I'm just going to preempt it by saying, what a positive thing it is, that really the only criticism we have of you, is that you're so critical about loading the dishwasher correctly.
Jase: Great. If your partner always loads the dishwasher "incorrectly". Realistically, they might never stop doing that. Maybe you just have a sense for dishwasher loading, that other people don't have.
Emily: You do. You're the Tetris King.
Jase: Maybe you just fundamentally understand dishwasher loading in a way that other people don't. Be realistic to understand that, they may never load it the way that you would. However, there's things you could do about it. You could choose to just be the one who loads it, and instead ask for support setting the dishes up or rinsing them or doing something so then you can load it, or just get over it and not worry so much about how the dishwasher is loaded. What's funny is this issue has actually been a point of contention between myself and my roommate, who thinks that he knows the right way.
Emily: Yikes. You're both like--
Dedeker: Trouble in paradise.
Emily: You're really upset at each other over this?
Jase: What's funny is what I realized eventually, after getting pissed off at him a few times and us arguing about it was realizing that the metric that each of us were using for what's correct is different. Our a whole philosophy about cleaning and dishwasher loading and stuff. We just have different things that we value. I think that's something that kind of what I was talking about earlier of if you're just asserting, "I know the right way," rather than understanding and valuing a different way to do something is that you might just have different things that to you, are the qualities worth achieving.
Emily: Worth fighting for.
Dedeker: I did recently learn your family of origin has particular standards around dishwasher loading as well. When I learned that--
Jase: I was brought up with this.
Dedeker: When I learned that, I was like, "It makes so much more sense."
Emily: Yes, that does make sense. Dedeker you also know, "You know what, I'm just going to leave it. Leave it to y'all." I'm assuming, because that's what I would do, ultimately.
Jase: What I'm trying to get at, though, from my experience with my roommate is understanding that, first of all, that. Just that like there could be different criteria for determining what's good, what makes a way of doing something good and that we don't have to have the same ones necessarily. However, you're going to get along better if you're able to at least respect each other's metrics for goodness. Perhaps that means that you can find a compromise or perhaps it means we agree to disagree, but I can at least acknowledge that you have a way of doing something, and you haven't died yet. Clearly, it works to a certain level, and maybe that's okay. Maybe that's acceptable.
Emily: That's the metric. If you haven't died, wow.
Jase: You haven't died from loading the dishwasher yet. It's okay. It's worked out. Then that goes into this next one, which is respecting their autonomy. That's something that-- Which episode was this? WIt was a few weeks ago, where we were talking about public health messaging. Like ads that are anti-smoking or something.
Dedeker: It was the rules and agreements featuring boundaries.
Jase: Respecting someone's autonomy means putting my caveat of like, "You can do this however you want. I might have some suggestions, but also you don't have to do it my way. That actually will make someone more willing to want to do it in a way that pleases you.
Emily: Because, again, they're not submitting to the one way to do it.
Jase: Yes. It's like you give them away so that they can win, by feeling like, "I'm doing something good for my partner," and you get to win by getting what you want. As opposed to--
Emily: You are manipulating. No, I'm kidding.
Jase: As opposed to the other way, which is, I'm going to make you lose, by feeling criticized and having to submit to me. I lose by either having an unhappy partner or not getting what I want or more likely both.
Emily: The next one is going to be look for the positives. I think this is really important. If you see something that your partner does well, you should tell them so, and you should tell them often. Especially if you are erasing a negative interaction. What was this that you found, Dedeker? That successful relationships have a 20 to 1, positive to negative interaction ratio.
Dedeker: That's on an everyday basis, that for every one negative interaction you have with your partner, a healthy relationship has 20 positive interactions.
Emily: That's the ideal, right?
Dedeker: That's what they found successful relationships had. It wasn't like, "We created this idea." It was that Gottman studied healthy relationships and successful relationships and found this was the ratio of positive to negative interactions.
Emily: If you're in a fight or a conflict, then you need to have at least five positive interactions to one negative interaction. That's just in the midst of a fight or conflict.
Dedeker: Yes. I think as you're hashing something out.
Emily: I see.
Dedeker: That for every one eye roll, there's five, let's say, times where you're like, "Yes, you're right. I totally understand that," or, "Thank you for being willing to talk about this." You get what I mean that it's like, there's ways to have still positive interactions, even when you're in the midst of a disagreement or a fight.
Emily: Again, this came like, flip the narrative of what is happening here within critical thinking, is that instead of being-- If constantly saying and talking about the things that your partner is doing wrong, instead, switch that and flip that on its head and try to find the things that your partner is doing correctly, or that you're happy about, or that they're making strides even to give you what you need and what you want. Then instead of constantly being critical, and constantly saying all of the negatives, which is, as we learned earlier, what critical people tend to do, you instead showing your partner that you you can see their work. The work involved in making you happy.
Jase: I even found sometimes, if I've had a criticism or something that I want my partner to change, and I'll be upset about something and I'll go into it. I'll think, "I do want to acknowledge what they have done." I'll start by saying, "I'm upset about this thing, I do really appreciate that you do this and that you do this other thing." Sometimes even by the time I get through a few of those things, I'm like, "Actually, this thing upset about isn't that big a deal. It's still would be great if you would do this or not do this." Even for myself, it's acknowledging the positive things that they do. It's like, "Actually, that is pretty good. Actually we're doing pretty good, now that I think about it."
Dedeker: I talk to myself out like that.
Another thing is to not take your partner's behavior personally. Try to assume that your partner has the best of intentions when they do something that annoys you-
Emily: That you are on the same team.
Dedeker: -or if they don't do something something and they're not doing it and it annoys you or they screw up in some other matter. Because there can be a multitude of reasons why something happens. I think I've shared on podcasts in the past that, my critical nature tends to come out in holding people to this high standard of like, if I ask you to do something once you're going to remember it and there's no excuses to forget. If I make a request once, you're going to remember to do it, and you're going to do it right away and there's no excuses to not. That's the standard that's been baked into my cake as it were.
Emily: The Dedeker Cake.
Dedeker: I shared this example last time that it's like, if a partner comes home, and I'm like, "Did you get this thing from the store that I asked you to?" They're like, "Dang, I forgot," that it's really hard for me to not feel like, "That was about me. They just don't care about me. They don't care about my needs, or they're not organized enough or are not put together enough." It's really easy to make it about me. If I just put myself in that situation, where I'm like, it's so easy to just forget. To just be like, "Whatever, I'm caught up at work," or, "I didn't write it down. It's such a normal thing. Anything that you can do to remind yourself not to take this behavior personally is great.
Jase: Next one here is, take a moment and consider whether something actually needs to be said at all. Try calming yourself down and reevaluating. Do I need to speak up about this, right now while I'm annoyed?
Jase: HALT. Yes, do a little mini HALT for yourself. Evaluate. Is this something I need to bring up right now? Is this something that we could maybe talk about later? Maybe I should write it down and remember to talk about it at our next radar or whenever we have a moment where we're talking about things? Is it maybe not something I need to bring up at all? It could be any of those. That doesn't mean that one of those is the right answer. Just take that moment and evaluate it. In Buddhism, there's this three questions. Is it true? Is it kind? is it necessary? I think sometimes the is it necessary, is always a tricky one to answer, but it's at least kind of a starting place of asking those questions. Is this true or am I just upset? Is it kind? Is there a way to do this that's kind. Is it really necessary? Those are very valuable questions to ask yourself.
Emily: Yes, one of the big ones here is to learn to ask directly and respectfully for what you want. Let your partner know why you would appreciate if they did something, why it is important to you if they stopped doing something. Instead of like calling out their character flaws, which is a thing that I think turns constructive criticism into destructive criticism. Just let them know what you want. Also, move away from stating things as absolute truths, such as, "This is the right or the wrong way to do something or you should do it this way," Instead say things like, "It's really important to me that the house be a tranquil and clean and lovely place for us to live in. How can we figure out a way to make it that for both of us? That's something that's really important to me. Can we figure out a way to do that?"
Dedeker: This last one, this is a huge one for me and that's to manage your own anxiety and stress or at least be aware of your own anxiety and stress level. Sometimes critical feelings towards your partner can come up. When it's actually about you. You may have something that's going on, you may be feeling tired, you may be feeling overworked. You may be feeling anxious about something. I know for myself I've learned that, the amount of alone time that I'm getting directly corresponds to how kind and compassionate and gracious I'm able to be with my partners.
The less alone time I'm getting-- it's not even about like just me spending time with one partner, too much time with one partner, means I become critical of them or something like that. It's more of just if I'm not getting enough alone time in general. Even if I'm not spending all my time around that partner, then I'm much more likely to get annoyed and be anxious and be stressed out, and that manifest sometimes in being critical or being harmful toward my partner. That's something to bear in mind too. Make sure that you're getting enough of the things that you need.
Whether that's alone time like me or it's decompression time, or enough sleep, or enough restorative time like meditation, or yoga, or exercise, or therapy, really checking to make sure that you yourself are taking care of yourself and getting what it is that you need, because that can really affect the way that you are with your partners. I've definitely found, especially the things that I thought were deal breakers to me, like things like a certain level of cleanliness or organization that if I'm relaxed, and I'm not overworked, and I'm feeling pretty good about life, and feeling pretty good in my body that like I'm much better able to like, "The trash hasn't been taken out yet. Okay, whatever. We'll get around to it. I'll figure it out.
Dishes haven't been done yet. It's okay, we've got time, we can do it." Now that everything falls apart, but I'm much more able to be more gracious about and generous about these things if I'm feeling pretty good.
Jase: Yes, I would agree with that one that also for myself, it helps me to gain some perspective on what are things that this partner or roommate or someone does do that I don't, that I really appreciate, that it helps it for me. Like with the cleanliness thing is an example for me that during times when I'm not feeling as overworked, which does tend to lead to me being a little less tidy and a little less clean, like leaving dishes in the sink or something like that. That when I'm in that state and then my roommates do it, it just drives me fucking crazy because they're much worse than I am.
Then other times where I have a little more time, I'm a little more collected. It actually brings me a little bit of joy to clean up the dishes because there's that satisfaction of like, "I did it." I don't want to do all their dishes, but if there's a few out and I can maintain this like base level, I feel a lot better. I'm less critical of them, and am able to appreciate more of the positive things. That's something I've noticed for myself at least.
Emily: That's fantastic. If you were on the other side of all these things, if you are getting criticism from your partner, from a friend, there are better or worse ways to handle that criticism and better or worse ways to learn how to maybe not take it so personally. Maybe figure out a way to be constructive in how you both can move forward and get the things that you want. We're going to talk about that in the bonus episode, and if you want to get a load of that, then become a Patreon of ours. In addition, we really want to hear about critical things in your life. If you are a critical person, if maybe you have felt criticism from your partner, if the two of you have moved past that, how you have done so, we want to hear about all of that.