Remove criticism from love
April 2, 2007
Every self-help book on having a successful relationship (marriage) says blame and criticism are very damaging to relationships and must be eliminated. Dr. John Goodman, the foremost researcher into marital relationships, has delineated four factors that are marriage breakers. He calls them “The four horsemen of the apocalypse,” which include criticism and defensiveness.
The common denominator in all this is communication. The manner in which we communicate is what leads to blame and criticism. And “communication” includes words, silence, attitude and body language. Thus, we are always communicating. Obviously, when blame and criticism enter into our relationship it is as the result of communicating in a manner that doesn’t allow us to hear and understand one another, thus fostering defensiveness and frustration and distancing.
It is abundantly clear that blame and criticism are very common in our relationships and very destructive. Thus it follows that these dynamics must be replaced with more effective types of communication and an attitude adjustment. Here are some tips:
l. The 90/10 principle ” When my partner “upsets” me, his/her behavior that creates the upset in me accounts for about 10 percent of the upset. The other 90 percent of my upset has to do with me.
2. When I begin my statement with the word “you,” there is a very good chance the listener will become defensive. When I am describing my experience using “I,” the probability of defensiveness is much reduced and I stand a much better chance of being heard and understood. Example: “We don’t go out as much as I would like.”
3. When my partner is attempting to communicate something to me I will listen attentively without interrupting, reacting, questioning or defending. I will actively listen, checking with my partner during hers/his sharing as to what it is I am hearing. Example: “What I hear you saying is that we don’t go out as much as you would like.” When we listen from this perspective it allows our partners to become increasingly clear as to what it is that upsets him/her. And, it allows me as listener, to more fully understand my partner.
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4. It is hugely important to check out our assumptions. It might sound something like this: “I find myself thinking I am just a burden to you and that makes me feel sad and scared and lonely;” rather than, “You are really not interested in me any more, are you?” The first way of expressing this indicates to my partner that this is what is going on inside me, whereas the second way implies that I know what is in my partner’s head.
5. These four tips are difficult to perform. They are not the way in which most of us automatically communicate. Thus, if the goal is to replace blame and criticism with accurate, safe and effective communication, we must be willing to practice these skills on a daily basis.
Rolf Godon Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in couples therapy and communication. He and his spouse, P. Tanzy Maxfield, present weekend couples workshops several times a year. For information call 587-2557.
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