If Your SO’s “Constructive Criticism” Goes Too Far, Here's What To Do
Words can hurt, and when they're highly critical and coming from the person you care about most, the sting can also be humiliating. If your partner won’t stop criticizing you, know that their behavior can actually be extremely detrimental to your emotional well-being, aside from just being mean and unnecessary. "Having a partner who regularly criticizes you is absolutely not healthy,” Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles, tells Elite Daily.
The personal impact this criticism can have on you isn't the only concerning factor (though it is one of the most important). A steady stream of negativity from a critical partner also undermines the relationship as a whole, warns Dr. Brown. “Criticism is like rust in a relationship. Over time, it creates emotional pain in the form of anxiety, fear, resentment, and contempt," he says. "All of this erodes the ability to establish, sustain, and grow a truly loving relationship.” Frankly, you deserve better than that. If your partner’s constructive criticism of you has ceased to be, well, constructive, here's how the experts recommend addressing the problem.
How To Know When A Partner’s Criticism Is A Problem.
First thing's first: It's important to recognize the difference between regular disagreements that are normal in most couples, and actual harmful criticism. “[People in] relationships that are rich in love are able to give feedback, not criticism or negativity," Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, licensed clinical psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author of Training Your Love Intuition, tells Elite Daily. “Happy couples are good problem-solving teams who are able to move away from criticism and toward shared solutions."
For example, if you constantly leave dirty dishes in the sink or forget to take out the trash, a partner who loves you and respects you will confront you about it productively, and ask you to please give your chores more attention for the sake of your shared space and their boundaries as your live-in partner. If your behavioral patterns continue, your partner will keep asking firmly until you understand how important it is to them that you both keep your home clean. But no matter how long it takes for the message to sink in, your partner will never insult your character or upbringing, call you names, become aggressive, or overreact in ways that diminish you and make you feel bad about yourself.
According to Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, “Criticism is about attacking your partner's personality and character, conveying that they are flawed and wrong. This is a toxic behavior,” she tells Elite Daily.
Dr. Wish says you can identify toxic criticism by considering what your partner is attempting to achieve with their comments. “The goals of healthy [disagreements] are to express one's feelings about being unhappy or hurt, and to work as a team to understand the situation and to work together to resolve the underlying issues,” Wish explains. “On the other hand... criticism does not bring the couple closer to each other. Its goal is to make the other partner feel wrong.”
The final sign that your partner’s criticism has become an issue in the relationship is simply how you feel when you're around them, Chlipala explains. “My clients often feel like they're walking on eggshells with their partner — like they can't win or ever please them, or like they themselves feel an increase in anxiety,” she shares.
“Living in a constant state of fear is a telltale sign that you are now in a toxic relationship,” adds Dr. Brown, who also notes that you shouldn’t ever have to put up with criticism from your SO. “You want to nip routine criticism in the bud before it becomes a sad way of life in your relationship,” he says.
What To Do About It.
Confronting a critical partner about the way they speak to you can be daunting. Fortunately, Chlipala says there are different ways to go about it, and recommends pointing out [the criticism] the moment it happens. "To prevent them from getting defensive or escalating the conversation, you can say ‘I just took what you said as a criticism. Was that your intention?'”
You can also choose your timing a little more strategically if talking about it on the spot doesn't feel right. “Bring it up when you're having a positive time together. I get that some people don't want to ruin that time, but it may help with preventing escalation,” Chlipala explains. Rather than approaching the subject by blaming or accusing them of criticizing you, she recommends focusing on how the way they speak to you makes you feel. This can be done by using language like, "When you say [*insert hurtful language here*] about me, it makes me feel [*insert how you're feeling here*]. Why do you feel the need to do that? It hurts me."
If your partner's behavior doesn’t change immediately, Chlipala says not to get too discouraged. “Sometimes it takes several attempts and different methods for people to 'get it,'" she explains. However, Chlipala adds that it's important to communicate your boundaries moving forward. “Tell your partner ahead of time that if they continue to criticize you, you will physically remove yourself [from the situation] and you can resume the conversation when they can be kinder. The tone in which you convey this is important. Don't do it as a threat, but as a need for your self-respect. No one should put up with constant criticism.”
What To Do If Nothing Changes.
Ideally, your partner will hear you out, own their behavior, and make substantial changes moving forward. But in some relationships, that might not be the case. If your partner refuses to stop constantly criticizing you, Dr. Wish offers some straightforward advice: “Leave.”
This may sound a bit harsh, but Dr. Brown concurs that if your partner refuses to change their behavior, your best move is to exit the relationship entirely. “There is no place for unchecked emotional abuse in your life. You can and should place firm limits on constant criticism. Make no mistake about this: Constant criticism is emotional abuse,” he says.
While the experts are clear about what to do if a critical partner has become a toxic one, it's not always that easy to recognize when things have reached that point. According to Dr. Brown, if you can't tell whether or not you're in a toxic situation and you don't know what to do, simply ask yourself the following question: “If it's 25 years from now and your own daughter is in the situation you're in now, what would you advise her to do?" The answer you arrive at should help direct your next move, he concludes. In other words, if the way your partner talks to you or about you doesn't feel right, then listen to your gut and act accordingly. You deserve nothing less than a partner who treats you with love and respect.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles
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