I know you are, but what am I? – Criticism

Recently I read an article from the Gay Couples Institute called “Stop Criticizing Me,” which I found to be very interesting and helpful. Criticism is quite common in couples, and certainly gay couples are no exception. Believe it or not, the article gives tips on how to avoid criticism altogether. And if that seems impossible, I encourage you to keep reading.

According to the research of John Gottman, Ph.D. and the expert team at GCI, there are four types of communication that  create tension in partnerships:  Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Criticism is using any kind of language that indicates blame. Typically, using the word “you” is the culprit.

“I can’t believe you didn’t record Modern Family for me last night!”

“You should have called ahead for reservations.”

“What do you mean you forgot to buy condoms?!”

Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea. And it’s important to note that criticism can keep the blame alive and well without actually saying the word “you.” For example…

“This is the third day in a row I had to clean the cat litter!” (The “you” is implied, and clearly heard by the listener.)

“We should have called for reservations!” (It’s clear the speaker is hunting for blame, and the lucky winner – ding! ding! ding! – is “you.”)

So how do you stop criticism in its tracks? Two simple rules:

Rule 1: Talk About What You Want, Not What You Don’t Want or Didn’t Get

This strategy takes all the negativity and complaining/blame off the table. “I really want the cat litter to be cleaned every day, okay?” or “I was hoping we could have walked right into the restaurant and sat down at a table.” It’s still okay to be angry. You’re just avoiding criticism by removing blame, which is the component that escalates the tension.


Rule 2: Talk About Yourself, Not About The Other Person

By staying inside your experience, you avoid any kind of attack. “I feel so tired right now, and I was really hoping the chores would be finished.” Or “I’ve been looking forward to eating at this restaurant all day and now I’m worried we won’t be able to find another good spot.” Notice how these statements are staying inside the speaker’s experience, and not referencing his partner at all.

So if you get upset with your partner (that never happens, right?) avoiding criticism as it’s defined here will help you avoid drama and tension. Remember the two rules and you’ll be well on your way to resolving the conflict without escalating it unnecessarily by hurting the other’s feelings or saying something you regret.

And if you need a real-world example, just tune in to an episode of The Real Housewives of New York. Wow!