It’s easy to think criticism is a constructive process — one member of a relationship feels he/she knows the other in and out, and in making “suggestions” for how the other might change or improve, he/she is merely helping the other overcome his/her flaws and deficiencies.
“You’re a handsome man,” one might say, “but wouldn’t you rather wear a dress shirt than those ratty t-shirts?
Ultimately, though, all committed relationships contain a seed, no matter how small it may seem, of meaningful love and affection.
It’s imperative that both members of a couple make a strict commitment to this approach. In a particularly unhealthy relationship, this might in fact mean that both people have nothing to say to each other for a long period of time.
In this case, the dynamic between the partners has become so toxic, so stuck in a loop of one-up, one-down behavior that it’s violated both members’ feelings of trust and safety.
This is the second step in creating a healthy, constructive environment for change. It’s a rule that’s easy to remember, but may be difficult to follow at first.
In time, you’ll begin to notice all the ways you were being unconsciously critical — making jokes at the other’s expense, speaking negatively about them to others, thinking passive aggressive thoughts. I challenge you to give it a try — not a word, not a comment, not a glance in a negative direction.
They will find things to say that are neutral, and eventually positive.
As the activated fear in the lizard brain diminishes, both people will begin to feel safe with one another, which is the primary and most important foundation of a healthy relationship.
Hurtful words in a relationship are like a drop of red dye in a glass of water; it turns the whole glass pink.
What starts out as a slip of tongue, a small slight from one person to another, sets a process in motion that slowly (or quickly) permeates a relationship and begins to define its tone.
However it comes out, the message is that one person is superior and the other inferior. The response of the criticized person also takes one of these forms: he/she may slink away, play dead in a submissive posture or take on the accuser by fighting back.