How often have you been in a situation where your partner has blamed you unfairly or found fault with everything you say? Constant put-downs and negativity mean criticism is thriving in your relationship. Here are some ideas about how to nip them in the bud and start having better communication with your partner.
First up, let’s talk about language. I prefer not to use terms like ‘critical people’ or ‘blamers’. Anyone can fall into speaking critically of others. Criticism can take the form of always pointing out what is wrong, constant negative comments or picking fights. If it’s coming from your partner, it could be a sign of unhappiness of lack of fulfilment. But don’t take it personally: people who have been taken over by criticism are generally in a bad way!
Criticism: You Can’t Fight Fire with Fire
When criticism and negativity becomes obvious, it’s time for action. But you can’t fight fire with fire. Imagine reacting to criticism with criticism… it doesn’t work does it? Most of the time when we are burning up with criticism we aren’t even aware of it. Pointing it out can just fan the flames. We need to be a little more strategic.
Start by checking your own reactions. To reduce the physical stress response, breathe deeply into your abdomen and relax your muscles as you listen to what your partner has to say. Accepting criticism is like receiving a gift that you don’t need. There’s no need to take offence. Just don’t catch the negativity being offered. If you react to criticism, you have basically engaged with it. And if you react critically, you have lobbed it back. Ever heard the expression ‘someone is going to lose an eye’? Once we are playing the blame-game, we have already lost perspective.
One way of changing your response to criticism is to indicate you have heard what the person has said and you need time to consider it. This way, you keep some distance between yourself and the remark. The idea comes from Non-Violent Communication or NVC, an approach developed in the 1960s that involves awareness, expressing feelings and asking for what you need. I recommend the above book ‘Non-Violent Communication: Practical Skills to Connect and Communicate Skilfully in Every Situation‘ that describes this approach in detail. With practice, anyone can improve their communication but it’s important to be assertive and have boundaries. If you are in a situation of physical danger or abuse, don’t stick around. Get out and get help.
There are a few simple things you can start doing now to change the existing patterns of your relationship. If this interests you, read on!
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A repeated scenario I have witnessed in relationships is one partner putting aside their own needs to try to meet the needs of the other. Which of course doesn’t work too well. It usually ends up with the self-sacrificing partner feeling resentful when their own needs aren’t met. But we can’t neglect our own needs!
Does this sound familiar to you?
The situation generally worsens when both partners suppress their feelings and ignore their own needs to try to make each other happy. Both can end up feeling trapped and not knowing what to do. At the same time, the solution isn’t just about looking after one’s own needs. When in a relationship, we have to find a way to be with the other person. We have to be aware of our own emotions and look after our own needs but remain conscious and sensitive to the other person’s feelings and needs as well. It’s not easy, but when both people are generous with each other, it tends to expand the sense of the relationship. If both partners are tight and mean towards each other, everything tends to get worse and worse.
From Blame-Game to Generosity
If you’ve ever found yourself ‘playing the Blame Game’ with someone, you will know the story. We can get caught in a cycle of blaming the other person or blaming ourselves for a silly mistake or the unpleasant emotions we are experiencing. Non-Violent Communication offers a way forward through taking responsibility for – and expressing – our emotions while empathetically listening to the other person’s feelings and needs. Partners can’t always meet our needs. We sometimes have find ways to meet them ourselves but still communicate them to our partners.
Finally, there is always the possibility your partner may be right, even if the way they are saying something is not ideal. Working out what to take on board isn’t always easy. I offer confidential appointments in English in Stockholm, online counselling over Skype and through email. Fill out my contact form to make a start on improving communication. To break the ‘blame game’ pattern in your relationship, contact me today through www.ForwardTherapy.se or call me on 08 559 22 636.