Are You Being Too Critical in Your Relationship?

How control and criticism lead to disappointment and disconnection.

Posted Jun 24, 2020

 AllGo/Unsplash
Source: AllGo/Unsplash

Relationships are amazing, but sometimes bringing two (or more) different humans together can be hard. You and your partner may be alike in many ways, but you're bound to be different in many as well. Because we aren't taught how to navigate differences in our relationships, we tend to do it badly. However, as adults, we can learn to navigate differences in a healthy way, fostering more safety and connection in our relationships.

You may find that you judge the way your partner does things. Maybe you think they should do things your way, the better way, or the "right" way. This judgment doesn't feel good to make or to receive. Such judgments lead to criticism, which doesn't is panful and fosters disconnection. Expecting your partner to do things your way is an attempt to control them, and it usually leads to the controlling partner feeling uncared for and the receiver of criticism feeling not good enough.

When you expect your partner to do things your way, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. They aren't you, and they're used to doing things their way. They may want to do things your way to please you, but it's not going to be very easy.

They are likely to forget or to do it their way because that's what they know. It isn't because they don't care about you or your needs; it's because you're asking them to do things your way. Even if you think your way is the right way, it's not right for everyone, and your partner's way is right for them. Trying to get them to do it differently is a lot of effort and usually little return.

In addition, when you expect your partner to do things your way, and you criticize them when they don't, you're putting them down. The more you judge them and put them down, the less likely they are to try to do things, because they will start to believe your judgment. If you speak to your partner as though they are incapable, you can't then expect them to feel capable.

When you criticize, you're not sharing how you feel or what you need. Your partner is hearing that they did something wrong and that you're angry. However, you can begin to communicate in a more effective way, which will lead to more conversation, understanding, connection, and more of your needs will likely be met.

The following tips will help you lessen your attempts to control and communicate your needs more effectively:

1. Take ownership. Accept responsibility for your controlling behavior, and own that it is not OK. This may be a process for you if you're not aware that it's controlling, and if you don't know how else to engage. 

2. Repeat. "My way is right for me, and their way is right for them." Let go of the idea that your way is the right way.

3. Communicate your feelings. Instead of attacking your partner's behavior, share how you feel. For example, you might say, "I feel hurt when you forget to put the dishes in the dishwasher because I make up the story that you don't care about my needs."

4. Check out your stories. If your story is that your partner doesn't do things the way you want them done because they don't care, check out that story. Your partner likely has a different reason. 

5. Let go of control. Start to notice what you can be more allowing of. Not everything needs to be perfect. Some things can be done well enough.

When you let go of control, you're supporting your partner's self-worth, and you're making it more likely for them to actually meet your needs. It may sound counterproductive, but as with so many other things, letting go of control is necessary. When we try to control too much, we can tighten our grip so much that we destroy what we're holding onto.