The cost of criticism in relationships
“Never criticize your spouse’s faults; if it weren’t for them, your mate might have found someone better than you”~Jay Trachman
When my future husband and I were preparing for marriage, we took an Institute class where the teacher told us that there was no such thing as “constructive criticism.” He challenged us to never criticize our spouses and to find other ways of solving problems. He suggested a standing weekly meeting where each partner could air grievances, but without being critical, rather just explaining and owning our own feelings.
I’ve thought a lot about that advice over the years. There’ve been many times that I abandoned it completely in favor of a biting word. Often those times have been behind the person’s back who I was criticizing. I suspect that very little of my criticism effected positive change. If anything, I found that such criticism led to a cycle of more critical thoughts that became habitual. As I reflect on the times that I’ve said these things, I feel a sense of ugliness. Criticism is not uplifting or enlightening.
Now, do let me add the caveat here that I don’t view honest conversations about tough topics, even discussing how someone’s behavior is out-of-line or has brought harm to others, as wrong. I believe in speaking plainly and pointedly when there are problems. But that is different than criticism.
I love this quotation:
“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”~William Arthur Ward
I think about this often as I teach, as I parent, as I interact with my spouse, and as I progress in my spiritual journey. Is there value in criticism? Are their ways to offer feedback to people without using criticism? What is the cost to my own psyche when I fall into patterns of criticism?
Today I am thinking specifically about the cost of criticism in our closest relationships–with family members and good friends. Can you share how you’ve experienced criticism in your relationships? Do you have any suggestions for those who might want to remedy their own criticism habits?
Photo taken in my garden