This article was originally published in August of 2010. Because of its popularity, it has been updated and republished.
Everyone at one point or another criticizes the person they are in a relationship with, be it a partner, a parent, a child, a co-worker, or someone else. Sometimes the criticism is stated outright, often it is veiled in a sideways comment, and at times it is not spoken but felt.
The common view of criticism is that it is offensive, an insult or an attack. Perhaps it is sometimes, but most often, it is not. Rather, it is a request for change and is a surprisingly good sign in a relationship.
What does it mean when one person criticizes another? It often means that person cares enough about the relationship enough to risk causing a negative reaction in the other. Otherwise why bother asking for change?
In other words, if you are dating person A, or are in a relationship with person A, and he or she is doing something you can’t stand, you have a choice. If you no longer want the relationship, you simply leave. However, if you want the relationship, you will tend to try to accept this thing you can’t stand. But when you find you can’t accept it, you will give constructive feedback, or criticize your partner.
You will do this specifically because you want the relationship, not because you don’t want it!
The key is that we don’t give feedback to people we do not want in our lives. We only take the risk to give feedback to the people we want to keep; who we hope will accommodate our desires, at least somewhat.
And there in lies in part the cause of the current crisis in relationships. The popular belief is that we should be accepted as is in a relationship, that our partner should find us perfect, and that no change should be requested of us. If change is requested, men and women alike feel offended and either become deeply hurt and resentful or simply end the relationship because they do not want to be criticized.
When did we come to believe that we are perfect and that we should be accepted as is? When did we come to believe that when people don’t like something about our behavior and say so, they are being offensive?
We are imperfect. We all have issues, we all do things that are not good for us, and not good for those around us. And so when someone cares enough to risk giving us feedback, perhaps we should take that as a sign of their love, rather than being offended. Feedback, because it involves so much risk for the person giving it, is often an act of courage and caring.
Feedback can be an opportunity to build intimacy, if taken correctly. Feedback shows you that you are being seen. What is reflected to you is imperfect, yes, but you are being seeing by another person, and that is very powerful and can be so very healing.
How often in life are we truly seen? Perhaps people see the clothing we wear, the persona we project, but not much else. When someone gives feedback, this can be a door to true intimacy, because intimacy begins with seeing each other.
Want the moment of feedback to be a door for more intimacy and love in your relationship, as opposed to the moment the relationship breaks or ends? Here’s how:
- When getting feedback or criticism, open your heart, even though it may hurt or make you feel ashamed that you are not perfect.
- Dig deep, look for the reasons you do what you do, share them with the person who brought the complaint.
- Ask him or her what the intent of the criticism or feedback was and what she or he was trying to achieve.
- When you hear that he or she wants you, except this one thing needs to change, hear that.
- And consider perhaps that one thing is something you already think you need to change for yourself.
- Would your life be better if you changed that thing?
Very often, that is exactly the case. The thing that people ask us to change, especially if the requests are repeated over a series of relationships, are exactly the thing that would serve US to change and grow about ourselves.
And then consider – should you be hurt because someone can see you; because yet another person asks you to change the same thing as many other people have asked? Or perhaps you could be grateful, because you end up with people in your life who care about you enough to ask for an alteration so that they can keep you in their life.
If you can overcome the shame that is triggered by criticism and instead use the information to improve your life, if you can be open enough to show the person giving feedback that you are wounded by it, yet are listening, an opening will occur in your relationship as a result.
And in that opening you two will grow in intimacy, in seeing each other deeper. You will grow into feeling closer and safer with each other.
This is a powerful way of being – taking feedback and allowing it to mold you into a better, more open, more flexible person. It’s also a great way to conduct relationships, as you turn potentially relationship-killing situations into opportunities for more meaningful connection.
If you find the criticism in your relationship to be too damaging or painful – either for you or for your partner, this can change for the better. Schedule a Get Clarity Coaching Session – phone, skype or in person – and together we’ll look at making the hard parts of your relationship the gateway to a deeper, more fulfilling connection.