The Unexpected Gateway to Meaningful Connection

by Relationship Coach Rinatta Paries on October 19, 2014

in Break-ups and Divorce, Dating, Heartbreak, Marriage, Men's Help, Relationships, Singles, Singles, Women's Help

couple_arguingThis 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.

 

 

{ 16 comments }

Ivan Williams July 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Criticism can also depend on the manner and intention of the person giving it. Obviously, people who do care about us give constructive criticism because they want us to become a better person. But there are people our there who criticize because they want to pull us down or are envious. I’ve learned over the years to weed out the feedback that was given wholeheartedly to those that are not. Thanks for another enlightening post.

Alfredo June 10, 2011 at 7:19 am

Besides, if some one criticizes at you, it’s because they care about you! Otherwise they wont even bother to fall into an unconfortable situation! Criticism are always good! even more when come from the people that you really care the most!

Eda M. Handly April 22, 2011 at 6:41 am

I really see two different views on this. While I agree that no one is perfect in a relationship, criticism tends to break one down rather than open them up. If it is constructive it can be rather effective. However, when one is just berating the other on everything they want to change, every imperfection, this can take a toll on the other party’s self esteem and they begin to believe, possibly, they are not good enough. Criticism can slowly break away all of the good points of a healthy relationship. You can’t un-ring a bell. If the person receiving the criticism is sincerely hurt by the way the their partner is presenting the issue, it does not do anyone any good nor does it solve the problem at hand.

Gary Wells "Yuconman" March 9, 2011 at 11:03 am

I loved your article and never thought about criticism being taken in so many different ways. There is a world of difference between constructive criticism and just plane criticism. And there is always a time and place for all critisism.

Yuconman

Pastor Vance Williamson February 14, 2011 at 1:02 am

Wow, as a Pastor for 20 years I can relate. One of the greatest hurdles I had to get over was constructive criticism. It is a pride thing. Had I listened earlier or read your post 20 years ago I could have implemented a more productive view and saved myself from a lot of frustration. No really, I was wrong for not listening with the heart. I learned if I bristle I am probably in need of the input. Thanks again.

Bob Kamm January 27, 2011 at 10:39 am

As someone who used to believe in constructive criticism, I couldn’t disagree with your thesis more. Behind nearly every criticism is a hidden need which is not being spoken in a straight and clean manner. That need is often bound up with a childhood wound involving hurt, shame, fear, anger or all of these. We do our best learning, growing and healing in a safe environment. Criticism takes away that safety. It comes from a childhood wound and tends to trigger one in the receiver, which leads to defensiveness, stonewalling, contempt or counter-criticism. When we learn to speak from our own need, when we learn that our partner is not us and has an entirely different world going on inside with its own internal logic and validity, then we can speak straight and clean. We can talk about our own hurt and our own need. If our partner is moved to empathy, he or she might actually choose to change a behavior…out of deep connection, not out of criticism. Even in the workplace, I have found it possible to work wonders without criticism. Given safety, most people will come forward with their own shortcomings and their own desire to change without our putting them in a power differential where we are above and they are below. I encourage you to reconsider your position and do some work with safety and empathy.

Stephanie January 21, 2011 at 6:49 am

Those are great tips. Thank you so much for sharing. Communication is a key in my book.

Sally January 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Great tips…I say communication is the key to any successful relationship.

Zabrinah's Love Blog December 24, 2010 at 11:24 am

I really appreciate that you believe criticism can be helpful, and downright positive. It’s true that so many people do not want to change, much less hear criticisms based on their behavior. Overcoming the shame of criticism definitely is the key!

I love your straightforward honesty! However, the thing is, a lot of us are truly afraid to leave these relationships once we find out the problem is something we CANNOT stand. However, everyday is a new day to gain courage, and really do what is best for your life!
~Zabrinah

Elle December 5, 2010 at 6:19 am

I welcome your comments on criticism. I completely agree but was in a relationship in which he couldn’t stand the slightest criticism – so much so that when we broke up and then became friends, he never even asked me “why” I broke up with him. Apparently he couldn’t take the answer. I drove myself crazy trying to figure out “how not” to say anything that even smacked of a small criticism – a person just can’t do that in a relationship. We all have our faults and yes, it is hard to hear them sometimes but productive if we take them to heart. Thank you for a great article.

Yvette Francino October 23, 2010 at 5:10 am

You bring up a good point. I think what we want to avoid is defensiveness. We need to be open to what others are saying and consider whether what they’re saying is true, rather than immediately jumping in to defend ourselves.

That being said, all criticism is not necessarily loving and constructive. Some relationships can get in a mode where partners are insulting one another or constantly asking for change.

In many situations (for example Toastmasters, or writing critique groups) we are taught how to critique. It’s a good rule of thumb to find two positive things for every negative thing you are going to say in a critique. If you only tell someone what you don’t like about them, they are bound to get defensive or just decide the relationship is not worth it.
.-= Yvette Francino´s last blog ..Are you in Limerence More about romantic love =-.

Samantha September 20, 2010 at 11:54 am

Wow! Such a great article. Criticism naturally puts us on the defense, but you are so correct in offering that accepting criticism (and knowing how to give it lovingly with good intentions) is the foundation of a strong relationship. I am in a very new relationship, and following this advice will be critical to its success. Great read. Thanks Rinatta!
.-= Samantha´s last blog ..To Delete or Not to Delete…That is the Question =-.

Ash September 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Hey Rinatta. Lovely post and it definitely shows how criticism shows that one cares about a relationship not the opposite because if one didn’t care, they would have left long time ago. But i also think that criticism should be in a positive manner not for the sake of insult because sometimes people criticize to get back and that not should be the intention. Thanks again :)
.-= Ash´s last blog ..20 Proven Ways That Show If You Are In Love =-.

Janie Lapka June 7, 2011 at 5:13 am

I agree that when we criticize, it needs to be done very carefully and positively. I have read that we should start out saying something very positive about that person before the negative or people put up their defenses and don’t listen.

Lisa August 28, 2010 at 4:31 am

I never thought of criticism that way before, it’s too tied up in my mind with “insulting” someone, and now I see, when well done, it’s not that at all. Not sure how your article found its way to my Inbox, but, the timing was perfect for dealing with a work situation which is causing a lot of stress… thanks. Keep me on your mailing list!

Love Coach Rinatta September 5, 2010 at 9:22 am

You are welcome, Lisa. Interestingly I just read an article originally from Chicago Tribune about criticism and parenting that is very relevant to this article. Here are some interesting excerpts:

Learning to accept criticism and evaluate one’s behavior empowers a child for life.

“Kids, by 5 or 6 years old, are ready cognitively to appreciate that other people are observing and evaluating them,” Stott said.

Wise parents help their children — not with false soothing, distractions or praise — but with probing observations, Stott said. For instance, you might say, “I noticed yesterday that Sally didn’t want to play with you. Do you have any ideas of why that might be?” With some guidance, the child might respond, “It could be that Sally is having a bad day. Or it could be because I didn’t share.”

“This helps the child see that they could do something about it,” Stott said. “If you can own up to your own mistakes, it ultimately gives you more control because you can then fix it. It’s paradoxical because it’s painful, even as an adult, to think, ‘I said something I shouldn’t have said.’ On the other hand, actually knowing that is better than doing it again.”

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