ERP 329: Specific Ways Of How To Deal With Criticism In Relationship


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If you've been listening to the Empowered Relationship Podcast, you've probably heard Dr. Jessica Higgins talk about criticism and how it affects relationships. The goal here is to collaborate with your partner to co-create a fulfilling and passionate relationship. However, leading with criticism can make you or your partner feel defensive or attacked, diverting the entire communication to this criticism defensive loop.

In this episode, Dr. Higgins answers some listener and reader questions about criticism, along with some illustrations to help explain it further. As with many of these podcasts, these are not comprehensive responses, but they do provide some food for thought.

Check out the transcript of this episode on Dr. Jessica Higgin's website.

Listeners’ questions:

8:44 “I'd be interested if you have any thoughts or perhaps a podcast around how we listen with or for criticism. I think we sometimes hear what we are feeling in ourselves. Just a thought.”

15:21 “I appreciate this content—it is helpful. However, I am confused about whether you should not help your partner become a better person. Please address this.”

25:28 “I am critical of a part of my girlfriend's body that cannot be changed and don’t want to end the relationship, but it causes me great anxiety. [I] don’t want to leave the relationship, but it is something that may never go away for me internally and it’s making me very unhappy. I really like her in so many other ways and [I] hate this. Do I stay or do I go?”

28:24 “Dr. Higgins. My wife is constantly criticizing me. She never has anything nice to say to me or any praise for anything I do to try and make her happy. Never says thank you or shows any sign of affection to me. It is to a point where I wish I could stop treating her with love and dish out the same stuff she gives me, but I just can’t be like that. I have tried to tell her I would like it ever so often if she could reciprocate the kindness and love I show her, but it is like she doesn’t care about my feelings. We are both in our sixties, and I just don’t think I have the energy to leave this marriage and find someone I can build a new, better relationship with. Plus, I really love her and leaving would be a hard blow to our family. How far do I go?”

35:05 “I have read a lot of articles over the years about this particular issue – criticism, as there is a lot of conflict over this issue in my marriage of 30 years. I feel that I have had to try to exist in a bit of a dysfunctional vacuum, where the fact that her father was an alcoholic, was not allowed to be discussed or acted upon in a way that was healthy for our own family which we were establishing together. If I raised the issue of her father’s behaviour (who is a very charming but also a very manipulative man), or how that might have affected the way she and I relate and communicate, my efforts were labelled as “critical”.

I tried over the years, many different approaches to these communications, but they generally ended in the same way, namely in an argument, resulting in her withdrawing herself from me, for a few days, then her cooling off and eventually her acknowledging the problem and apologising, but only so that the conflict could end. Unfortunately, this apology was forgotten a week later, and we often found ourselves in the same place a month or two later. I called it Groundhog Day, because of the familiar cycle.

My wife appeared to be prepared to do anything to avoid the accountability of acknowledging, communicating about and addressing the dysfunctional behaviour within her own family, and with it, avoiding accountability for her own denial of her own behaviour. This repetitive cycle eventually became a power struggle, in which her final weapon was to doubt our marriage, and my character, and whether she could remain in the marriage. It was an ultimatum that if I chose to raise these ‘uncomfortable” issues, I would have to face that I was not important enough to her, for her to authentically discuss or address these issues. Part of the behaviour I have consistently observed is her extreme avoidance of conflict (which was the same way her father avoided any scrutiny for his own behaviour).

My question is, when there is a problematic (dysfunctional) behaviour, that needs to be addressed between a couple, and despite every effort to raise the issue constructively, empathetically, gently, using I words etc etc the communication seems to deteriorate, because the real motivation is to avoid the issue altogether and hope it disappears into “fantasy land”. The excuse is that the avoidance is justified because the communication is critical in nature, and while I know that some people view all criticism as problematic, surely there is necessary constructive criticism that is not directed as a “character flaw” of another person?”


Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication (free guide)

Shifting Criticism – Empowered Relationship (course)

How to Know If You Are Too Critical in Relationship & Why (article) (podcast, articles on the topic of criticism) (podcast) (podcast)

The Gottman Institute

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins






Twitter: @DrJessHiggins



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340 episodes