Criticism – 6 Ways You Are Slipping into the Criticism Trap without Knowing it!


Criticism, is it Affecting Your Relationship Without You Even Knowing?

I am sure you have heard that criticism isn’t good for any type of relationship, right? However, could criticism be sneaking into your communication without you even knowing it?

Everyone wants to be able to communicate so they can be heard and seen in relationships? Whether that is with your partner, someone you are dating, family members, friends and work colleagues’ similar principles apply.  However, one of the biggest things that stop people from being able to hear what you are saying is criticism!

You don’t just have to take my word for it! Research by Dr John Gottman identified four behaviours that spell disaster for relationships. That’s not just romantic relationships either! He called them the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse because they predict the beginning of the end of a relationship.

The four behaviours are:

  1. Criticism
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Stonewalling
  4. Contempt

Today Let’s Take a close look at – Criticism!


Criticism is the most common of the four behaviours and is a way of communicating most people fall into without even realising it! In the process of writing this blog, I realised how it regularly slips into my conversations!

Let’s start with looking at the definition of what criticism really is:

Definition – criticism

nounthe expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.

Looking at the definition of criticism you can see how it can sneak in! How often have you expressed disapproval of your partner and their mistakes or for ‘perceived’ flaws? So easy to do when you don’t like something about your partner and what they have done, right?

Of course, it starts with good intentions, like you notice they are slipping into some old ‘bad behaviour’! Maybe they are eating junk food, drinking a little too much or looking after themselves in some way!

So, you want to let them know and keep them on track, right? 

Off course. you have to be able to speak up but it is how you go about it that matters the most!

Did you know that the same research by Dr John Gottman found that the way a conversation starts off determines how it will turn out? They found that if you use what he calls a ‘soft’ startup you have more chance of being heard by the other person.

On the flip side if you start your chat using criticism it won’t end the way you want it to! When you start a conversation with criticism it actually sets the tone of the whole conversation! The reality is the other person is unlikely to listen to you and that will only make you feel worse.

Now, you may be reading this blog and think that you don’t do criticism when you do. In my experience, you may not be aware that you are even doing it or that what you are doing is critical.

6 Ways You Could be Using Criticism without Knowing


1. Redoing Things can be Non-Verbal Criticism

Have you fixed or redone something that your partner did? If you answered yes then this is a form of criticism even though you haven’t said anything!

Example Your partner cleaned the house and you weren’t happy with their cleaning so you redid it. Basically. you fixed what they did.

This is non-verbal criticism and sends the message to your partner that what they did wasn’t good enough. It also leads to your partner not bothering to help you in the future as there isn’t any point when you redo it after them.

2. Exaggeration is Criticism

When people are being critical or using criticism, they will often exaggerate what is happening! They may say something like, “You, never listen to me”.  Or, “You’re always late.’

They will do this using sweeping statements like  ‘never’ or ‘always’. The reality is that no one ‘always’ or ‘never’ does something, there will always be an exception.

Of course, when you use the always/never language it is coming from a place of frustration, where you want to make sure the other person hears you and gets the point of what you are saying.  However, instead,  of the other person hearing what you are telling them, it will cause them to be defensive.


  • ‘You always walk past the weeds. You are so lazy’

    In this case, you are trying to let them know how frustrated you are at having to do all of the gardening. Yet all they will hear is that you have called them lazy!  Which will only cause them to be defensive!

Alternatively, instead of hearing what you are saying they will come up will all the times they have weeded the garden! This leads to you feeling unheard and even more frustrated by them.

3. Using  ‘Why’

Why didn’t you do the garden today?’

You may be genuinely asking a question about the garden. But, guess what your partner will often hear that as criticism. Because it feels like you are pointing out what they haven’t done. You can avoid this misunderstanding by not using why questions.

4. Humour, can be Criticism Disguised

Using humour is very common! You may feel like you are lightening the mood by using a joke to bring up something you don’t like about your partner or what they are doing. For you, it might feel easier but the truth in a joke still hurts and doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end.  In fact, it can feel worse as you are still being criticised and often even embarrassed if it is said in front of other people.  It is a passive-aggressive way to say something rather than coming right out with it.

5. “Should” statements

Personally, I feel that the word ‘should’ should be classified as a swear word. Why? Because it is full of guilt about what you or someone else hasn’t managed to do.  When you use the word about your own actions or someone else’s actions it is full of judgement, shame and results in guilt.

When you say, ‘You should have weeded the garden’. You are judging them for what they failed to do and this is full of criticism. 

6. How you Say it

 It’s often not what you say but how you say it. Your tone of voice and body language communicate so much more than your words!  If you use a ‘critical’ tone of voice, coming from resentment or even anger that will come across as criticism no matter how well planned your words are. Add eye-rolling and it definitely will feel bad for your partner! 

The Solution to Criticism

Criticism is often an automatic response and an easy option, especially if you grew up in a sarcastic home.

It is time to be aware of the effect criticism has on your relationship and chose to deal with issues directly. Because the reality is that criticism is a defensive way to raise issues and doesn’t create the close relationship you want. 

You can be vulnerable by being direct about your feeling and raising them with a calm tone of voice.

It is important to change your perspective from what you don’t like about the other person’s actions to being clear about how you feel and what you need. Your partner is not a mind reader nor do they speak the language of hint!

Look at what you are really feeling and what need wasn’t met. For example, if you had both agreed to share the housework because you both work and you find yourself doing everything. You could be feeling overworked and unappreciated. Or maybe you feel like you don’t matter because every time you ask for help you feel unheard, unvalued and unseen.

You can use a simple statement like, ‘I’m feeling overworked and unappreciated. I need you to help share the housework with me. How can we do that?’

Don’t explain, just talk about your feelings and take the time to listen to the other person. I know it is vulnerable but it will change your relationship!

Always put the focus on the problem not the person!

Make sure you:

  • Save the discussion for an appropriate time when you have time to discuss.
  • Use warm body language and tone of voice.
  • Use “I” statements and eliminate the words ‘always’ and ‘never’.

‘I’ language rather than ‘you’ language.

When you use ‘I’ language you are taking responsibility for your own feelings and how you express them. When you use ‘you’ statements it implies the person listening is responsible and it is about blame.

When you use ‘I’ language you are speaking about yourself ’.  It is saying how you feel; you are talking about yourself and not projecting judgment onto the other person.

Let’s look at an example so you can see the difference


You Language: ‘You don’t follow the budget and waste money on things we don’t need. You said you would stick to the budget, you make me so angry’. This type of ‘you’ language puts people on the defensive and can be hurtful.

 I Language: ‘ I get worried we won’t have enough to pay the bills, I feel anxious and stressed. I don’t want to feel that, what do you think?

Another example would be – “I feel frustrated when dishes are left in the sink. Could you please do the dishes tonight?”

Stay away from words that may seem like they are emotions but are about the actions of the other person, like controlled, manipulated, ignored, and cheated.

Be careful of putting an ‘I feel’ in front of a judgement type statement. For example, ‘I feel like you don’t understand me. This is really just a ‘you’ statement as you are not expressing any emotion. In this case, you would need to discuss the emotion you feel about not being understood. This could be – hurt, sad, anger, etc.

Also ALWAYS remember it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters!

Use this simple formula:

I feel (emotion).        About.            Say what you  need.

Use: ‘I feel __________.’ Then use an emotion.

DON’T say, ‘I feel that you should __________.’  This is just making the person wrong and is judgemental.

Say how you feel – ‘I like how this feels’ or ‘I don’t like how this feels. What do you think?

Sometimes you can get more by using what feels good for you! ‘I feel happy when you call me,’ Makes the other person want to call!

Rather than-

‘You always let me down, I feel like I don’t matter when you don’t bother to call.’ – This will make anyone defensive!

Can you see the difference in how those two statements feel? 


When you are annoyed at something your partner has or hasn’t done take some time to work out why it bothered you so much. Take the time to look at the feeling underneath your annoyance.

Then instead of falling into too unconscious criticism, communicate what YOU are feeling about the situation. 

Talking about how YOU feel is being vulnerable, which feels scary because the other person could reject the bid for connection. However, intimacy grows in a relationship when you are able to be vulnerable.  

This will change your relationship!

If you are struggling in your relationship, Relationship Coaching can help, give me a call to find out how!



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