Why Criticism Doesn’t Work… And What to Do About It
High Standards Don't Always Lead To A Better Relationship
I recently worked with a client [we'll call him Nate] who was on the verge of losing his relationship because he was so critical. His lady [we'll call her Angie], who was regularly on the other end of his criticism she felt she wasn’t good enough and wanted to leave.
To him, he just had high standards, but to her, she just wasn’t good enough and could never do right by him.
It wasn’t always like this though. In fact, his high standards and unwillingness to compromise his values were some of the very things that attracted her to him at the outset of their relationship.
At this point though, she felt smothered by it. She felt she could never live up to that standard and therefore was always anxious and worried about whether he was happy with her or not.
But in Nate’s case, he was just used to processing things at a higher level of detail and noticing more going on around him. At the same token, he couldn’t help to often notice the flaws in Angie.
For someone like Nate, he saw regularly expressing those ‘flaws’ as a way for her to grow and be a better person. He was even constantly critical of himself for the same reasons.
Angie didn’t see it like this. She felt that no matter how much she grew and changed, she was always playing catch up. There was always another flaw to improve, and she eventually grew resentful of him.
They're Your Partner In Life, Not A Project To "Make Better"
Nate’s not alone in his approach to “trying to make his partner better.” I see this happen all the time with the couples I work with.
And while this critical approach works well for so many when it comes to being a perfectionist at the office and putting out high quality work, it translates poorly into being a partner, because you can’t treat your partner like a work project. You can’t spend your time trying to perfect them or craft them into something better.
It’s so easy to put all your focus on what’s wrong with your mate and even yourself. Constantly finding flaws and ignoring the progress. Constantly looking for places that can be improved instead of looking for qualities already deserving of being celebrated.
And while I agree that a relationship is always growing and evolving, that growth is something that should come organically, it shouldn’t be forced on yourself or your mate you’ll eventually get burned out.
There are two important things Nate needed to consider in this situation:
The first is acceptance.
Early on in my own relationship, someone told me, “Love isn’t about enjoying the things you like about each other…it’s about accepting the things you don’t like about each other.”
He went on to explain to me that I can’t go into my relationship expeting to enjoy the things I love and simply change the things I don’t. The true test of love is learning to accept and even celebrate the differences between us.
And over the years, I’ve found that to be true. At the end of the day, we all have shortcomings. We all have room to grow. Love is accepting and loving someone despite those flaws and even finding the beauty in those things.
The second important thing Nate considered was his approach to dealing with the ‘flaws’ he always noticed.
Just because you accept your mate’s flaws, doesn’t mean you stopped noticing them.
But because you’re so in tune to details and noticing things around you, I believe you have an opportunity to start noticing things other than just the ‘flaws’.
You have a chance to focus on what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. You have the opportunity to love the little things that make your partner an awesome mate, as opposed to only focusing on areas where they can benefit from improvement.
Accepting your mate for who they are and curbing your suggestions in lieu of praising what is good about them actually opens the door for real growth to happen within the relationship. The type of real growth can only occur not when you try to force each other to change, but when you decide to change yourself.
**This is a post I originally wrote for DigitalRomance.com. Click here for the original blog.**