Criticism and Acceptance: Which One of Us Should Change?

Criticism and acceptance: learn how they affect relationships and what you can do about it

Many of us in relationships want our partners to be different. It is so common for one mate to insist on helping their mate to become different. We do this so we will feel more comfortable.

A lot of couples fall into this habit. People want what they want and they do things so they will get what they want, including wanting their partners to become different.

But there is a catch to always wishing that our mate will change. When does this end? In fact, it doesn’t. If we don’t like some things, we will end up always wanting the things we don’t like to be different. And if we find success in changing one thing, well, then we will continue this practice until we get exhausted.

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When People Get Exhausted Trying to Be Better

All of us in a relationship want to have a great life with the one we love. This is why we couple. It makes sense. We fall in love and believe this is the best feeling in the world. We attach to that feeling, but at some point, we are a little less thrilled with the relationship and our partner.

As a couple’s counselor and someone who is in a relationship, I know this first hand and I help people with this as well. It happens. That wonderful partner we have finally found is not as perfect as we had imagined them.

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Do You Tell Your Partner About Their Faults?

Criticism in relationships is no fun. Look at how unhappy this couple is.

Criticism in relationships is incredibly common. Wonder why? All of us in a relationship like things the way we like them. Including how our partners act. We like them not to embarrass us and we like them to talk to us pleasantly. As humans we prefer things that please us. This is entirely normal.

But as someone who is sensitive to criticism, I know how terrible it feels when someone points out what you do not do well. It hurts some of us to our core. We can’t help it, that’s just the way some of us are wired.

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But We Love Each Other – Why Can’t We Get Along?

Sometimes couples will come in for counseling and the first thing they tell me is how much they love each other.  I believe them.  They say it with such great emotion.  I know they mean it.  I also get to see their angst, because they are in such a quandary and feeling frustrated because they can’t figure out how to make the relationship work.  They wonder aloud and say, “We love each other.  Why can’t we get along?”

How does this happen?  When you meet the right person, why doesn’t it just magically work out?  It feels so great.  It feels as if everything is just going to be perfect.  Why doesn’t it work out that way?

Here’s what I see; two people who want to make the relationship work.  I also see two people who don’t know how to listen to each other without feeling attacked, blamed, dismissed, disrespected or cutoff.  Each partner gets frustrated with the other because neither feels as if they are really being heard by the other person.  The more they try to explain, the more the other person gets upset.  It feels like a never-ending cycle and neither knows how to change it.

As a counselor the first thing I like to do is pull the couple apart; not physically, but emotionally.  I want to hear from each, without the aid of the other.  I want to treat each person as if I am alone with just them in the room, while the other one listens.  This is helpful for a couple of reasons.  When I begin with a couple I am a newcomer to their issues. When I hear the problems, I do not have a reserve of judgment built up, and I am not going to react the same way as the mate.  This listening moment does two things; it models another way for the mate to listen, a non-responsive way.  It also allows the person who is sharing to really feel as if they are heard.  As I listen I am able to hear what the person is longing for, and most of the time it’s to feel understood by their mate.

I take what I’ve heard, summarize the substance and explain it to the partner.  Most of the time it’s not the content of what is being said, it’s the way people say things, surrounded with heavy emotions, that prevents partners from really listening to each other.  If a person is always sad when they speak to their mate, the mate might feel responsible for the sadness and feel bad.  This gets in the way of communication.  I help couples say what needs to be said.  I help them understand what emotions they are carrying and then help each person figure out what they need and maybe show them how to ask their partner for it.

This is not hard work, especially when two people love each other and want to make things better.  And it doesn’t take that long.  Most couples feel better after one or two sessions.  It does take courage though, courage to look inside you, and acknowledge what you long for and need.  Then all you have to do is learn how to talk with your partner, learn how to listen to your mate, understand what you need and ask for it.  These are all the communication skills you need.  It’s a retooling of how you used to do things.  That’s all it is.  And it’s a fix that can last a lifetime.

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