Out of the four horsemen to be discussed in this series, criticism is the one I have to guard against the most. A few nights ago, Eric and I were having a gentle dialogue about areas in our lives which we could improve. If I recall, I was more than happy to share my opinions with Eric on the areas in which he could improve. ~smile~
But, I had to ask him to share his opinions on my faults. He was careful in his delivery, which I appreciate, and the one area of improvement he desired from me which surprised me had to do with my attitude. He said that I tend to look for the negative in situations. On one hand, I already knew that; but, on the other hand, I did not realize it was such an issue that he would list it in the top three of his “Please work on this, Honey” list.
Some people are just naturally critical in their thinking. These people are often more disapproving of themselves than anyone else, and they may fancy themselves as realists (when they are actually pessimists). A realist will see good when good is present, but pessimist will almost always seek out the negative in a situation before finding anything positive.
This can be the result of personality, someone’s upbringing, or as a result of a lot of hard knocks in life. Regardless of how people come to view the world through a negative lens, they can all stand to improve their attitudes. Doing so will not only brighten their own lives, but it will increase their influence with others. After all, who wants to invest in a relationship with someone who is constantly criticizing others, complaining about life circumstances, or simply finding fault with everything from boring commercials to politicians?
Whether you are naturally prone to criticism or not, there will come a time in your marriage when you are tempted to criticize your spouse. No one else in the world will have the ability to bless you and get under your skin like your sweetheart. He or she is sharing your space, your possessions, your children, and as a “co-owner” in your world, he or she is going to make some decisions with your space, possessions, and children that go against your ideals and beliefs. After the honeymoon passes, and you realize all the differences you did not see before the wedding, you will be tempted to criticize each other.
Criticism is dangerous because it goes beyond complaining about a problem. Criticism is like throwing hand grenades into your sweetie’s heart. In Dr. Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail… and How You Can Make Yours Last, he discusses the differences in complaints and criticisms. The main difference is that complaints attack a situation which can be improved; whereas, criticism attacks the person at his or her core. Below is an example:
- Complaint: “I was bummed that we weren’t able to join Todd and Mary on that cruise last month. What can we do differently with our finances to make sure we can afford to go somewhere next year?”
- Criticism: “You never take me anywhere. Todd and Mary probably think we are in the poor house. Seriously, what’s the deal? Are you ever going to take me anywhere nice?
In the first example, the wife was sharing her discontentment with a situation, but she wasn’t attacking her spouse. In the second example, she placed all the blame on her husband and she insulted him by being disrespectful, calling him a cheapskate, and questioning his good will towards her. Which would you rather have from your spouse – complaints or criticism?
As I have found from experience, it is easy to think you are complaining about a situation only to find out later that your spouse felt criticized. When you are upset about a situation, take careful note of your tone and your words. Play them over in your mind before you speak them. Remember, once they are out, you can’t take them back.
Gottman has a test titled: “Self Test: Are You A Critic?” and I recommend purchasing this book and completing the test. If it turns out that you have a bent towards the negative like me, it is okay for now… you can work on it – just like I am. ~smile~
We all have something we need to improve and I know some formerly critical people who are a pleasure to be around today!
Do you tend to view life through a negative lens and find fault with yourself and others?