Gottman has found there are four major warning signs to a failed marriage. He calls these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. These behaviors lead to marital meltdown and divorce. The first of which is criticism. Criticism involves attacking someone’s personality or character—rather than a specific behavior—usually with blame. This can be expressed in a number of ways—“you don’t care” “you only think of your self or you are a selfish person” or “you should know better than to drink too much”. The added word “should” sends a powerful message of being scolded. Unlike complaints, criticism tends to generalize. It uses global phrases, “you never” or “you always”. When criticism starts punctuating your interactions your marriage is in trouble (Gottman, 1994, Why Marriages Succeed and Fail).

Criticism is considered a deadly habit, a form of external control, and perhaps the worst of all the deadly habits. It will disconnect you from the significant people in your life. If you have a ratio of 6 to 1, meaning for every six interactions, five or negative, your relationship is bleeding.

Most people make accurate observations. However, when they share those observations in the form of criticism, they do harm to the people they love. Accurate observations can make it difficult not to criticize. In order to stay connected you have to value the relationship and staying connected more than being “right” or expressing your “honest” opinion.

The rule of thumb is the more intimate the relationship the more damaging the criticism. Furthermore, the more accurate the criticism, the more damage it is to the relationship. Is being right and sharing your observations more important than your relationship? There is no such thing as constructive criticism. No one likes to be criticizing and the people you love are not going to change just because you are being “honest”. Criticizing is not problem solving, it’s a form of external control.

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