If you are in a romantic relationship in particular, you might wonder if it is possible or acceptable to criticize your partner. Some people have a vision of their loved one as perfect – but of course, no one is perfect. Others have a long list of expectations and see their partner as the person who needs to meet them all. When they don’t, they start to show their disappointment in various ways, including criticizing the other person.
What Does “to Criticize” Mean?
To understand the damage that can be inflicted on a loving relationship, let’s first look at a definition of the word criticize. According to Merriam-Webster’s definition for learners, to criticize means:
- To express disapproval of (someone or something)
- To talk about the problems or faults of (someone or something)
- To look at and make judgments about (something)
We can see from all three of these definitions why criticizing your loved ones is not a good idea. No one likes to feel as though others they care about disapprove of them. They certainly don’t like to have their faults brought up. And no one ever likes to feel as though they are being judged.
When you criticize, the other person can easily feel as if they are falling short of the mark and disappointing you in some way. That may or may not be your intention if they have failed to live up to your expectations.
But here’s the thing.
They are YOUR expectations.
They might be spoken or unspoken expectations.
If you demand your expectations be met, or else you will withhold your love, that is not true love – it is conditional love.
Unconditional love, by contrast, says you love and accept the person no matter what. You don’t hold them up to an impossible standard of perfection. You see their flaws, and don’t consider them to be a “deal breaker” that would be worth ending the relationship over.
Your love isn’t just based on what that person can give you, but on what you can offer them. Your relationship is not one of suffocation through expectation, but rather, a mutually supportive environment in which both parties are able to grow and thrive in a way that allows them to be their best self and live their best life.
Does This Mean You Accept Everything without a Word?
Many people think that loving unconditionally means tolerating anything, swallowing disappointments over and over again, and suffering in silence. This is NOT the case. You CAN give feedback when it is warranted, in a particular context, and in a particular way that builds the person up, not tears them down and undermines them.
For example, imagine your partner is a very messy housekeeper. They drop their clothes everywhere and leave dishes in the sink for a “later” that never comes. There are several approaches you can take. One is to show them the dirty clothes hamper and explain your sorting system, white, dark, colors. You can point out how it is better to do the dishes right away than for the food to get stuck on, or even worse, attract bugs and mice.
You could also try positive reinforcement, such as, “Thanks so much for helping sort the laundry. It makes doing the wash so much easier every week.” In terms of the dishes, you could say, “I really appreciate you washing the dishes. You know how important it is to keep the bugs away from the kids and pets.”
Positive reinforcement creates an air of appreciation in the relationship, and this goodwill can help you get over the tough times, for a successful and loving relationship.
Can criticizing your partner lead to a more loving relationship, or is there a better way to handle issues between you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.