Killer #1: Criticism
I know what your thinking. A Marriage "Killer", what an overreaction. While it's true, this one behavior and pattern in your relationship will not be the end of your loving marriage, however, in combination with other negative patterns, it leads you to a not-so-happy place in your marriage. This is my personal spin on the highly scientific findings of Drs John & Julie Gottman whose research has found four specific patterns of interaction in which are most likely to lead to couples into that not-so-happy place of divorce. They have, fittingly so, titled these four behaviors as The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse. If you're needing a catch up before diving into the first "killer", check out my own overview first.
Know Your Killer.
With Halloween eerily close, and my mild obsession with all things horror, I decided to give this post a little spookiness. Like any good slasher film, in order to stay alive, you must know your killer. Relationship killers are no different.
Criticism (v.): Critiquing your partner for what they think, feel, or who they are.
Criticism lurks in many relationships when we feel unheard, unloved, and unappreciated. Criticism has its way of showing up in the way we talk to one another. Can't easily spot it? Criticism leaves a trail of "Yous". "You always", "You never" etc. So instead of standing there, oblivious, when the killer is right behind you, recognize those times when you are attacking your partner with your words.
While sometimes we think we are simply expressing a need to our partner, we are really making a judgement on who they are. Criticizing our partners is the number way in which to start a conversation badly. Unfortunately how we start a convo is a good predictor of how it will end.
Taming Your Killer.
Be honest with yourself. This is you. At one time or another in your life, this has been you. So how do we find the killer's weakness?
Deep down, like any any killer, there is a soft spot that you can pull out. Criticism has one big soft spot. Criticism is often fueled by something really really good. It is fueled by needs and wishes. These needs are unmet at the time and we often attack our partner for their lack of fulfillment of our needs. But the needs behind the criticism are not bad. The criticism is bad.
We need to own these needs and wishes, but in order to do so, we have to be vulnerable with our partner. It's going to take a load of courage to stand up to your killer, that's no joke. But perhaps, with some introspection, you can begin to identify what those needs and wishes actually are.
Once you have a handle on those needs and wishes, try sharing them with your partner. Start with something that allows for peace, rather than a knife to the back. "I wish we could go camping this weekend". Is something that your partner can hear, over "You never want to spend time with me".
Whether you have done years of damage or barely made a dent, it's never too late to start creating peace in your relationship.
Brittany Malak, LMFT