Recently I had one of “those” days.
It began first thing in the morning. With my kids in tow, I emerged from the house to a warm, pungent anointing, thanks to an airborne plover who treated my freshly pinned updo like its own personal dumping ground.
Sure, I guess being pooped on was kind of funny. I would have joined in my offspring’s ear-splitting merriment if not for the fact that we were dreadfully behind schedule and I had a job interview on the other side of town twenty minutes later.
Things just got worse from there. It was a bad day, one I should have spent as a recluse en route to a chocolate coma instead of out in the real world. But, alas, I went about my business like a snowball surging downhill, my foul mood growing in size and momentum.
Fast forward to 8PM. The kids and I arrived home from our extracurricular trifecta: cross country practice, dance class, and private sax lessons. Tired and cranky, I felt like I’d been dragged around by my ankles for 12 hours straight.
My husband’s car was in the driveway, and I could see that he’d taken the trash out to the curb. Spotting a hole in the plastic, it was clear he hadn’t bothered to double-bag the contents despite my numerous reminders to do so.
I sighed, knowing I’d probably have to do it myself before the previous day’s leftovers leaked all over the sidewalk.
Still, my curdled disposition began to soften, grateful for the extra pair of hands that were surely hard at work inside, lightening my load.
As soon as I walked through the door, I flung my purse off of my shoulder, exhaling an exaggerated AAAHHH as it landed on the floor with a thud. The kids scampered off to their rooms to start their homework while I headed into the kitchen, where my blood immediately began to boil.
There were dishes in the sink, an empty bag of potato chips on the counter, and a second one well on its way to securing the same fate. In the fridge was the chicken I’d left overnight to defrost, still perched on its shelf, untouched. Likewise were the veggies I’d prepped at the crack of dawn for our stir-fry meal, sitting undisturbed in their Tupperware bins.
I. Was. Fuming.
Then I heard canned laughter and my eye began to twitch.
Following the source of the noise, I discovered my husband lying in bed watching a sitcom. “How nice for him,” I thought to myself, fists clenched at my sides.
He met my death stare, barely choking out a hello before I blurted, “The trash has a hole in it!” and left him in my dust to careen toward the kitchen on overdrive.
“I busted my hump all day. How could he leave me to do all this myself!?!?” I seethed, opening and closing the fridge repeatedly … deliberately … loudly, clip-clopping across the laminate floor in my pissed-off heels, banging Teflon against the stove top while steam blew out of my ears.
“Let me help,” my husband suddenly whispered at my back, obviously sensing my irritation.
“A little late for that now, don’t you think?” I replied, pan-tossing dinner ingredients with one hand while grabbing spices from an overhead rack with the other, further fueling my dramatic attempt at martyrdom.
“I’ll set the table then,” he said, pulling plates from the cupboard.
“No. No. No. Not those,” I snapped. “Those are for when we have company. You should know that by now.”
Yikes. Rude much?
At this point I knew I’d hurt him. If the abrupt pin-drop silence wasn’t clue enough, the look on his face gave it away. I should have apologized right then and there, but my stubborn pride held me hostage.
As a result, my husband bailed on dinner, topping off an already sh*tty day in ultra craptastic fashion. He stormed down the hall before slamming our bedroom door, feeling emasculated. I accepted my post-dinner couch banishment with guilty reluctance, feeling like an insensitive tyrant.
Resigned to a night of insomnia, I decided to tackle some laundry. That’s when I noticed four stacks of clean clothes, neatly folded and sorted. My heart sank.
It was official. I was a bitch on wheels. And the world’s worst wife.
My eyes welled up with tears as I acknowledged that not only was criticizing my husband a lousy thing to do, it was more than an isolated occurrence.
It was even more than occasional.
And come to think of it, I could recall several instances when he criticized me too.
The next morning I waited for my husband in the kitchen, where I passed him a mug of liquid gold and an apology. We talked things out and promised to curb the critiques. No more combative commentary on one another’s parenting style, organizational skills, or degrees of domestic aptitude.
I’ve got to admit, it’s already made a huge difference.
Do you ever criticize to your partner? If so, how often?
More than a lot and then some?
The criticism we tend to hand to our partners isn’t the same as constructive feedback, which serves to advise and inform.
Relationship-driven criticism is the nagging, complaint-laden verbalization of insults and digs — sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant — designed to make the recipient feel small and rejected.
Why do we do it?
I believe stress plays a big role, as well as a certain level of self-centeredness. We want our days to run smoothly. We want things done a certain way within a certain timeframe. We may even convince ourselves we’re helping our partners by criticizing them.
But trust me…
In fact, the very opposite is true.
Here are six ways your criticism could be killing your relationship:
1. It Invites Secrecy
If you routinely project dissatisfaction on to your partner, especially in a way that is condescending and nitpicky, it may encourage him to stop sharing his thoughts, feelings, vignettes of his workday, or the pressures he faces — figuring there’s no point in allowing himself to be vulnerable if you’re just going to shine a light on his shortcomings.
What’s worse, he may feel compelled to seek support outside of the relationship from someone who is compassionate, doting, and allows him to be himself.
Whether he gets this validation online or from face-to-face contact, it puts you both at risk for treading on dangerous ground, the consequences of which could prove disastrous.
2. You Come Off As A Know-It-All
No matter how much your partner adores you, the My Way or the Highway routine will turn stale in a jiffy. Keep at it long enough, and it could ultimately send him packing.
So take this to heart…
You don’t always have to be “right.”
When you fell in love, it wasn’t just the man you were smitten by, but his qualities as well. Intellect. Kindness. Integrity. Trustworthiness. Physical appeal. Through these attributes, he’s earned your admiration. Through his heart, he’s earned your devotion.
But what he also deserves is your respect.
No adult likes to be constantly judged, corrected, reprimanded, or told what to do and how to do it. A partner should be thought of as an equal contributor in his own right, not someone who requires verbal cues and “training”.
3. The Listening Stops
Nagging wears out its welcome pretty much right out of the gate. Want proof?
Think about how many times you’ve asked your partner, “Are you even listening to me?”
Know why you keep repeating the question?
Because over time he’s mastered the art of selective hearing. He can tune you out at will without guilt or remorse because he’s moved past the point of caring. All those heavy-handed critiques have become like white noise, something that takes up space but isn’t really there.
4. It Breeds Resentment
A steady supply of criticism will almost always lead to resentment. Even if your partner seems to take it all in stride, chances are, you may have won the battle but lost the war. He won’t soon forget all the ways he felt incompetent through the adjectives your own mouth made…
And he’ll be increasingly less inclined to try and prove you wrong.
Resentment is like a poison that is gradually added to your diet. Everything may continue to look and taste the same, yet it slowly gnaws away at your relationship from the inside.
Through this process, lovers eventually morph into strangers.
Resentment is a serious, toxic buildup, and unfortunately, it won’t magically disappear.
5. You Become A Burden
When you consistently spew critiques with no end in sight, your partner may come up with his own choice words and phrases to describe you, such as…
Pain in the arse
Thorn in the side
As well as a number of expletives I’ll leave to your imagination.
He may never actually say them to your face, but rest assured, they’re running through his mind often enough to potentially put you in the Ball and Chain category.
If that happens, you become a burden, and that’s not healthy for either of you.
Your partner isn’t delusional. He knows he has flaws. But remember that most anyone would ruffle at being criticized or mothered, especially within the realm of a romantic relationship.
Cutting comments can literally feel like jabs to the flesh. They leave wounds. Over time, they can leave scars.
They can also cause your loved one to completely lose steam, both physically and emotionally.
For example, after steadily complaining to your partner that he rarely lifts a finger around the house, he may stop chipping in altogether.
Feeling disempowered, he’ll pass the torch to you, leaving you to run with it indefinitely. You’ll then bear the brunt of all the to-dos, all the decision-making, and anything that involves creative input.
But what you’re really left with is a partner who feels “less than”.
And no one should be made to feel that way.
It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of negativity and there’s not a person alive who won’t identify with at least a couple of the points illustrated above. No one is immune to criticism. We give it and we take it because we’re human and emotionally driven.
To some extent, I think we all possess the desire to be helped along in life. It’s not unreasonable to expect a loved one to pick up the slack, at least some of the time. Acts of chivalry put our quests for balance on a more even keel.
That being said, every adult is ultimately responsible for his or her own life. Yes, we’re all busy, whether it be singularly, in coupledom, or as family units.
We get angry, anxious, and frustrated. With so many balls up in the air at any given time, feelings of overwhelm can take over. When we react to that overwhelm, it can cause a loved one to feel beaten down.
I know that’s how my husband felt that fateful night. He’s made me feel that way a time or two as well. Fessing up to our insensitive, and often unfair criticisms of one another, made us more conscious of how emotions can cloud our judgment. Now we’re committed to learning how to express our frustrations in a gentler way.
What we do to others will be done to us.
This little phrase packs a powerful punch. It keeps me in check because I don’t ever want my own angst to override my capacity to show empathy.
So now I think more wisely, or least I try.
Playing the martyr will eventually lead to relationship stagnancy. When one partner is able to recognize the contributions of the other without taking them for granted, only then is a relationship truly prepared to go the distance.
Not to mention, saying “thank you” goes a long, long way.
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