The Thanksgiving Challenge that will improve your relationship
All criticism in a relationship is painful. Complaints that include a specific request for change, can make a relationship better. Criticism does not. Inevitably criticism makes the relationship worse. We all know this. Yet, many of us, myself included, are guilty of being critical of our partners.
So during the holiday, I asked myself, what makes a partner chronically critical?
The first is an emotionally unavailable partner. When Kris continues to ignore Susan’s complaint about him leaving his shoes and socks in the living room, she is likely to start escalating the issue by criticizing him in hopes to get a reaction. She may start calling him a slob and irresponsible instead of kindly reminding him to put his shoes in the closet. The shift from complaints to criticism is understandable, but unhelpful since the criticism makes Kris less responsive.
The only way out of this critical cycle is for both of them to change. And changing yourself when you desperately want someone else to change feels like an impossible task. It takes courage to compassionately communicate our needs or to turn towards a partner who talks about your flaws.
The Inner Critic Of Love
The other source of relationship tension is inside you. It is the self-doubt that has developed over a lifetime of compounding experiences of betrayal, abuse, and neglect.
Early in our childhood, we create beliefs about the world, the people around us and ourselves. As the authors of A General Theory of Love say, “who we are, and who we become depends, in part, on who we love.” [1. I highly recommend the book A General Theory of Love. The quote is on page 142.]
All of us have stories about not being good enough and narratives about the parts of ourselves that love ones labeled inadequate or a burden. As we experiencing these heartbreaking moments time and time again, we can’t help but believe them to be truths. Instead of a person’s opinion of you, it becomes a fact. And once that happens, the true torture begins. We begin to criticize ourselves.
It’s incredibly difficult for me to enjoy my own accomplishments. Before I started therapy, a setback in my business didn’t mean I made a human mistake that I could learn from, it meant I was worthless. Deep down, that’s how I felt. And when my business was succeeding, I hid my success because I felt no one could give two shits.
The voice inside beat me up telling me that I am not good enough. It has taken years of work to be kind to myself. To stop searching for approval that I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy or receive when it was offered.
What Happened When I Got Into A Relationship?
Since my mind was focused on only seeing what was wrong with me, what is missing, and not appreciate what is there, it became impossible for me to rejoice in the delight of love my partner gave me.
There was a soul-crushing pressure to measure up leading me to buy gifts and smoother my partner in affection, instead of relaxing and enjoying the amount I had. Since I feared to be inadequate for her love, I behaved in ways that overwhelmed her and pushed her away. Making my deepest fear a reality.
I also ended up attracting partners who saw my gifts of emotional availability as turds. I was called needy and hopelessly romantic. Granted I was. In part due to my beliefs about myself and in part due to these beliefs attracting women who didn’t treasure my gifts.
In a way, dating emotionally unavailable women was a form of self-punishment. Reinforcing my lifelong pattern that my sacred gifts of affection and capacity for closeness that are essential parts of myself are somehow flawed and shameful. [3. Ken Page calls these attractions of deprivation. Check out chapter 4 or subscribe to my newsletter to get my view of this next month.]
Or maybe for you, you struggle to appreciate your partner’s wonderful qualities, including their kindness, dedication to the family, and the deep emotional support your partner offers you when you go through a tough time, and instead focus on their flaws. Maybe that they are “sensitive,” kind of awkward at social events and not as clean around the house as you’d like.