One Way to Ruin a Relationship


All relationships, no matter how good they are, have problems from time to time. Most relationships of any type – parent - child, friendships, siblings, those dating and those married – have acute times of stress and chaos.  But it is when those times move from being acute to chronic that people in relationships and couples have moved into the danger zone.

All people, whether friends, family or couples, just because everyone is different and has a different temperament and has different hot - buttons, have times when they don’t get along with others.  These times usually create complaining and even arguing among parents and children, friends, brothers and sisters, and married couples. But when complaining and arguing increases to another level – that of criticism – is when you have entered the danger zone!



CRITICISM - What is the difference between complaining and criticism?  Good question!  Here is the answer according to the leading authority on the subject in America when it comes to marital couples.  

John Gottman says the difference between complaining and criticism is this:

COMPLAINING – addressing specific actions or behaviors (such as “I’m upset because you didn’t take out the trash on Tuesday like you said you would”)

CRITICISM – it is more global, it is more negative.  It contains words such as “you never” or “you always.” Even more importantly, the words used between persons are ones that devalue the other person, be little or demean the other person.

John Gottman says he can tell within 15 minutes of observing a couple argue as to whether they will end up getting a divorce or not.  He can predict this at a 90% success rate.  He bases this on whether couples complain or criticize. In his above book, criticism is the first step or the first horseman of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that will ruin any marriage – no matter how good it once was.

Complaining is saying something like, “Why didn’t you put gas in the car yesterday?”

Criticism is saying something like, “Why can’t you ever remember anything...

You never do anything right...

I can’t believe how stupid you are!”


  • There are many reasons why people criticize others they are in relationship with. I will list some of the reasons below, but they can all be summarized by saying that “hurting people hurt other people.”  In other words, we criticize others because of our own hurts, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem or a general sense of feeling flawed or defective. Here are some reasons why people tend to be so critical of others:
  • Criticizing others makes people feel better, at least temporarily.  It gives them a feeling of superiority or being above others
  • It gives the perception that you are right and the other person is wrong.  When people are hurting or not feeling good about themselves, they tend to think in terms of “black and white” rather than shades of gray – a middle ground where both persons can look more objectively at things and see room for give - and - take and realize both persons may be right in some ways rather than one person being all right and the other all wrong
  • Criticizing others (pointing the finger at others) allows people to avoid looking at their own lives (their own faults, flaws and failings).  It is a tactic to take the pressure off really looking at one’s self
  • Criticizing others allows you to give the appearance that you are in control by making others appear weak and inept
  • Criticism boosts your own self-esteem in a relationship at the expense of the other person.  But it is like a drug – you have to keep doing it over and again to keep getting the high of feeling better while trying to make others feel worse

•People criticize others because they are outwardly displaying or projecting onto others what they don’t like about themselves
•People who are perfectionists will chronically criticize others.  They can’t be perfect (and they often resent and even hate themselves for it), so their resentment and poison pours out onto those they are in relationship with

Criticism is the only reliable form of autobiography
- Oscar Wilde


As we have stated, criticism, is the first step onto the path of killing your relationships.  It is vital to recognize this nasty habit in your life.  Here are two simple questions to ask yourself in recognizing this blind spot in your life:

  1. Do others repeatedly tell me that I am critical?
  2. What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake?

The best way to avoid criticizing others is understanding the difference between giving others feedback and being critical.  Here are four ways to do that:

  1. Criticism focuses on what is wrong – Feedback focuses on how to improve
  2. Criticism implies the worst about the other person – Feedback talks about specific actions
  3. Criticism devalues people – Feedback encourages
  4. Criticism blames and takes hope away – Feedback gives hope of a better tomorrow

Here is one example of giving feedback rather than criticism:  When one person has spent too much money, the one person should sit down with the other and point out that they have gone over budget and then explain why it is important to stay within the budget and then both should work on understanding the budget – like how much each person contributes, how much income they have together and what their expenses are.  It can also be talked about in a “level voice” what the consequences are to each of you if one person doesn’t respect the budget. Feedback is positive, but it doesn’t deny the facts.  Feedback needs to be honest.  

What it doesn’t do is make broad and devaluing statements such as (using the above example) “you always blow all of our money - you are always so irresponsible.”  First, this statement isn’t true.  Second, it is a blaming statement that will only create more hurt, arguing and defensiveness.  And third, it won’t help either person resolve the real issue which was helping both persons stay within budget so they could have a healthier marriage or relationship.

Feedback always helps the relationship get healthier; while criticism just takes it down the path of dysfunction.

By: Jack Guyler


LifeBob MlynekRelationships