Communication — 28 October 2003
Loving relationship means never criticizing your partner

Have you ever wondered why some people in a relationship permit
themselves to say the least kind things to each other? Why is it that
they use words of criticism, shame and even disgust toward their most
intimate partners? Those very sentences that one would never dare utter
to strangers, acquaintances or friends?

Criticism of a partner is never acceptable in a relationship. It is not

acceptable to call names; “you are a liar, lazy, stupid, forgetful,
insincere, etc.” Those words are profoundly demeaning and must be
avoided, even if they are said in jest. Belittling adjectives harm your
partner’s value as a human being. They never serve a purpose other than
giving the “shamer” a temporary false sense of superiority.

Research indicates that children need positive words to develop a
healthy sense of self- esteem. Once obtained, the feeling of worthiness
is still not fully stable and is easily shattered by negative feed back.

As adults we continue to need positive regard from others _especially
from our partners. Your mate is the person who has the greatest impact
on your sense of value. The power your parents_ words once had- has been
transferred to the partner. Praise and validation is needed for the
individual’s and the partnership’s well being.
This is not to say that partners must love and appreciate everything
about each other, or relish every action taken.

We need to separate actions from being. As is often recommended to
parents: tell the child he is loved, and that his behavior needs to
change. Children as well as many adults fail to make the distinction
between what they do and who they are. Kids say: “Mommy is mad at me
because I am a bad boy” rather than “Mommy is mad at what I have done”
and still knowing that he is still a good boy.

In a similar way, some adults say: “You don’t like anything I do- you
hate me”.
The confusion between being and doing is most understandable since in
our culture we are judged by our conduct. If we repeatedly encounter
disapproval, we may begin to believe that our essence is flawed. In my psychology practice I have encountered people who sadly believe
that they are “bad, undesirable, unworthy, irreparably damaged, frauds,
and worthy of rejection and disdain” They often suffer the torment of
this self hate quietly and feel trapped in their inability to extricate
themselves from this torture.
The tragedy is that these false beliefs were instilled in these
individuals when they were young. Self-perception is learned, not given.
Childhood abuse as well as peer bullying, shaming, isolation and
rejection contribute to a distorted sense of self-view.

Regrettably, once the childhood damage was inflicted, the recovery is
slow and painful. Some, who do not seek help, may become suicidal or
rageful to the point of becoming homicidal.
In the language of Transactional Analysis, there are four existential
positions one can hold:

® I am O.K.- you are O.K. _ this is the ideal mutually respectful
approach to oneself and others.
® I am O.K. _ You are not O.K. This attitude supports abuse of the
other, since the other is viewed as a less valuable being. I am entitled
to abuse you- and you are my victim.
® I am not O.K.- You are O.K. This is the position of a victim who
devalues himself and empowers the other.
® I am not O.K.- You are not O.K. This view is held by those who have
lost their sense of worth and do not see others as having value either.
This may lead to horrid acts of cruelty. Many people who are in prison
hold this view of themselves and others.

The goal is to have all people respect themselves and others at all
times. This requires not only a good upbringing; good peer experiences,
good values, but an ongoing awareness of the preciousness of every human
being. Our culture strives toward achieving these goals for all our
children, but is still learning how to do so effectively. Adults require the same emotional supports as children do for thriving.
We need to be assured that our value is recognized, that our being is
accepted and we are loved even when we falter. We need to have a set of
guiding principles for our conduct-supported by others. We need to feel
that we belong to a secure and loving unit.
Criticism is the enemy of self-respect and emotional well being. It
chisels at our tenuous hold on our sense of worth. It calls to question
our partners_ level of love, support and acceptance of us, and shakes
our sense of connection to one another.

So why do we do this?
Because through criticizing others we gain a temporary sense of
superiority and an illusion of perfection. “I did not make this mistake,
you did” (i.e., you are the imperfect one). As fleeting as this sense of
value is, it must serve us well enough to repeat our critical judgments. How do we refrain from resorting to the destructive and damaging
criticism of our partners, yet state our displeasure with their annoying
habits?
® Decide that you will not criticize your partner’s thoughts, feelings
or actions- regardless of how irritating they may be.
® Remind yourself that the need to criticize comes from your own sense
of insecurity. Ask for reassurance and support _rather than resort to
discounting your mate.
® Use the “Sandwich Method” in dealing with your frustrations about your
partner’s conduct.
1. Start with a sentence of appreciation- (the first piece of bread)”I
know you to be a very supportive and kind partner”.
2. State your frustration- (the sandwich filler)- in first person “I was
disappointed and hurt when you told our friends the details of our
private conversation.”
3. Conclude with a sentence of appreciation- (the second piece of
bread).”It is very unlike you to violate our confidentiality, you are a
very loyal partner who consistently guards our privacy”.
Expressing criticism is an emotionally violent act. There is no need to
ever resort to it in a loving relationship. Kind language honors you and
your partner and deepens your love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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