Reining in Criticism

animal-eye-horse-poney
A Critical Eye is not Always Helpful

Chapter 3 in the Marriage-Relationship Saga has Bob and Kate becoming aware of the reasons behind the unhappy ride of their married lives. They started to research Dr. John Gottman‘s books about Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. Gottman had studied couples for 35-years. He discovered if a couple has a 5 to 1 ratio of positive interactions versus negative interactions, the chances of that couple riding off happily into the sunset of their lives is much higher. Both Bob and Kate realized they had developed habits in their relationship unintentionally that had produced even more unhappy habits and both were miserable. They wanted to change and make their ride better than ever before.

Marriage can become icy cold
Marriage can become icy cold

John Gottman talks about the process of Cascading Trouble in a marriage – sort of like the snowflake that grabs on to another snowflake and rolls down the mountainside until it becomes a huge boulder of a snowball! That snowball can damage everything it hits, with its icy and cold breeze blowing through everything. And eventually, the snowball becomes a glacier – unmovable – sitting in the middle of a marriage – formidable and solid. Almost any hope of having warmth and encouragement again in the relationship is useless. The glacier has to be melted and new habits have to take shape before the couple will feel and experience tiny particles of warmth melting the glacier they both helped to place there – in their once carefree and happy marriage.

It was tempting to point the finger at one another as Bob and Kate looked at the shambles of their marriage. But they soon found out, there would be no benefit to analyze how their partner should be riding in their relationship. Each rider had to take the reins in their own hands and learn how to ride differently. They both loved each other and had many reasons to turn the ride around. Neither wanted to live a marriage that was alive to outsiders, but dead to themselves – A marriage of a living divorce, as Dan Allender would say.

Kate’s favorite ride was Calico Criticism. The ability to criticize was pretty standard procedure in Kate’s world. She had developed muscle memory around seeing things she didn’t like and expressing freely how she felt about whatever the subject. Muscle memory is something people develop when riding a bike, playing a piano, swimming, and brushing our hair. We no longer have to think how to do the behavior – it just happens – unconsciously and habitually.

Kate’s Momma had taught her to speak her mind and be honest. However, Kate’s Momma had forgotten to also add the ingredient of “a timely word” and “a harsh word” and “a fool even when he is silent is thought wise.” After examining her own behavior and thoughts – Kate realized she had to rein in the criticism. She also realized the benefit of not saying every thing she thought!

Criticism, as Gottman defines it is attacking someone’s personality or character — rather than a specific behavior – usually with blame. Kate discovered 4 ways to remedy the muscle memory habit of criticism.

  1. Good Self Care -Many people talk about putting on your oxygen mask first before putting it on anyone else. If the plane is going down and you’re passed out on the ground, you won’t be able to help anyone else. Kate had to start taking better care of herself. Spiritually. Physically. Nutritiously. Emotionally. She quickly found out when she felt better, she thought better. Life was easier to deal with when she was taking care of herself.
  2. Changing the Focus – Kate had been a runner for a long time. She had always knew when the run was a long, hard one it was important to keep her mind’s eye focused on where she was going, rather than each small step. Somehow, in her marriage, the trivial things became the focus. She had lost sight of the end goal of living a life
    Keep Focused on the Goal
    Keep Focused on the Goal

    that was happy and free through the rest of her life. Kate had instead focused on the mundane things of life: bills to be paid – dishes to be done – trash to be taken out. The messes of life. She determined to change her focus. She reminded herself of the amazing times of dating Bob. The friend he had once been. The lover she enjoyed. The fun times and hurdles they had already experienced. By reminding herself of the good times of the past, she was able to focus on the ending she wanted to have.

  3. Being Thankful -Kate determined there was plenty of things in life to be thankful for. She had been encouraged to write 5 Daily Gratitudes each night before going to sleep. Others have since followed this discipline discovered by Dr. Robert Emmons and continue to write about it. Ann Voskamp, author of 1000 Gifts and blogger, and Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, are among some women who have changed their lives by studying the effects of gratitude and practicing gratitude. Each time she saw something that could have been done “better” or needed to be “finished,” she began to think of 3 things she was thankful for about Bob or about their life together. Kate was determined to say 5 positive things to every negative thing she expressed.
  4. Learning how to Complain -Finally, and most importantly, Kate learned how to complain. She discovered there was an art to issuing a complaint. The art of complaining was one of the healthiest activities Kate could do in her marriage. The art of complaining was something she would have to take special time to learn. However, Kate was determined to begin expressing politely what she was specifically unhappy about by staying with I statements,” being specific about the issue and expressing her need or want. The message of “You never help around the house!” became a message of “I feel overwhelmed with house cleaning and need some help with the laundry today.”

Kate recognized Calico Criticism and became very uncomfortable with riding the negativity trail. She enjoyed the new skills she was learning. Issuing a complaint in a respectful way began to get easier and easier. Letting go of things she wasn’t happy with and focusing and expressing her gratefulness became a new way of life for her. She could begin to see changes in the responses around her as she learned this new way of riding.

Tune in next time to Chapter 4 – When Bob learns how to rein in Dandy Defensiveness and discovers a new ride he enjoys better.


 

Meanwhile, if you and/or your spouse want to assess for good habits and not-so-good habits, with the goal of developing a happier and healthier relationship, call 530-268-3558 or email me at kate@katepieperlmft.com. Relationship restoration and fortifying can happen for you!

 

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