Criticism – The 1st Horseman
- the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
What it looks like in relationships
In the context of relationships, criticism is when you judge a person’s character instead of just their behavior. It is akin to character assassination. Complaining is when you judge a behavior–this is normal and perfectly healthy when done properly, or if there is a repair effort when complaining crosses into criticism.
What it really is
While the least damaging of the Four Horsemen, Criticism is still destructive to a relationship. It attempts to paint the other person as fully offensive . . . a mostly or completely bad person. You’ll often hear exclusive language like, “You always,” or “You never” when criticism is happening. It paints your partner as not just doing something bad, but that they are actually consistently bad.
What to do about it: The soft or gentle startup
The first three minutes of a conflict discussion predicts the outcome with 98% accuracy. When a person opens up with criticism, the other person is likely to go into their own horseman, usually defensiveness or contempt; this situation has a 98% probability of the conflict not being managed successfully, and probably becoming worse. With a gentle startup, a tone of connection and understanding is established right off the bat. This helps your partner stay in an open, non-defensive place because they are less likely to perceive an attack. Softened startups often involve statements of the other person’s experiences, thoughts and feelings, then asking how you can help. Expressing a sense of togetherness helps reaffirm that you are a team and that they are not in this alone. The soft or gentle startup creates a 98% likelihood of a successful outcome.
There are many other approaches to the softened startup and the Gottman Method Couples Counseling teaches you all kinds of strategies for accomplishing this.
To learn more about red-flags to look out for and how to fix them, please visit my Couples Counseling page. Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.