Four Ways Criticism Can Destroy Your Intimate Relationships

  • When receiving criticism, it is difficult to separate “what we are doing” from “who we are.”
  • It is hard to be bold, creative, to have initiative and to let one’s spirit shine when you do not have freedom nor acceptance in the relationship.
  • Partners may have different roles and responsibilities, but when it comes to worth in the relationship, both parties must treat the other as an equal.

Everybody needs good constructive criticism every now and then. Receiving constructive criticism is a part of life and necessary to improve in certain areas. But when constructive criticism becomes plain criticism, especially in intimate relationships, you might see your relationship enter in to a spiral from which recovery is hard. We all have a tendency to do it. We want the partner to improve. We want the partner to enhance the relationship. But at times, we want the partner to do things the way we perceive it as correct. When we go down this path, trouble ensues. This type of criticism entails judgement and often has an angry tone. This type of criticism is not constructive. It is controlling. It is destabilizing. It is unequal. It isn’t about the other person. It is about the critic. This type of criticism can be about small things, medium things, big things or all three. Being constantly critical can be the death blow to a relationship due to four main reasons.

1)  Lack of Acceptance

Acceptance 1 : the quality or state of being accepted or acceptable. 2 : the act of accepting something or someone : approval.

Being critical conveys a lack of acceptance to the other party. Being constantly told how to do things, the way you are doing them is wrong, and the outcomes are insufficient, over time, tells the partner they aren’t good enough. When receiving criticism, it is difficult to separate “what we are doing” from “who we are.” The partner thinks that if most things I do are wrong, therefore something must be wrong with me. Regardless of the partner’s self esteem, the effects of constant criticism are fatal. A partner with low self esteem may believe the criticisms and internalize them. This may lead to depression, anxiety or other problems. Chances are, the partner will not bring their “A” game to the relationship because their self confidence has been rattled. A partner with high self esteem may lose self confidence also as well as become more angry and resentful toward the critic. They may challenge the critical person more and conflict will be pervasive. With both scenarios though, a lack of acceptance is conveyed. And when a partner feels they are not accepted, other dynamics follow.

2)  Destruction of Autonomy

As eluded to above, constant criticism can erode a person’s self confidence. This erosion of self confidence leads to the destruction of autonomy. The critical partner has established himself or herself as the Editor-In-Chief or the Quality Control Director. The relationship no longer feels equal. The partner will be spending a tremendous amount of energy just trying to stay out of trouble. They will be working hard to gain the acceptance of their mate, only to fall short time and time again. A feeling of “walking on eggshells” will be persistent. It is hard to be bold, creative, to have initiative and to let one’s spirit shine when you do not have freedom nor acceptance in the relationship. The spirit becomes diminished. And when the spirit becomes diminished, autonomy diminishes right along with it. You slowly cease being yourself. And after all, if you can’t be yourself in a relationship, then it is not a good relationship. You may find yourself faced with making the decision between the loss or yourself vs. the loss your relationship with the one you love. The irony is that the high expectations the critical person has of the partner are often not met due to, in part, of the erosion of the partner’s self confidence, autonomy, initiative, energy, and motivation.

3)  Destruction of Trust

When the equality of the relationship is taken without consent from one party through criticism, trust is also taken. Being respected as an equal is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. It is also a fundamental human desire. Partners may have different roles and responsibilities, but when it comes to worth in the relationship, both parties must treat the other as an equal. When the partner no longer feels equal, resentment, anger, and a loss of respect follow. If you can’t trust your partner to allow you to be an equal in the relationship, you wont be able to trust him or her with other issues and dynamics within the relationship. Partners must be celebrated, not tolerated. Being critical of the other party does not even convey tolerance, much less celebration.

4)  Destruction of Intimacy

Synonyms of intimacy: belonging, chumminess, closeness, familiarity, inseparability, nearness.

All of the above ultimately leads to the destruction of intimacy. When criticism affects your autonomy, your trust, your sense of equality, and your respect for the partner, it is nearly impossible to feel an intimate connection with him or her. You may still love the person, you just may not feel very connected nor in tune with them. Intimacy requires trust and a safe environment. Being overly critical of your partner destroys any semblance of a safe environment. Chances are open communication has been affected as well. After all, your efforts to communicate what the effects of the critical and stifling environment have had on you have gone unheard. The harshness and hostility of the criticisms are far from the accepting and nurturing environment it takes for intimacy to flourish. This destruction of intimacy could be physical or emotional and oftentimes both. To put it simply, when one’s guard is up during the day, it is hard to let it down at night.

If you are in a critical relationship, please be aware of how constant criticism may be affecting you and thus your relationship. You no doubt have experienced some forms of doubt, guilt and shame. You may even have been blamed for the lack of intimacy and troubles in the relationship. If you are the critical partner, please be aware of the consequences. The consequences are often unintended but are prevalent nonetheless. Couples or individual counseling might help peel back the layers of your interactions and discover new ways to communicate. But constant criticism left unchecked, can send a relationship in to a spiral that might be impossible from which to recover.

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Greg Hood

Greg Hood is a freelance writer, a social work professional and a proud father currently residing in Charlotte, NC.


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