In my work with couples, I’m often asked “Why do marriages fail?” While there are countless things that can contribute to the downfall of a relationship, I’ve found that couples who are overly critical, extremely defensive, disrespectful, and poor communicators are setting themselves up for trouble. Couples often spend their energy trying to prevent the obvious relationship pitfalls, such as infidelity and money issues. It’s just as important—if not more important—to pay attention to the more subtle things like criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling, to ensure a lasting, happy relationship.
When you criticize your partner, you are implying that you are, in some way, superior to him or her. It’s important to know that you will not get what you want by making your partner feel insecure or bad about themselves; you can’t control or coerce your partner into changing. Criticism does not make your partner want to change–it only makes him or her want to move away from you, creating distance in the relationship.
It’s human nature for anyone to become defensive when you feel attacked or like you’re being unfairly accused. Rather than taking a defensive stance, make an effort to find some truth in what your partner is saying, even if it seems totally unreasonable or unfair. Of course, there will be times when you genuinely are to blame for some unpleasant outcome. If that’s the case, own your part in the situation and take the necessary steps to ensure that the same mistake does not happen again. Of course, it’s always OK to ask your partner to express their displeasure in a way that will promote healing and resolution to the matter.
Nothing can put distance between you and your partner faster than contempt. If you having a growing disdain for your partner, eventually it will show up in your words, actions and general attitude. As a result of your contempt or disdain, your partner may start to feel worthless or undeserving of your love, time, and affection. Instead of letting issues fester and grow, make it a habit to engage in an open, honest, nonjudgmental conversation with your spouse or partner on a regular basis. In addition to open communication, learning the art of forgiveness will go a long way in preserving and protecting your relationship from failure.
When you find yourself in an unpleasant conversation with your partner, it’s helpful to resist the urge to shut down or walk away. Mature relationships mean that both partners can have their needs or concerns discussed and addressed in a healthy, controlled manner. If things get too heated, it may be helpful to take a brief time-out so that tempers can cool. Just be careful that your time-out session doesn’t turn into just a creative way for you to avoid the discussion.
Relationships can be difficult and require respectful communication, flexibility, and forgiveness. Working to avoid criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling will support you in deepening your connection and nurturing your relationship.
Couples Counseling can help you recognize the signs and work through these kinds of challenges to your relationship. If you would like to learn more please call us 832 -421-8714 or contact us here.