By Danielle B. Grossman, MFT
Respectfully receiving critical feedback is a key skill for a happy and healthy relationship. The ability to temporarily put aside our own feelings and our own way of seeing the situation, and truly listen to our partner’s feelings and perspective, allows us to safely air grievances and work through conflicts. Without that safe space, the love and goodwill of a relationship runs the risk of being burned up by resentment and anger.
No one, however, likes to be criticized. No one likes hearing how they are disappointing the person they love. No one likes feeling blamed, misunderstood or under-appreciated. And so a lot of us are experts in defense — both in defending ourselves and hitting up against the defenses of our partner.
Do any of these defense tactics sound familiar?
- Placating. Critical feedback is tuned out and brushed over. ‘Yes, dear, okay, honey, whatever you say.’
- Invalidating. One partner tries to convince the other that his or her complaint is not legitimate. ‘Why are you making such a big deal out of this? Are you just trying to find things to be upset about? This isn’t even a real problem.’
- Chronic postponing. If one partner brings up a complaint, the other continually finds a way to put off the discussion. ‘You are really bringing this up now? I’m way too busy right now to talk about this.’
- Guilting. Critical feedback gets diverted when the recipient turns the conversation around to his or her own feelings and fears. ‘Why are you being so mean to me? How do you think that makes me feel?’ There also might be crying, pouting, brooding, disconnecting emotionally or physically, or even acting out in self-destructive ways.
- Globalizing. Instead of focusing on the actual issue that a partner is raising, the other person turns it into something huge and global, as a way to obscure and avoid the issue. ‘I am such a disappointment, I never do anything right. You are never satisfied.’
- Narrowing. Instead of addressing the deeper issue, excuses and reasons about a specific incident are used to close off the critical feedback. ‘I didn’t feel well this morning and couldn’t focus on anything. I had to work that night. I was late because there was a traffic jam.’
- Bullying. Intimidation is used to stop critical feedback. This could be raising one’s voice, pounding a fist on the table, or making vague or concrete threats about what might happen if the other partner continues to try to talk about the issue.
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