Six Easy Ways to Turn a Complaint Into a Criticism

It is very important to be able to complain in your relationship. The sooner the better, in most cases, before it festers. There are more and less skillful ways to bring a complaint, of course, but do the best you can. If your complaint crosses the line into criticism, though, you are doing something that, according to John Gottman, is toxic to your relationship. Criticism is one of his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” for relationships. Everyone does it, but the less the better, and some kind of repair is in order when you do.

Criticism is a negative, global statement, often about someone’s character or history. It brings out defensiveness (another of the Four Horsemen) because it is an attack. Any complaint can easily be turned into a criticism. Here are some of Gottman’s observations about how we do it:

Start a complaint with “You always…”

Start a complaint with “You never…”

Start a complaint with “The problem with you is…”

After a complaint, ask “How can you treat me this way?”

After a complaint, ask “Why would you do a thing like that?”

After a complaint, ask “What is wrong with you?”

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, January 10, 2011.]