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Is criticism helpful?

December 16, 2013

Here’s a great idea…
In her book, Why Talking is Not Enough, Susan Page says,
“When you criticize a relatively healthy person, you actually trigger that person’s self-protective instincts and probably make the person even more likely to behave in the way you don’t like, whether this reflex is conscious or unconscious” (p. 33).

In other words…
Criticizing your partner in an effort make him/her change isn’t very helpful. You may try to justify your criticism by saying something like, “I’m only trying to persuade my partner to be more organized, or more thoughtful, or more competent because I know it would be better for him or her; as well as better for the relationship. I’m trying to be helpful?” But help is help only when it is perceived as help by your partner. If it is perceived as criticism, it will not have the hoped for effect. People change only if they feel like they are basically accepted the way they are.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life…
The next time you are tempted to be “helpful,” ask yourself, “Could this be perceived as criticism by my partner?”  It may be better instead to focus on your partner’s strengths, or improving on some of your own faults. The peace and harmony between you will be worth it.

To find out more…
about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden or the Getting Our Hearts Right program at, follow us at or contact your local county Extension agent. You may also like to read Why Talking is Not Enough.

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