As a Tampa Couples Therapist, I have gotten familiar with some of the main issues that seem to negatively impact relationships. The Gottman Method highlights these main issues using a metaphor- The Four Horseman. This describes four communication styles that could potentially end a relationship. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, according to Gottman, are Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Today, I want to talk about Criticism. You may be wondering if this is the ONE THING Killing Your Relationship.


What comes to your mind when you think of criticism? In literal terms, it is a way of expressing disapproval of someone or something, usually based on behavior or faults. It can have a lot of judgment and can be seen as an evaluation. When talking about communication in a relationship, criticism holds a little bit of a different meaning. When you start to criticize your partner, you start to attack their character and them as a whole. A complaint or assessment is different than using criticism in your conversation with your partner. Knowing the difference between what a complaint looks like versus criticism is essential in creating better communication skills. 

Criticism is seen as the first horseman that comes into a conversation and soon lead up to an argument. When you feel that something is wrong or your partner did something wrong, it is very common to go in and describe what the partner did wrong and describe something about your partner that you feel is part of their character, which is where the criticism comes in. If you find that your conversations of concern start with criticism, there is a chance that those conversations are not ending very well. 

You May Not Even Know You Are Doing This One Thing That’s Killing Your Relationship

Sometimes we don’t even know we are criticizing, and that will be one of the most important things is to identify and be aware of what we are saying and how we are saying it to our partners. Here are a few examples of what criticism can look like:

Making Jokes

Making jokes can seem harmless and maybe your intention was not to harm your partner, but if your jokes are passive aggressive about something your partner with a behavior or their appearance it can cause some harm. An example of this may look like “Do you have to wear your hair like that? You look like a cartoon character.”  *Followed by a laugh or saying you were joking*. This may have been a joke in your eyes, but there may have been a little truth in the fact you don’t like their hair and now they might feel embarrassed. 

Statements That are Exaggerated

When criticism comes into play, it is very common to express your annoyance or complaint with exaggerated words. Some examples may look like “You’re so lazy” or “You never think of me” or “I’m always the bad guy”. These statements might come from a place of frustration and maybe in the heat of the moment, but often your partner will take those words as something is wrong with them and come up with a defensive statement leaving you more annoyed. 

The Dreadful “Should” Statements

All around “should” statements can cause a lot of negative feelings for someone. When using “should” statements with your partner you are subtly expressing judgment and shame on them. This could look like “You should have known I would not want this type of bread when you went grocery shopping”  or “You shouldn’t fold your clothes that way”. This is another way to show your partner that there is something wrong with them or how they are doing things and your way is right.  

Thankfully there is a technique that can help with combatting Criticism and in Gottman terms it is called the Antidote.

Criticism is a very common way that concern is expressed that allows for us to have our guard up when we might feel uncomfortable or like something is not going our way. The antidote to this relationship killer is to use a Gentle Start-Up. A lot of times we don’t want to be vulnerable in a situation but allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a relationship and especially when you are feeling that your needs aren’t being met is crucial in a successful relationship. When you can shift your mind to a more internal mindset rather than an external mindset you are able to express your needs more clearly and in most cases be heard. 

A Gentle Start-Up looks like expressing 3 things…I feel… + about what…. + I need

An example of this could look like “I feel rejected (1) when you leave me out of your weekend plans (2) I need there to a conversation about what are plans are and if they can include me (3). 

As a Tampa Couples Therapist, I know that when we are expressing a complaint, we are usually looking for a need to be fulfilled. If you can figure out what that need is and use these steps to communicate, I have a feeling the conversation will be a lot calmer, and the need will be met.

If you are looking for additional support in your relationship, be sure to contact a Tampa Couples Therapist today!