What Is The Difference Between A Complaint And A Criticism?

What Is The Difference Between A Complaint And A Criticism? - Resolve ConflictComplain more.  Criticise less.

Criticism is a destructive global attack on a person’s personality, childhood, history, or character. Complaints, however, are about a person’s behaviour a specific thing, time, and place. With complaints there is no attack, but there is emotion and a direct focus on the actual problem. The marriage research of John Gottman points to criticism as one of the basic relationship poisons that breeds contempt, also known as hatred. High levels of contempt for your partner is the number one predictor of unhappiness and divorce. It is at this simple but powerful crossroad of criticism and complaint that the actual life or death of your marriages lies.

For example, a productive complaint would be, “I am so mad at you for not doing the dishes last night like you said you would. I had to deal with them this morning and was late for work!” Stop there. Shut up. This will focus her and you on what really happened. You see complaints aren’t happy and positive. They are direct about how you really feel about what is actually happening or just happened. You need to keep the conversation on the working-out-the-dishes problem to find out what is possible with that frustration. Now, it is easy to turn a complaint into poisonous criticism by just adding, “What is wrong with you?” or “Don’t you love me?” or “How many times to I have to tell you to do something?”  “You are just like your mother.” “Your therapy isn’t working.” See the difference?  Yes, I know her behaviour is frustrating you. Yes, I know she does these things often. But, criticizing her won’t change her behaviour. In marriage, all criticism is destructive and a deadly poison. Every relationship with a long-term commitment, especially marriage, has issues to complain about. Some of those issues are resolvable, and some aren’t.

The ones that are truly not fully resolvable will require you to work with each other to reduce the amount of negativity that is generated from them. Otherwise, criticism’s cousin—contempt–will move into your house. It sounds like this relative has already moved into your spare room, as your question is full of contempt, defined as “mean, vile, or worthless; disdain; scorn.” You see, contempt, no matter what you hold in your heart, gives the other the message that they are not worth dealing with and worthless. THAT is the message you are sending your wife. THAT is what she is reacting to with you, making matters much worse for your both. Why would your wife want to listen to your message that she is beneath you, worthless and vile?  Worse, that redirects her attention away from what happened, leaving the dishes overnight, to an endless unresolvable debate and defence of her character.

Contempt kills happiness in a relationship. Then it kills the relationship. Dead. Then it kills your feeling heart. Feeling contempt for a person is like picking up a red-hot piece of iron to throw at somebody. You not only hurt your partner but also yourself with your criticism and contempt.

So, learn to complain more often and stay focused on working at things one at a time. At the same time, away from the conflicts, work on getting that love in your heart more out of your mouth and into your behaviour toward her. Complain AND express that fondness you feel away from the conflict.

Right now you are both bringing an attitude of contempt toward each other before any discussion of concern even begins. It is vital that you learn the art of the healthy complaint while bringing more genuine more fondness, friendship, and actual interest you show away from the conflict, the more you both will have a reason to face this frustration more gently, more honestly, and more as they really are.


For more articles please visit the Resolve Conflict Blog here. If you have any queries on Family Law or Mediation please don’t hesitate to contact us on 03 9620 0088 or email info@resolveconflict.com.au


This article was first published by Don Elium on donelium.com


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