Being able to offer constructive criticism is an important, but difficult life skill to master. These 9 tips help you master this skill with ease.
Being in a relationship gives you a friend and a partner who can help you improve yourself. This is an often overlooked aspect of being with someone. Your significant other can point out potential areas of improvement in all aspects of your life. And of course, it works both ways – you can and should do the same for them. [Read: 8 little habits that strengthen your bond with your partner]
We often seek advice from our partners, and in a healthy relationship, this will be given honestly, even if it’s critical in any way. And when two people truly love and trust each other, they can offer criticisms even when they are unsolicited. The key is in doing it right, and that’s where the art of constructive criticism comes in.
The art of constructive criticism in a relationship
When you recognize an area where your partner can improve something about themselves, or when there’s something about them you want to change to strengthen your relationship, you need to confront them about it.
But taking criticism is hard for everyone, and just blurting out what you want them to change can feel like an attack. Use these tips to make your criticism constructive, and you’ll find a much more receptive listener.
#1 Write it down first. You’re not an objective actor when criticizing your significant other, and your emotions can swing while you bring up the subject. All those points you had thought out beforehand can disappear in the moment. You’ll probably be nervous, and you may temper your points too much and offer up a weak argument.
Before you confront them, write down what you want to say. You might even think about practicing it out loud a few times before the actual conversation. Once you’ve settled on what you want to say, don’t self-censor in the moment. The talk will go much smoother if you’re not stumbling over your words.
#2 A spoonful of sugar. A great way to take the rough edges off of a criticism is to offer it with a compliment. This makes someone feel less like they’re under attack. It needs to be a sincere compliment though, or it will make the situation worse.
If you think your partner needs to be nicer to one of your friends, start the conversation by complimenting them on some situation where they were really friendly to someone.
If you understand some of the reasons why they’re mean to that person, empathize with them. Tell them you know how that friend can be sometimes, but they’re an important person in your life, and your partner needs to be kinder to them.
#3 Stay calm and controlled. It can be difficult, but it’s crucial to keep your emotions under control when you’re offering a criticism of your partner. Losing your temper will only lead to a fight, and any advice you gave will be totally ignored.
If you feel like your talk isn’t going well, it’s better to abort the mission than have an argument. Even if they are getting angry, you’ve got to keep it together. When they’ve calmed down later, hopefully they will realize that they were out of line. [Read: Tips on how to fight fair in a relationship]
#4 Check your language. The way you phrase your criticism is often as important as the criticism itself. If it sounds like you’re ordering your significant other to do something different, they won’t respond well at all. But if you can gauge your language, you will take off the rough edges of the advice you’re giving and make them more receptive.
Don’t be too direct and say “You do this…” Instead, begin with “It seems to me…” Use conditionals like “What if you…” instead of direct suggestions like “You have to…” or “You should…”
You probably already use subtle language tricks like this all the time whether you realize it or not. When you sit down to have this kind of talk in your relationship, make sure you do it. [Read: 14 things you say or do that emasculates your man]
#5 Keep it light. One way to keep the situation from getting out of control is to keep it light. Don’t present your criticism as something major. If you can even just mention it in passing instead of having a big sit down talk, the advice may be received better. Be careful though, as doing this constantly will just seem like nagging. [Read: The art of using the silent treatment in your relationship]
#6 Look at the bright side. When you offer constructive criticism to your partner, you’re usually pointing out an inadequacy about them. If that’s all you do in your talk, it can be very demoralizing to them. Try to point out some times to them when they didn’t do the thing you’re criticizing them about.
This does two things: It helps them feel better about themselves, and not just like a failure. It also shows them that they already are capable of doing better. You don’t have to act as if you were talking to a child. Just be sure to offer up a positive to counter the negative.
#7 Pick your spots. Timing is everything, and that’s certainly true about choosing when to bring up your criticism. On the one hand, you don’t want to spoil a nice occasion by angering your partner or risking a fight. On the other hand, if your partner is already stressed or having a bad day, criticizing them can feel like salt in the wound.
Choose a neutral time, when you’re neither celebrating anything, nor in a bad mood. Try to avoid any contentious topics right before bed, as you don’t want to lose sleep over it.
Also, don’t bring it up before a meal when you’re both hungry. People are generally at their most irritable before meals, and generally won’t take criticism well.
#8 Playing along. You can make your criticism easier to take by opening yourself up to be criticized as well. The way to do this is an activity, where you each write down three things you would like your partner to work on changing about themselves. By showing you can accept constructive criticism, it will make your partner more open to receiving it.
Even if you don’t have any pressing criticism to give, doing this occasionally can strengthen your relationship by addressing problems while they’re still small. It can also serve as good practice for accepting criticism in a mature way. And finally, it can help foster a culture of communication in your relationship that will guarantee less fighting, and more loving.
#9 Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. The final piece of advice is to know when enough is enough. If it seems like there are a million little things about your partner that you want to change, or a few major ones you’d like to change but cannot, it may be time to move on.
It’s also important for you to understand that you can’t change everything about someone, and sometimes, you just have to accept them for how they are.
If you realize that your partner can’t change some qualities that you don’t like, you have to ask yourself whether or not you can live with it. If you can, then work on getting used to it. And if you can’t, then it’s time to call it quits. [Read: 10 relationship deal breakers you should watch out for]
Relationships require communication, and an important part of that is giving and receiving constructive criticism. Doing this makes the future of your relationship look very promising. It’s never easy to criticize or be criticized by the one you love. But it’s crucial to your relationship that you follow this advice and learn how.
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I'm a freelance writer dividing my time between the beaches of Thailand and my hometown of Chicago....