How Happy Couples Give Constructive Criticism

August 16, 2018  |  
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My boyfriend and I were out for a double date night with another couple the other night. When dinner was over I ordered us all a Lyft to go home. Or at least, I thought I had. We waited 15 minutes before I realized I’d never actually pushed “Request.” Then, when the Lyft arrived, we realized I’d accidentally sent it five blocks away. My boyfriend was being understanding enough but he was exhausted and a little over my mistakes. When we got in the car, he said, “Boo—do you want to just go ahead and double check you put the right destination in?” And I giggled and said, “Yeah—that’s fair after what just happened.” And my friend was really surprised—she said, “You two are so sweet to each other!” I forget that, in some couples, a little suggestion that one person might be, er, out to lunch could start a huge fight. But not with us. It’s pretty important to us to be able to give constructive feedback, without fear of a fight. Here is how happy couples give constructive criticism.

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Always use a sweet tone

We always give a note with a sweet tone. We don’t raise our voices, use a snarky tone, use sarcasm, or use an accusatory tone. When my boyfriend asked me to double check that I’d put the destination in the Lyft app wrong—or when he tells me I’ve left a lot of clothes on the floor—he uses a sweet, soft tone.

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Do it teasingly

Infusing humor goes a long way. Like saying, “Hey is this Lyft taking us home or are we going to the car wash a street away? We can go to the car wash but, we don’t have the car so, maybe make sure we’re going to the house.”

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Add physical touch

A gentle touch turns a constructive criticism moment from a harsh one to a loving one. Sometimes I’ll be doing my makeup or working on my laptop and my boyfriend will come up to me, put his arms around me, and say, “It’s nice that you have the volume on your music high enough for our neighbors to hear it.” Message received.

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Assume it was an accident

If I mess up, my boyfriend always approaches me with the assumption that it was a mistake, and that I had no idea how it affected him. And I do the same when he messes up. We don’t dive in, angrily, assuming the person made the mistake on purpose. I mean, we love each other so…we probably wouldn’t be with someone who we believed purposefully bothered us.

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Admit we make mistakes, too

Sometimes, if I feel like I’ve been giving my boyfriend a lot of notes, I’ll balance things out by starting with, “I know I totally make this mistake a lot to but…” or “Hey, I have a hard time staying on top of this chore too, but…”

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Explain how it affects us

Usually just telling my partner how his bad habits or mistakes affect me can be really effective. He doesn’t want to disrupt my sleep/stress me out/do some of the other things some of his mistakes can do. So if he knows that’s what happens, he’s far more conscious of his actions.

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Ask questions/allow for explanations

We always give each other the opportunity to explain ourselves. We try not to assume or state why the other person did what they did because, well, that’s very irritating. We ask why this or that seems to be happening.

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Praise progress in other areas

If I need to give a list of notes to my boyfriend say, on, roommate behaviors, I’ll first praise him on his progress in a lot of areas. Nobody likes to just receive criticism, and feel like their work isn’t appreciated.

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Find a way to make messes funny

I can, admittedly, be messy. I just make little messes throughout the week. My boyfriend’s thing is barbecuing up a storm when he has friends over on the weekend and leaving trays and beer cans in piles the next day. So, when we make messes the other can’t stand, we might just say something like, “I’m just going to take the dog for a walk…maybe things can look a little different when I come back…”

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We make it no big deal

No matter what, the golden rule is to make it sound like it’s not a big deal. We always start criticism with, “Hey, whenever you get a chance” or “It’s not a huge deal but, if you wouldn’t mind…”

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We wait for a repeat

I don’t give my partner a note on a mistake he only makes once. One-time mistakes happen. I only say something if I see a pattern developing. I believe that’s fair.

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But we don’t let it build up

I don’t, however, wait until my partner has made the mistake so many times that I’m going to explode at him. That’s not fair to anyone.

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We never criticize in front of others

We don’t give notes about serious things in front of others. We refuse to be that couple who exposes dirty laundry, right on the table, during the double date night. Because that couple is the worst.

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We come up with codes

We have little codes to tell each other when we’re doing that one annoying thing again. I, for example, can chew very loudly sometimes. My boyfriend lovingly waited three years to tell me that. Now when I do it, he just starts making a small noise with his mouth to tell me it’s happening. Then we don’t have to go over the whole thing every time it happens.

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We thank the other for telling us

If my boyfriend gives me constructive criticism, I understand that that wasn’t fun or easy for him. So rather than get mad at him for not holding in his feelings, I thank him for telling me, so that he didn’t let his anger build up.

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