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Criticism vs Expressing Frustration

written by Keely Johnson, M.A.

The COVID-19 pandemic, politics, and everyday life can impact people mentally, physically, emotionally and interpersonally. As conflict has become more prominent in our daily lives, talking to partner(s), family, or friends may become more heated and divides may be happening. Sometimes when this happens criticism may be present.

 

Criticism involves focusing on your partner(s) or other family members character or personality flaws. It can be perceived as an attack and can take the form of blaming and name calling. Criticism implies something is wrong with them. Drs. John and Julie Gottman provide suggestions for how to prevent criticism from causing issues between partners. Here are their suggestions for how to express frustration and prevent criticism from making a situation worse. 

 

First, it helps to distinguish between criticism and expressing frustration.

 

Criticism: “Ugh you are so lazy! You said you were going to take out the trash and yet it is still there! Can you do anything you say you are going to?”

Take a moment and think about how the person being told this would feel. Possibly defensive? Hurt? Angry? Annoyed? Frustrated? What might they be thinking? This may not have been the intention of the speaker. Instead, it could be that the person is trying to express their frustration.

 

Expressing frustration: “I feel frustrated that the trash hasn’t been taken out yet after our conversation about it. I need to know how I can help you if you are not able to do something we talk about.”

How might the person think and feel hearing this statement instead of the criticism?

 

Drs. John and Julie Gottman suggest using a gentle start-up and ask for specific behavior change. They suggest doing this by using “I” statements.

 

  1. I feel….

State how you are feeling and avoid using “you” as this places blame.

“I feel frustrated…”

  1. About what….

Describe the situation.

“I feel frustrated that the trash hasn’t been taken out yet after our conversation about it.”

 

  1. I need….

What is it that would help you in this situation?

“I need to know how I can help you if you are not able to do something we talk about.”

  1. Be polite

                           It isn’t just about what you say, but how you say it too.

                           Tone and nonverbal communication are important to keep in mind when expressing frustration.

  1. Give appreciations

                          Let your partner(s) know that you appreciate them!

 

It may be easy to quickly jump to criticizing. However, taking the time to use a gentle start-up and ask for specific behavior change can make expressing frustration easier and decrease the chances of the interaction escalating to a fight.