As the Houston marriage counselor, I often get asked why people criticize and cut each other down. They have to know that it’s typically not a behavior that elicits positive results. When you criticize, the subject of your criticism is likely to become defensive and put up barriers that are more about protecting themselves than actively listening and trying to change. So why do we still do it?

Because criticizing is the way that many of us express our need for something to change. “You’re so lazy! Why don’t you take out the trash more?” is really an expression of frustration that, were we smarter with our words and feelings, would sound more like, “I’ve taken out the trash every time in the last month. Would you mind splitting trash duty with me more evenly?” In short, it is our way of saying, “Hey, something that you’re doing is affecting me in a way I don’t like.” We are asking for relationship help from our partner.

Houston Marriage Counselor: You Impact Me

It’s not easy for anyone to step outside themselves when they are on the receiving end of what feels like a tirade, but doing exactly this is the key to resolving your partner’s need and ending criticisms. The next time you feel attacked, don’t open your mouth right away. Stop, take a deep breath, and try to think about where the criticism is coming from.

If you’re tired of your partner’s defensiveness, take a look at how you approach them when you want them to change a behavior. Instead of accusing them of never showing you affection, say that you’d like a hug. Rather than yelling about dishes being left in the sink because you’re tired of having to do them yet again, ask if your partner would mind helping with the dishes right then. You might be surprised what simply asking politely can accomplish as opposed to expressing your frustration and disappointment.

And always show understanding and focus on the positive. “It really helps me out when you clean the bathroom once a week.” “I know you’re tired, but I’d really appreciate it if you could walk the dogs tonight.”

The goal on both sides should be to try to create a positive interaction and show respect and understanding. Sometimes, however, that’s easier said than done, so if you and your spouse feel like you need relationship help, it can be worth your while to talk with a Houston marriage counselor.