Neuroscience has shared with us interesting facts about how our brains actually process criticism. The amygdala in the brain is associated with one’s emotional state but also; it is linked to ones fear and panic responses. The amygdala responds to stimuli that warn the brain of possible danger. Memories of emotions are also stored in the amygdala. When one is criticized by their partner, an emotional and also a defensive response is elicited. The criticized partner, feeling threatened, might either lash out verbally or instead retreat inward in order to feel they are protecting themselves from the assault from their partner. Over time, the memory of the criticism (assaults) will be associated with the other partner and the other is likely to feel defensive whenever they are in the other’s space, which will contribute to escalating arguments and a decline in emotional and physical intimacy within the relation ship.
When we feel safe with our partner we are able to become vulnerable with them and also to discuss our needs in a productive way where both partners communicate their desires and needs in the form of wishes rather than harsh and hurtful insults.
5 Ways To Ask For What You Need In Your Relationship Without Criticizing Your Partner
1) Start the conversation with a compliment. Tell your partner something that they did that day that made you feel good.
2) Avoid the use of assaultive words such as “you”, “always”, “never”, “why”, and other phrases that tell the other what they are doing wrong.
3) Ask for what you need in the form of a request rather than a demand. For example, you could state, “I’m tired of you falling asleep on the couch at 9PM every night, it’s like you don’t want to spend any time with me.” Instead you would share, “I would love for us to be able to spend some snuggle time together after we put the kids to bed. Would you be willing to stay up a little later tonight so we can have this time together?”
4) Be specific. Passive aggressive behaviors are not helpful here. The above example offers a great example of asking for what you need in a positive but also specific way.
5) Say “thank you”! Once your partner says “yes,” reply with “thank you!” Let your partner know how much it means that they care for your request. The positive feedback you provide will help them to feel connected to you and also successful in their role as your partner.
Tips For How To React If Your Partner Criticizes You
1) Ask your partner to share what they need differently, or in the form of a request.
2) Ask your partner to speak in a kind or warm tone.
3) Invite your partner to share more about what it is that they need. Then mirror what they have shared, made a statement of empathy about what they have shared and finally validate their request and the feelings they have shared.
Imago Dialogue 101, Retrieved February 20, 2013, from http://gettingtheloveyouwant.com/articles/imago-dialogue-101
The Role of the Amygdala in Fear and Panic, Retrieved February 20, 2013 from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1749
*Contact Elizabeth Kane at http://www.orangecountycounselingforcouples.com