Every relationship involves conflict and requires some amount of constructive criticism in order to grow. Unfortunately, the more important our partner is to us, the harder it can be to accept that we’ve done something to make them unhappy. Thankfully, there are a few tactics we can employ to help make the feedback experience more palatable for both parties.
Here are my five best tips for giving your partner constructive feedback:
1. Choose the right moment.
Don’t pile on your wife when she is already having a bad day, or ruin an important event for your husband by bruising his ego. Find a time when you are in private and your connection feels strong. Take advantage of a calm and pleasant time of day. Ideally you will find a moment when you are working on a task together that does not require eye contact, such as washing dishes or folding laundry. Your teamwork will put you both in a collaborative frame of mind, and the job you are doing will divide your focus so your feedback seems less confrontational and intimidating.
2. Look for your part in the conflict.
Are your expectations of your partner fair and reasonable? Are there other things in your life that may be upsetting you and making this problem seem worse than it is? Are you doing something to trigger or encourage the negative behavior? Don’t just look inward for these answers – ask your partner in a genuine way. This will make her feel less harshly accused and let her know you are trying to see her side as well as your own.
3. Focus on your feelings.
You have a right to feel the way that you do. That is not up for debate. When your criticism is centered on actions and events, it is easy to get caught up in the argument of whether or not your partner’s behavior is acceptable. This puts them on the defensive and makes them less agreeable to a solution. Keeping the emphasis on your feelings, however, helps your significant other to empathize with you and see their actions in a new light. It is also less accusatory, because it assumes that they did not make you feel this way intentionally. It opens you both up to the strong possibility that they had another motivation behind their choices besides hurting you.
Constructive criticism should not be a one-way conversation. In fact, you may get some unexpected feedback regarding your own actions. Your partner may even have information you were completely unaware of that puts the whole situation in a new light. You want your side of the conflict to be heard – but so does your partner. Give him the same courtesy that you expect, and build a mutually open and respectful dialogue.
5. Compliment your partner.
Teachers and coaches often deliver criticism by using the sandwich method. This involves placing your critique between two doses of praise. For example, you might tell your husband what a fantastic father he is, let it slip that you wish he made more of your son’s baseball games, and then follow up with what a stellar job he does providing for you both and how hard it must be for him to leave work early. Your partner will be more receptive to criticism when his ego is inflated and he feels you are on his side.