The communications that are most destructive in relationships are those that express criticism or impart a judgmental attitude. When couples meet with me and claim their major problem is “communication”, most of the time the problem is actually feeling criticized or judged when communicating which leads to a very negative cycle of demand/withdraw that never seems to end.
Expressing disrespectful judgments to your partner or about your partner can also be poisonous. Of course, most of the time (not always) criticisms and judgments are made because one spouse feels mistreated or ignored and expresses his/her feelings about being mistreated or feeling alone with anger which is often felt as criticism or judgment. Successful relationships manage feelings of disappointment in a less angry or harsh manner. Couples in strong marriages express their disappointments or needs in a softer manner vs. harsh manner ( such as criticism or judgment), which makes it easier for the other to respond non-defensively or withdraw.
To help you think about how disrespectful judgments may be affecting your relationship, John Gottman (How Marriages Succeed or Fail), suggests the following experiments:
Ask your spouse or partner the following questions. If any of them are answered in the affirmative, it’s evidence that you use disrespectful judgments.
1. Do I ever try to “straighten you out?”
2. Do I ever lecture you instead of respectfully discussing issues?
3. Do I ever view my opinion as superior to yours?
4. Whenever we discuss an issue, do I ever prevent you from having a chance to
explain your position?
5. Are you ever afraid to discuss your point of view with me?
6. Do I ever ridicule your point of view?
All of these questions reflect an effort to force your way of thinking on your spouse: You do not agree, so you try to make your spouse agree with you.
What’s the answer then? The only appropriate way to persuade a spouse, or anyone else for that matter, is to show respect. Respect means that one should never try to force his or her way of thinking on anyone else. It also means that you honor the viewpoint of your spouse even though you may not agree with it. If this does not happen, and you instead attempt to prove your spouse wrong or act as though your spouse’s point of view is crazy, your spouse will more likely to resist your argument all the more, even though there may be some merits in your perspective.