Marital Discussions: Criticism Versus Complaint Ep 46

Marital Discussions: Criticism Versus Complaint | Relationship Coach

Welcome back, and welcome to our last week of 2021. As we jump into this last week of the year, if you haven’t already done so, I would love to encourage you to take some time to look at how you created more of what you wanted in your life this past year and then to fast-forward to this time next year and imagine who you will be. Who is it you want to be and why? How would this vision bring you to closer alignment with your true self? That’s all; start envisioning yourself having accomplished that mission, and with consistent visualization, the steps towards that vision will begin to present themselves to you. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been exploring ways we interact with our partners and how our go-to ways of interacting can indicate which direction our relationship is going. Last week we had a great conversation where we looked at how to start a discussion that allows each of you to open up versus shutting down, and this week I want to continue the conversation by looking at ways to discuss what is bothering us. Let’s look at criticism versus complaint in your marital discussions, but before we do that, I want to recognize that the two of you may have stopped having “difficult” conversations because you realize they make things worse. “Difficult” conversations are important conversations where you are each sharing your inner thoughts and feelings. If you are in this camp, this is for you because it will help you start opening up and expressing what is important to you and your relationship. Giving these techniques a go will feel awkward and may not be received the way you anticipate them to go, but trust me, if you keep practicing your persistence to create what you want, it will pay off. Also, in last week’s episode, I shared what to do when your attempts “back-fire,” so go check that out too.

As you listen to these episodes, I want to have you consider what you will do with the information you collect. You want to create a more connected marital relationship, you want to feel more loved, and all of what I share here will help you move towards that goal, but only if you take the information and do something with it. Gathering information about what makes a relationship work and what pushes it apart means you hope and seek solutions. Implementing something counter to your habitual relationship interactive responses takes practice and willingness to feel uncomfortable through the process. Create awareness for yourself through what I share and start taking actionable steps. If you are struggling with the implementation, that is where I help you get some traction.

First, we’ll look at what criticism is and what a complaint is, and how they differ. Then I will share some examples so that you can better decipher which ones you may be using in your conflict discussions and help you start preparing for difficult conversations you would like to have with your partner.

The first lethal type of negative relationship interaction: Criticism

Relationship expert John Gottman of The Gottman institute created the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which refers to four different types of negative interactions that are lethal to the marital relationship. This week we are talking about the first one, which is criticism.

When we look up criticism, what we find is that it is the practice of judging the merits and faults of the other person, the act of expressing disapproval, and of noting the problems or faults of the other person. It expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other person’s character or personality. Throughout a relationship, constant criticism will wear the relationship thin and slowly eat away the positive emotions that brought the two of you together.

A criticism would be what we call a harsh start-up (link to last week’s episode), which we talked about last week, those discussion introductions that begin with “you never” or “you always.” Starting the discussion this way gives you a 99 percent chance of it not wrapping up in a way that gets you any movement forward.

The antidote for criticism: Complaint

There is a significant difference between a criticism and a complaint. A complaint doesn’t critique the person, but it focuses on a specific behavior or a specific event. Most complaints have three parts:

  • Sharing how you feel
  • What situation has you feeling this way
  • What you need, want, prefer from your partner

While we’re here, let’s talk about the difference between a complaint and nagging because none of us want to be a nagging partner, nor do we want to live with a nagging partner. Nagging would consist of bringing something up multiple times without re-evaluating the process and the result that you’re getting. In contrast, a complaint states how you feel about a specific item and then shares what you need to resolve how you feel. Your partner can choose to do whatever they want with the complaint. Still, in a healthy relationship, the partner would share their side of the story, and together there would be resolution instead of unresolved conflict.

The complaint is what we call a soft start-up to a difficult conversation, so it has you initiating a conversation that has a better chance of getting resolution than the criticism.

The difference between a criticism and a complaint.

The primary difference between the criticism and the complaint is that criticism focuses on the person and the complaint focuses on the specific behavior or circumstance.

Have you ever heard your partner ask, “What is wrong with you?” or maybe you’ve even said the words, I’ll admit to at least thinking them, and this is a criticism that can turn a well-intended complaint into a criticism. Even if you’re “only” thinking it, your energy will convey it.

Let’s look at some examples of each:

Complaint: “I feel sad that we don’t get much time to talk. Can we find an hour that works for both of us this weekend?”

Criticism: “All you do is work. You never make our relationship a priority.”

Complaint: “I feel frustrated that you leave your shoes in the entryway, and could you possibly set them in the closet?”

Criticism: “You are a slob, I spend all day working to keep our house nice, and you totally disrespect me.”

Complaint: “I miss snuggling with you before bed. Could we go to bed together tonight?”

Criticism: “It’s obvious you don’t love me or care for me because you never come to bed with me.”

Complaints and differences within a marital relationship are almost guaranteed, and some of them may remain throughout the relationship. One of you might prefer a minimalistic lifestyle while the other enjoys some splurging. When you can love each other for your differences instead of making the differences mean there is something wrong with the other; the relationship can flourish instead of wither. The other skill these couples learn is how to use successful repair attempts to soften the tension that these differences create; we will discuss this technique in a future episode.

Resolution isn’t always going to be the outcome of a complaint but what it does do is enable the couple to interact about the conflict and begin the process of finding resolution where criticism brings about a negative interaction that puts the cap on a possible resolution. At least if a complaint doesn’t end in resolution, it steers clear of sucking the life out of the relationship.

I share all of this because if you hear yourself in some of these examples or are seeing your own examples in your mind, you aren’t alone; it is widespread in relationships. The problem comes when it persists and bleeds into contempt, defensiveness, and avoidance. Use this information to examine and create awareness of your weaknesses; awareness is the first step to change.


I am a life coach who works with individuals to break down relationship barriers by awakening their true selves. My process isn’t about changing your partner; it’s about discovering who you are so that you can AwakenYou in your marriage. If you’re ready to take your life and your love relationship to the next level, then schedule your program inquiry call today and let’s decide together if this is your next step to creating the life you’ve been dreaming of.

Create Better Marital Communication By Considering The Start-Up Ep 45

The Difference Between Marital Criticism And Complaint | Relationship Coach

Last week I did an overview of seven predictors of divorce, and starting this week, I will spend time taking a deeper dive into each, which will give you a week to focus on each. With each of these episodes, I suggest that you focus on the predictor of the week, paying close attention to your habitual practice with your partner and then taking a pause with each instance to reconsider a different approach. This week’s focus is on creating better marital communication by considering the start-up.

How you start a conversation will be an indicator of how the discussion will end unless you can take a pause and start over. Research proves this to be true, but I don’t think we need research to prove this phenomenon. We’ve talked about mirror neurons and the influence our approach to a conversation has on the other person’s response. Secondly, we can do our own research by observing and collecting data – something I highly recommend you do this week. You can do your research on your marital discussions but also expand your scope out to all of the interactions you find yourself in, maybe at work or with the kids, as well as observing other people’s interactions. Notice how the interaction starts and how that start-up influences the outcome.

First, I will share what a harsh start-up is, and then we’ll switch to looking at what a soft start-up is. As we talk about what a soft start-up is and how to switch a harsh start-up to a soft one, I will share several different examples to help you brainstorm new ways to approach your specific situations. In the end, I’ll also address what to do when your new plan of “attack” or non-attack backfires because most likely it will until you continue the practice and change old patterns.

The WRONG way to start a discussion: harsh start-up

Starting a discussion this way is pointing the finger at the other with criticism and disrespect to prove your point, damaging the relationship. It includes exaggerations like “always” or “never”; it includes opinions about the character of the other, illuding to superiority. It is sarcasm, being cynical, name-calling, mocking, angry humor, eye rolls – it is the acid that corrodes a marriage because it suggests disgust in the other.

Harsh start-ups are directed right to the other person’s core, blaming them for how you are feeling instead of complaining, which starts with how you feel about something specific and what you need or would like from the other person. Pay attention to starting with the word “you,” which points the blame towards them, versus starting with I, which brings it to how you perceive the circumstance, allowing them to explain.

An example of a harsh start-up would be something like this; “You never think about anyone but yourself. I hate that you conveniently schedule work when we clean the house. Why are you so rude?” Whereas a complaint and a soft start-up would look more like, “I see that you scheduled yourself to work during the time we normally clean the house, sometimes that makes me feel angry because I think that you are trying to get out of your household responsibilities. When do you think you can get your cleaning chores done?”

Note that harsh start-ups can happen from either side of the relationship, but if you are the female in the relationship, you may be noticing that you seem to be the one creating more of the harsh start-ups. This doesn’t mean that you are the cause of all of the problems; research shows that women are more likely to bring up things that are bothering them in their relationship to find some resolution, whereas the males are more likely to completely avoid anything that they think might create emotional stress and confrontation – which of course brings in all of the problems that come through avoidance.

The right way to start a discussion: soft start-ups

The soft start-up has a softer tone and approach; it helps both feel safer without the need to defend. If you look at the two versions of the previous example and you speak them out loud, you will notice a difference in how each feels in your body, a difference in how you receive it. Let’s look at ways to change your start-up’s dynamic and result.

Complain instead of criticize

We will dig into this a bit more next week when we talk about the second predictor of divorce, which is what John Gottman refers to as the Four Horsemen. Still, there is a massive difference between complaining and criticizing. When we complain about something, we direct the complaint towards something they did or didn’t do or a circumstance. A complaint contains three parts:

  1. How you are feeling (looking within) about:
  2. A specific situation
  3. Sharing what you need, want or prefer

A criticism is non-specific and directs your negative feelings to the core of who the other person is. Listen to these two and decide for yourself which one is a harsh start-up and which is a soft start-up:

  • “You are so irresponsible. Why can’t you get the water bill paid on time, it’s no wonder we don’t have any money to go on vacations.”
  • “I’m super frutstrated that the water bill has a late fee on it, we agreed that you would take care of the bills, what happened and what can you do to prevent it from happening again?”

Criticism also comes through the way you are showing up; it is possible you aren’t saying anything negative, but your body is showing otherwise. Eye-rolling or turning away is a perfect example of “unintentional” but destructive behavior.

Begin with “I” statements instead of “You” statements

This type of start-up has you focusing on what is going on for you instead of focusing on what you see your partner doing wrong. This can get a bit tricky if you are used to pointing the finger, saying, “I think that you never make any time for me.” even though it starts with “I,” it still points the finger at them. The “You” version would be something like “You never make time for me.” and the
“I” version might sound like “I feel really lonely lately, I miss spending time with you.”

Describe how you see the situation, your perspective

Your partner is not a mind reader though often we think they should know what is happening because it is SO obvious to us; this is where we need to practice expressing our needs in a clear way that doesn’t point to what we see as their deficiency. When you share how you see things from your point of view, it takes the blame off the other and will help you get a more helpful response.

You can still be kind and show appreciation even when you are in conflict

Differentiation has two people seeing the same thing in two completely different ways. The better we can get at allowing for this, the easier it will be to allow for the differences, come to some agreeable terms and still love each other. Oh, how far the words “please” and “I so appreciate your help here” can go in softening into what each of you needs.

Confront your conflicts

I know this sounds so cliche, but it is how we learn and get to know each other. When we confront our conflicts from the start and with a soft start-up, including love and appreciation, we learn more about what each other needs. We prevent blow-ups from happening when we are stretched thin and feeling overwhelmed – hello, Christmas week! When we store all of our negative emotions, which is resisting, see episode 43: A better way to deal with holiday emotions; what happens is we are more at risk of wearing thin and dumping it all out in one big blow-out session. This blow-out can create a flood of emotions for both of you, which leaves you completely useless when it comes to resolution, more on that predictor in the coming weeks!

What to do when your change in approach backfires

Your partner may still respond negatively, defensively, or counterattack once you begin to change your approach to conflict.

You: “I feel lonely lately, could you please share some times when we could have an hour together, just you and me?”

Them: “You don’t share your calendar with me, so how can I know when we could ever do anything?”

It would be easy to counterattack or blame or justify, but all you need to do is share that you aren’t accusing or blaming them but that you are simply asking for some options to put time aside on the calendar. You can share that you care and that you want to find time to get closer to them, to get to know them better. This can self-correct the course of the conversation and help your partner feel safe. Over time as you change your habitual way of dealing with conflict, your partners go to practices will self-correct as well.

As you absorb this information, ask yourself how you have approached conflict in the past, pay attention to conflict as it comes up this week, even if it’s a conflict you are witnessing versus being a part of. Use these experiences as examples to play with; consider how you might change the start-up to get a different result.

As you consider how you have and are handling conflict discussions, use this information to learn and grow. Keep a note in places where they will be a reminder to you of how you want to approach those things that are bothering you, write “SAFE” on a post-it and place it on your bathroom mirror or on your computer screen to remind you of how you want to approach these future discussions.

Also, consider the possibility that you may have stopped addressing conflict to avoid the harsh endings that come from your previous way of dealing with conflict. Remember that addressing what is bothering you is important. Now you have a new way to approach what is frustrating you, so even notice when you feel frustration or annoyance while sweeping it under the Christmas tree.

Addressing conflict creates conversation and connection and helps the two better understand each other versus withdrawing to avoid conflict, which will bring you to another predictor of divorce – independence or living parallel lives.

This week observe and practice because it is in the doing, the practicing that you learn, grow, and get to know.

I would love to hear what you noticed this week around your discussions and how you have done the work of starting to change the old cycle.


I am a life coach who works with individuals to break down relationship barriers by awakening their true selves. My process isn’t about changing your partner; it’s about discovering who you are so that you can AwakenYou in your marriage. If you’re ready to take your life and your love relationship to the next level, then schedule your program inquiry call today and let’s decide together if this is your next step to creating the life you’ve been dreaming of.

Is Divorce In Your Future? Ep 44

Is Divorce In Your Future? | Relationship Coach

Ok, to begin, let me just clarify that I am NOT trying to put a damper on your holiday cheer and just like everything else I discuss here on AwakenYou in your marriage, I am creating awareness for you so that you can take deliberate steps towards that which you want. When I pose the question “Is divorce in your future?” I want you to listen to what I talk about today and decide whether this exemplifies your situation and if it does then listen with curiosity so you can build hope instead of despair.

The truth is that ALL of these predictors could be present in your relationship BUT if you become aware of them and choose to take steps to eliminate them you are well on your way to preventing divorce in your future.

Today what I want to do is talk about the six predictors of a relationship headed towards divorce and what else to look for if these indicators aren’t present in your marriage, then I want to share the key to reviving or divorce-proofing your marriage. Over the next several weeks I am going to do a deeper dive into each of these six divorce predictors so that you can have time every week to get a better understanding of the predictor and whether that element is present in your marriage.

To begin I want to talk about relationships in general. Most of us are taught relationship dynamics through our childhood relationship teachers and we carry those dynamics into our marriage, each of us has learned different ways to manage and interact within our relationships. With that said, conflict and the inability to resolve the conflict alone is not an indicator of divorce because most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Marital arguments are often rooted in fundamental differences in lifestyle, personality, or values. More importantly, as we will discover, it is about how the argument starts, how each partner treats each other during the conflict, and how they attempt to repair it before it runs out of control.

The six indicators that divorce is in your future

Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute has dedicated his life to figuring out how to help couples create successful relationships. He realized early in his practice that the conventional way of counseling couples through conflict management wasn’t creating success over the long haul so he spent years studying indicators that the relationship wouldn’t last and analyzing what went right in happy marriages. These following indicators come from his research:

  1. Harsh Start-Up: when discussions start in a negatively where at least one is blaming the other
  2. The Four Horsemen: particular types of negative interactions within these discussions which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling
  3. Flooding: psychological and physical overwhelm created when one partner’s negativity is extremely intense and sudden, causing the other to shut down
  4. Body Language: visible changes on the outside but more importantly internal physical changes like increased heart rate and blood pressure
  5. Failed Repair Attempts: repair attempts are efforts made to prevent an increase in tension during a discussion
  6. Bad Memories: when a couple looks back at the history of their relationship and only remembers the negative

Gottman goes on to share that there are four final stages that signal the death bell of a relationship which are:

  1. The couple seeing their marital problems as severe
  2. The process of talking things over seems useless so each partner trys to solve problems on their own (independance)
  3. They lead parallel lives (independance)
  4. Lonliness sets in

In this we see that when the couple goes from the intial phase of dependance to this place of “independance” they discover how lonely it really is. The couple who is dedicated to figuring out their relationship has so much hope, more hope than when only one in the partnership is willing to share this dedication. Often when the couple gets to the lonely stage of independance one of the partners seek something different, it might be a different relationship outside of the marriage or it might be individual “soul-searching” and this is how we get started in AwakenYou. We focus on getting to know ourselves better as individuals, we learn how to accept ourselves and strengthening the relationship with ourselves and as we do this work our interactions with our partner starts to change. With this dynamic change you bring to the relationship, your partner will also start to soften into the relationship which takes the relationship to a certain level and then at this point the person doing the work on themselves is better able to express their desires, inviting the partner to join in the journey. It is at this point where the relationship can take off and grow or where one may choose to literally take off and separate from the marriage.

With all of this said there is one more indicator of an impending bad outcome. For many couples these above six indicators are absent in the relationship yet one, or both, of the individuals, have emotionally checked out of the marriage. What might be good to know is that when couples don’t seek help after discovering that they have these indicators present, a split comes during the first 5-6 years whereas couples without these indicators but are emotionally disconnected will split on average after 16 years. The other truth is that though many leave the marriage by seeking a divorce there are also others who leave the marriage by staying together but leading separate lives and this doesn’t need to be the fate of your marriage.

To wrap all of this up and to put a bow on it, over then next few episodes I am going to dig deeper into each of the indicators of divorce so that you can increase your awareness and start creating some change in how you show up with your partner. Beyond that I want to share that cleaning all of this up will help create a new dynamic between you and your partner which then can lead to further healing in your relationship. Once you learn how to successfully handle your disagreements, you can then start working on how you interact when you aren’t in disagreement.

Most of my clients are in the camp of still living together but leading lonely lives. They desperately want connection, don’t really want to leave the relationship but don’t know how to create something different and that is when they come to me. They are frustrated and desperately want to improve their relationship. They want to feel loved and have fun again and where we start is with doing that work within themselves while they work on becoming the partner they want their partner to be. Once they’ve worked through how they work through conflict they get to start working on the process of getting to know each other again and this is where they can start rebuilding a romantic and passion filled relationship we all dream that our marriage will provide.


I am a life coach who works with individuals to break down relationship barriers by awakening their true selves. My process isn’t about changing your partner; it’s about discovering who you are so that you can AwakenYou in your marriage. If you’re ready to take your life and your love relationship to the next level, then schedule your program inquiry call today and let’s decide together if this is your next step to creating the life you’ve been dreaming of.

A Better Way To Deal With Holiday Emotions Ep 43

A Better Way To Deal With Holiday Emotions | Relationship Coach

Welcome to December, and to kick the month off, I am going to share from my heart about what I am processing through right now in my life as I often do because what I learn from my own personal work becomes material I share to help you along on your growth journey. With the holiday season in full swing, I want to share some tips, so you have a better way to deal with holiday emotions affecting you and decide what you want to do with them.

This week in my Marital Magic six-week course, we are diving into the work of retelling the story we have about our past, and while this is powerful work, it can also bring up a lot of emotions, making us feel a bit “funky.” Knowing this to be true, I created a bonus teaching to complement this work that they are doing and help them better manage their minds and emotions. Then upon further reflection, I realized how much this work was helping me with where I am right now with emotions I am processing and how much it will help you with all that we have in front of us this last month of the year because for many this month can be a dozy as we face:

  • Holiday to-do’s
  • Year reflections
  • Family dynamics
  • Food
  • Already full schedules with all of the toppings poured over the top
  • Shoulds, wants, resentments, regrets, frustrations, annoyance, sadness, grief, overwhelm, hopelessness, pain…
  • Celebration

To help you out, I. am going to share how to become more emotionally aware and responsible this season to work through this month and create a different experience than in past years. Today I”m going to teach about three different ways we deal with our emotions and the results we get from each. How this will help is a better ability for you to see what is happening, your usual way of dealing with difficult emotions, which will then help bring awareness. With awareness, you can begin to bring intention to what you choose to do with those emotions.

Three ways we deal with emotions

First, I will name them, and then I’ll spend a bit of time on each.

  • Avoiding
  • Resisting
  • Allowing

Avoiding your emotions

I think that often when we think of avoiding our emotions, we think we are turning away from them, pretending they’re not there, which is an interesting way of talking about this because of what we talked about two weeks ago on the podcast: Your Response Matters: Bids for Connection. In reality, this IS what we are doing but when we turn away we turn towards something else in an attempt to feel better, basically, we are putting sugary sweet icing on top of a nasty tasting cake. We are trying to make ourselves feel better by diverting our attention towards something we think will make us feel better in the moment and possibly does. Still, in the end, we not only feel worse because we did something that didn’t give us long-term gratification, AND that emotion is still there. That emotion is still lurking there in the shadows waiting for you to do something with it.

This process is also referred to as buffering – you are putting something between you and that uncomfortable emotion, maybe it’s food, maybe it’s liquor, or screen watching, purchasing, sex, and during this season it might be doing: going to another party, getting out to do more shopping, putting up more decorations, what might your flavor be for running from your emotions?

The result avoiding your emotions gets is eating foods we really didn’t want to eat, spending money we really didn’t want to spend, spending time being disconnected instead of connecting with ourselves, and discovering what is going on for us. The other result we get is we don’t deal with the emotion, which ultimately means that it will probably get louder and louder.

Resisting your emotions

We all are familiar with resisting emotions, if you’ve been on a diet or tried to quit a habit then you have probably done a LOT of resisting, and resisting usually leads to either relapse back into that habit you were trying to kick or you may quit the habit but pick up another that doesn’t seem “as harmful.” We could use the example of people who quit smoking but pick up sucking on hard candies or snacking.

Resisting emotions is like overfilling a pressure cooker – have you ever done that? I highly suggest you don’t try it. When you overfill a pressure cooker, the food inside swells as it cooks, and it causes the pressure cooker to explode, and yes, this is what happens to you when you resist. When you resist eventually, you explode, maybe at someone else, maybe by buffering, so the result again is that you end up not moving ahead, feeling like junk, and yes, that emotion on steroids.

Allowing your emotions

This way of dealing with your emotions is often very foreign to most people taking them some time to figure out what it looks like, but I like to describe it as though you are getting to know a new person. You pay attention to it, where it resides in your body, what it feels like, ask it questions, listen to what it might have to say, and you even share with it what you are thinking. It might sound a little cuckoo but trust me, it works.

Now, because this is so foreign, it will feel not very good at first, but the beautiful thing about allowing your emotions is that you appease them for a while. Depending on how familiar this emotion is for you, how often you have resisted and/or avoided it, it will come back, again and again. Then when you think you have done the work of allowing and letting go of this emotion, something comes up that “triggers” that emotion, and it comes back to revisit.

Now, what eventually happens when you continue the process of being aware of how you are reacting to your emotions and switch from avoiding and resisting to allowing you to begin to let go of doing either of the last two, and this in of itself is SO liberating! No more emotional eating is magical! But then what you may notice is how awful you feel when these emotions arise – because you’re not using anything to buffer them away, you’re actually feeling them. Once you realize why you feel like junk, then yay, you recognize you have emotions to process, and I have an episode where I teach you exactly how to do that for yourself! How To Process Those Emotions.

If you want more help learning how to allow your emotions, please join my webinar Allowing Emotions Equals A Happier Holiday. I will help you better understand this process and answer your questions.


I am a life coach who works with individuals to break down relationship barriers by awakening their true selves. My process isn’t about changing your partner; it’s about discovering who you are so that you can AwakenYou in your marriage. If you’re ready to take your life and your love relationship to the next level, then schedule your program inquiry call today and let’s decide together if this is your next step to creating the life you’ve been dreaming of.