How to criticize and keep relationships that matter

My from kindergarten-best-friend once betrayed my trust,  but  72 years later we are still best friends and partly because she is not afraid to criticize.

Failing to tell bullies off.

I was raised in a family that believed with all their hearts that if you couldn’t say something nice, you should not say anything at all.  You might think that delightful, but actually is came with problems.  You never knew exactly where you stood.

It took my best friend to teach me relationships fared better if criticism was allowed.   I met my best friend in kindergarten.  When we entered our teens,   she told me I needed to get a bra.  No big deal.  Then ,however she went after a boy I had confessed to her that I had hope to snare.  I felt betrayed. Big deal.

When I  complained she said, “All is fair in love and war.”

A friend is someone who tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear; as  the Twelve Steppers preach: “Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it mean.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.

Emotional fitness tips about criticism

Tip one: The more the other person might be hurt, the more you need to have asked yourself these three questions

  1. “Is it true?”
  2.  “Does it matter?”
  3. “Is it kind?”

Each question needs careful thinking about, and that means minimally asking yourself who the answers apply to.  It might be true for you, not the other person. It might matter to you, but not the other person.  It might seem kind to not speak, but might be the kindest thing you could do.

Tip two:  Follow all the other good advice about criticizing. Pick the right time,  be specific, point to a solution, don’t be emotional, and use the sandwich approach (two slices of praise between the bitter food of criticism,

Tip three: Don’t expect too much.  As Norman Vincent Peale, relationship expert,  noted: ‘The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Tip four: Learn from the response.  Gregory Bateson, expert on communication,  noted that “Communication is response. ”

An angry response to criticism generally means you have touched on something that hurts;  ignoring what you have said, means the criticism is probably scaring the other person; a thoughtful response might mean you have been heard or that the other person is being kind.  

Time will tell. Some people will react badly at first, but in time change, while others will say “Yes” but behave as if your words have not been heard. 

Tip five: Don’t be afraid to repeat you criticism if the problems the behavior creates keep occurring. Remember the advertizing adage – people need to see or hear something five, six, or seven times before it sinks in.

Tip six:  When safety is involved, minimally the relationship should only be sustained at a distance. An abuser should not have physical access to you.

Tip seven: Observe the Five to One Rule.   Dr. Gottman, relationship expert,  and his colleagues found  that couples who maintained a ratio of five positive moments (interactions) for  each negative moment had relationships that lasted. Marriages that fall below a one to one ratio failed.

It did not matter if you fought like cats and dogs or held fast to my parent’s edict of always being nice. If the ration of good to bad was at five to one or above the relationship lasted.

Tip Eight: If it becomes clear the other person cannot or will not change, make a conscious decision about the relationship.  End it, or accept that the person is doing the best they can do, practice forgivenss,  and go on.

stay strong

Laugh and play, be with beauty, be grateful, indulge, practice kindness, forgive yourself and others are not just Emotional Fitness Exercises, but ways to maintain a Five to One ratio.

Practice them and improve, not just relationsships with others, but with yourself.

If you are new to the idea of emotional fitness exercises visit this blog page: Easy Emotional Fitness Exercises to get started  improving your emotional intelligence.

Thank you all for all you do to care and share with others. Doing a little matters a lot.


This blog post was inspired by this WordPress Daily Prompt: That’s Amore   Think of your longest relationship: describe how your love has changed over time, did you go from the giddiness of infatuation, to mad passion, to deep respect, esteem, and friendship? Tell us about your love story.


Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.