Several years ago the song, 'You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore' hit the airways. While a beautiful song, it was sad. The message was about a relationship that had grown cold and distant. Their love for each other was gone.
We all have seen or experienced a relationship that has grown cold and distant. One partner has shut down and refuses to talk or work on the relationship. There is emotional disengagement. Sometimes, that partner says that he or she needs space. This creates a dilemma for the other partner. He or she doesn't know where the relationship is or is not given an opportunity for repairing it. So what went wrong?
John Gottman, professor at the University of Washington, writes that he can predict the couples who will get a divorce with 91% accuracy. One of the predictors is what he calls the Four Horsemen. Unless the couples deal with the Four Horsemen, there is a huge possibility that the relationship will end in divorce.
One of those Four Horsemen is criticism. We all know relationships where one partner seems critical of the other. Imagine a couple who in all the years they have been married, she has never complimented, acknowledged or encouraged her partner. Her criticisms are demeaning. We can see his self-esteem being eroded because her criticisms are more about who he is than what he does. He could easily translate her criticisms as his not being capable, not being intelligent enough, not being mechanical enough and that he is entirely lacking. She has an air of superiority even though we never see her doing anything.
With most criticisms, there is a need behind it. Instead of saying, 'You never have time for me,' it would be easy to make a request out of it such as: 'It would mean a lot to me if we could spend 30 minutes tonight.' The demeaning criticism is different. Demeaning criticism is not about helping someone to improve or to motivate. It is about controlling and bringing someone down.
After a while, a person will either get enough of the demeaning criticisms, shut down and leave the relationship or come to believe the criticisms and then become so dependent upon his or her spouse that he or she no longer trusts their own decision making process.
If we are treating our partner this way, we have to ask ourselves why would we treat someone we love worse than we would treat our best friend. Is our self-esteem so low that in order to feel good about ourselves we have to bring down the one who loves us? Are we making our partner a victim to what we experienced as child? Whatever the answer, the important thing is to stop before we lose our partner.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700