If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty smart and good at a lot of things.
If you’re also anything like me, that sometimes bites you in the ass in your relationships.
Today I’m going to show you how to make an adjustment instead of criticizing or correcting your partner, which is a crucial skill to learn if you want the love in your relationship to keep deepening and expanding over time.
On any given day, you might be more detail-oriented and meticulous than your partner. But if you need to micromanage everything and home and at work, maybe, just maybe, you’re a control freak. (my people!)
Maybe you’re dying to show your partner your superior way to load the dishwasher instead of redoing it every night after they’ve gone to bed and unloading it in the morning before they see what you did.
Or maybe you’ve tried ten times to show them how you like your shirts folded, so they fit in the drawer and don’t wrinkle as much, and they STILL don’t get it right.
Or you don’t get why they leave their phone in the car when they’re out with friends and you challenge them on it at least once a week, because you need to know you can reach them in an emergency so you can feel safe.
But here’s the thing: criticizing your partner by correcting how they do the dishes, or fold the laundry, or socialize with their friends will never, I’ll repeat, NEVER get you the loving, nourishing, and supportive relationship you want.
Want to know what it gets you?
A petulant, resentful man-or-woman-child, and a parent-child dynamic in your relationship that will kill your sex.
Here are three things you can do instead of criticizing or correcting your partner:
Step 1: Practice staying with the uncomfortable sensation in your body
When you come across something your partner did wrong — and by wrong, I mean the way they do it that’s right for them and not to your liking — what happens in your body?
Do you tense your shoulders? Does your stomach clench?
Notice what happens in your body and pause to be with it instead of doing or saying something.
One of the first thing those of us that tend toward control freakishness need to learn — to have more love in our lives — is to get comfortable with discomfort and to have compassion for ourselves and others’ imperfections.
You likely learned to control in your childhood as a mechanism to feel safe and receive love from an absent or unreliable parent. In other words, if you could be really, really good, or even perfect, maybe you’d be loved and would feel safe.
And now, as an adult, anything being out of place, or not done in the way you deem right, gives you the heebie jeebies.
Because it’s literally encoded in your nervous system as DANGEROUS. If it’s not done exactly right, you could die. Not literally, now, in your adult life, but to your nervous system that’s still responding to the world from its childhood patterning, it’s a matter of life and death.
Your job is to practice getting comfortable with the heebie jeebies long enough to decide whether or not it’s something you really have to bring up to your partner.
If it’s not, remind yourself that you’re not going to die because they did something differently than you, give yourself a virtual hug and loving smile, remind yourself that you’re safe and loved, and move on.
If it’s still something you need to bring up, go on to step 2.
Step 2: Think of something you appreciate about your partner
Before you open your mouth to say anything about thing that’s got your knickers in a twist, call up a feeling of appreciation.
Yes, they do this dumb thing, but they also cook dinner for the both of you several times a week. Or they make your coffee how you like it in the morning. Or they take out the trash without complaint. Or maybe they forget the trash, but remember to grab the mail. Or they look damn fine in their new jeans.
Whatever it is, let appreciation flood your body and soften your heart before you say something.
After you’re in a state of appreciation, check again if you need to say something about this thing or not. Because now that you’ve shifted your inner state to appreciation, that thing that jangled you may not matter anymore.
If not, move on and enjoy the yummy feeling you’ve now got in your body instead of the jangled mess from before.
If so, go on to step 3.
Step 3: Offer an adjustment instead of criticism or a correction
Now that you’re feeling appreciation in your body instead of the heebie jeebies, anything you say is going to land better than it would have should you have skipped steps 1 and 2 and just expressed yourself right when you came across the thing that triggered you.
So you’re already closer to having a win-win conversation. Celebrate that!
What’s the difference between an adjustment and a criticism or correction?
First, the energy. We’ve covered that already.
Second, the meta-message behind a criticism or correction that your partner WILL feel is that they’re dumb, careless, or incompetent.
It doesn’t feel good, it’s emasculating (and efemulating 😉), and most likely will activate their defensiveness and childhood wounding instead of inspiring your desired result (which secretly might have been to get them to do it your way because you think your way’s better).
Here’s an adjustment (see what I did there?) that’s going to change your life:
In contrast to criticism or a correction, an adjustment is a request you make because you want something to feel better to you.
It’s focused on what would feel better to you, rather than what they’re doing wrong.
It’s self-responsible instead of blaming.
If you’ve been criticizing your partner for a long time, it might take a while to turn this ship around. You may shift to making adjustments and they may keep hearing them as criticism for a while because that’s what you’ve trained them to expect.
Here’s a way to have the shift in your dynamic happen more quickly:
After you’ve shifted into appreciation, say, “I’d like to offer an adjustment, is this a good time?”
This lets your partner opt into and prepare to receive your communication.
If they say yes, go to option 1 or 2.
Give your adjustment with minimal extra padding or explanation:
“Please put your breakfast dishes in the dishwasher.”
“Please put your clothes in the hamper.”
Vulnerably express how their action (or lack of action) impacts you. The key here is vulnerability, not blame.
In this scenario, you’d say, “I have something vulnerable to share, is this a good time?”
If they say yes, then say the vulnerable thing. Here are several examples:
“When you sit in the chair on your phone and I’m alone on the couch when we’re watching TV, it hurts my feelings. I’d love to feel more connected with you. Would you sit next to me and put your arm around me?”
“When you criticize how I do things, I feel reprimanded like a child. I want you to be happy and I also have my own way of doing stuff. Would you trust me?”
“I know I have a tendency to criticize and control how things get done around here. I want to change that. Would you be open to shifting this dynamic as a team by telling me when I say something in a critical tone? Then I’ll pause to see what’s going on with me, so I can learn more about where my tendency to criticize comes from. When I feel ready, I’ll let you know what I’m learning about myself and I may say the thing in a new way to see how it lands. How does that sound?”
Don’t forget this next part!
After you’ve opened up the vulnerable conversation, stick around to listen and continue it. Be transparent about wanting to approach this pattern as a team and change it together. Invite your partner to share more of how you impact them when you lash out, not to smack you with it, but as a supportive motivator for you to keep working on it.
Relationships are one of the most powerful arenas we have in life to bring our habitual patterns into stark relief and expand our capacity to make different choices in the present moment that bring us closer to one another instead of driving us apart.
Making these changes isn’t easy at first, and can lead to some whoppers as you stumble in your attempts to communicate better, but over time the intimacy and fun that’s cultivated in a relationship where you’re on the same team instead of fighting to the death to prove your superiority is SO worth it.
The relationship you desire is possible! Click HERE to discover what missing pieces are stopping you from having the connection and passion you desire.