You bicker. I bicker. We all bicker. With our parents, our siblings, our friends… but especially our significant others. This is a common issue in relationships, but that’s not to say it isn’t harmful. In fact, it’s actually pretty destructive. It all comes down to avoiding or settling petty arguments and practicing love instead.
Low-Intensity Chronic Warfare
“One of the most common couples’ issues, and at the same time one of the most destructive, is bickering,” Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Evie Shafner explains. “Psychologist Esther Perel describes it as low-intensity chronic warfare—and it can lead to the demise of our relationship. It’s putting ongoing negativity in the space between us, and it makes each person feel lousy, unloved, not good enough, hurt and rejected.
But the truth is when we’re being critical, it’s often an unconscious plea for love, for attention. It’s like the crying baby in the adult body. As a child, we learned if we screamed loud enough someone would come and take care of us; as adults, we use hurtful words to emit the same distress signal… only it gets us the opposite of what we want. If we are a source of criticism for our partner, they are much less inclined to be loving towards us.
So, if being critical is your way of asking to be loved, you’re going to a bad neighborhood. Instead, become aware of yourself when you start to feel the impulse to criticize—and stop before you speak. Believe it or not, this is a learnable skill; the mindfulness practice of becoming aware of the suffering we are feeling and being able to stay with ourselves until we can speak in a loving and conscious way. So, ‘You’re never home,’ becomes ‘I’m so happy to see you, I miss you…’ and sometimes we find we don’t need to say anything. Maybe we just had a story in our head, and our stories are usually lies we are telling ourselves.
In addition to containing the negative, we also need to train our brain to look for what’s good, what’s going well. Our language is full of sayings and practices designed to do this: ‘whatever you focus on expands,’ or ‘practice an attitude of gratitude.’ In Imago, we do an exercise called appreciations. All of this goes to the same place—retraining our brain. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that if we mostly abstain from criticizing, and mostly express love and appreciation and acknowledgement—that we would be living in a very different neighborhood indeed.”
Express Love, Not Criticism: 6 Tips
I know that it’s hard to suppress those negative comments, but trust me: it’s better for everyone involved that you do. And that you channel love and positivity instead. Here are 6 simple ways to show your partner you love them, even on the rough days:
1) Show your appreciation. Say, “thank you,” when they open the door for you. Give them a kiss on the cheek when they cook dinner. Send a big smile their way when they get home from work. Use simple actions like these to show how much you appreciate your significant other.
2) Go out of your way to make them smile. It doesn’t have to be some grand romantic gesture. Just do a few things here and there that you know will make them smile: put a cute note in their lunch; show up at their work with flowers or cupcakes; tell them how handsome or pretty they look today.
3) Be patient and understanding. Even when it’s hard to choose love, choose love. Don’t criticize your loved one through difficult times. Instead, do your best to be patient and understanding. This will ultimately yield the best outcome and keep your bond strong.
4) Enjoy favorite activities together. Oftentimes, we forget about the importance of spending quality time with our partners. Our schedules get busy and the first thing to go is that time—stop doing that. Make your loved one your number one priority and make the effort to enjoy your favorite activities together.
5) Encourage them to explore their interests and goals. Another trademark of love is support: support them in their career and personal goals and also encourage them to continue working hard. Rally behind their decision to start a new business, to try out a new workout class, or to go vegan! And do what you can to help them along the way.
6) Forgive them. And finally, forgive them. Forgive them for forgetting to pick up the kids. Forgive them for leaving the burner on. Forgive them for raising their voice. Everybody makes mistakes, including our most favorite people—remember this and practice due forgiveness.