Dealing with Criticism

by Reid on November 24, 2015

English Bulldog Arguing Over Dog BoneWas your partner very critical over a period of time, and now he’s being less critical, but it’s really hard for you to go back. Do you feel shut down, and expecting criticism every time you talk?

Join relationship expert Reid Mihalko from and Cathy Vartuli from as they share ways to talk about delayed ejaculation and increase pleasure.

Reid: Surprise topic!

Cathy: I think you can’t be that loud, because their speakers will blast their ears out.

Reid: Surprise topic. I don’t know what the topic’s going to be today. This is Cathy Vartuli from

Cathy: This is Reid Mihalko from

Reid: What’s the topic?

Cathy: We had someone write in. They’ve been having a lot of conflicts with their partner, and their partner had been very critical over a period of time, and now they’re working on their relationship, and their partner is being less critical now, but it’s really hard for her to go back. She feels really shut down with him, and she’s expecting criticism every time they talk.

Reid: Got it.

Cathy: She wants to know, “How can we get back to having a really fun relationship like we used to have when I’m always afraid that he’s going to criticize me. He senses the tension and resentment in me, and he still criticizes sometimes, so there’s not a lot of ease there.”

Reid: Maybe some kind of Harry Potter forget me style where you can forget all the criticism in the relationship and then start dating anew. That would probably be the easiest thing to do.

Cathy: What most people do is actually start dating someone else. People just … They can’t get past it. Talking to your partner in a difficult conversation formula and being honest can be really powerful. It’s like, “I am feeling criticized still. I am scared.” Like sharing, even though that seems really hard, and asking a partner to listen and not give feedback.

Reid talks a lot about asking a partner, “What do you want me to be for you right now?” Asking your partner just to be witness and listen rather than time to correct or defend themselves, and just feeling heard can go a long way towards feeling a sense of safety.

Reid: Another place where you might want to look is it could be a forgiveness issue where it’s hard to trust that your partner’s making changes and getting better at not criticizing you. Also, just depending on the kind of criticism and the emotional abuse that could be there. There could just be a lot of trauma-type stuff, where you’re kind of like a dog that’s been kicked so many times. Any fast movements, and you freak out.

When you look at forgiveness, and specifically Gary Chapman’s The Five Languages of Apology, it might be that your partner is really trying to change and get better at these things, but there’s a riff in past dynamics where they haven’t been able to apologize to you in a way that really landed on you, so that you really see and feel that they’re sorry so that you can forgive them.

The reason that I wouldn’t tell somebody, “You should just forgive your partner and give them a chance … ”

Cathy: … It doesn’t work that way …

Reid: … Is you need the right languaging to help them to apologize in the right way so that you really feel that they’re sorry, and then, all of a sudden, you get that they want to change. Without that apology landing the correct way, it’s always going to leave you feeling suspicious and jittery in this instance.

Cathy: One thing I’ve recommended to clients, too, when they felt really criticized is, sometimes people get in the habit of that or they really mean well. They might have been brought up that way when their parents criticized them to try to get them to be better, so I’ve recommended a safe word that they can use if they’ve started feeling criticized, rather than going into a discussion or defensively saying … Like one person says, “I feel criticized.” The other person says, “That wasn’t critical,” and you end up with this big processing thing.

A safe word that just says, “I’m feeling, this is occurring to me as critical right now. Can we change the tone?” I recommend something really silly like “banana,” because if you’re giggling, it’s harder to get angry.

Reid: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, don’t make it a swear word.

Cathy: God damn it, stop it now?

Reid: You … No.

Cathy: Yeah, so one, if you can gently call your partner’s attention to it, and it might be that your partner isn’t meaning to be critical, and that because you’re sensitized to it, you’re seeing it even when it’s not intended that way, so having a safe word to pause the conversation and reset it might help with that.

Reid: Awesome. Leave your comments. Let us know how it goes, and if the person that gave us that question is listening, good luck. I hope things are getting better.

Cathy: Yeah. Thanks for letting us know.

Reid: Bye.

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