When couples get married they never think they will be among those who get divorced. Yet a hefty percentage of marriages do end in divorce, so some of these people who can’t imagine divorce on their wedding day will certainly face that prospect eventually. Psychologists have identified behaviors that make failed marriages predictable. Here are some-criticism, nagging, and trying to change your partner.

First, criticism. It’s deadly, especially if you belittle your partner. You may think you’re being helpful and giving valuable feedback. That’s a good thing. You may have started out gently but haven’t noticed your criticism escalating over time.

Criticism becomes destructive when:

It’s focused on the other’s personality or character: “You’re just too lazy to wash the dishes properly.”

It’s filled with blame: “It’s your fault we never have clean dishes for dinner.”

It doesn’t include suggestions for improvement: “Why can’t you ever do the dishes right?”

It devalues or belittles: “I guess you’re just too dumb to do them right.”

Constructive criticism encourages your partner to improve behavior with truly helpful suggestions: “Let’s do the dishes together tonight.” Then demonstrate how your partner might improve and use humor, if possible. Remember tone of voice is critical.

Nagging is criticism’s ugly stepsister. It happens when you repeatedly make a request and your partner repeatedly ignores you. Then you both become increasingly annoyed. It doesn’t do you or your relationship any good. If you’re the ignorer, why not just do what your partner wants and get it done? If you’re the nag in your relationship, stop and listen. You don’t sound good, even to yourself, do you?

Start out by stating calmly what you need from your partner: “Could you please clean the gutters? They’re getting clogged with leaves.”

If it doesn’t get done, you may gently remind: “I’m worried that we may have problems with the gutters if they get too clogged.”

But at some point, if you repeat and repeat your request and he ignores it, you’re nagging. Who’s at fault here? The nagger or the ignorer? The key is to try not to assign blame. Rather, think about a moreproductive way to solve the problem. Maybe hire a neighborhood teen to do the job.

Trying to change your partner is the third deadly way to ruin your relationship. When you married her, you thought her strong feelings about politics were admirable. Now you find her strident and too outspoken. And you try to get her to hold her tongue, tone it down, keep quiet.

What you are essentially saying when you try to change your partner is: “I don’t like you the way you are.” Or, “I would love you more if you would just change this.”

While there’s nothing wrong with trying to inspire your partner to be better, look in the mirror first. The only person you can really change is yourself. Maybe your response to her behavior should change. At least that’s the first place to look-within yourself.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.

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