This post is 1 of 5 in the series: Loving Without Expectations.
When you love someone, you want the best for them.
And you think that making them aware of their words, attitudes and behaviors by pointing out their flaws and mistakes is helping them, right?
You’d think they’d be grateful.
“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” Dale Carnegie
Criticizing anyone, much less someone you love, is almost always the wrong thing to do and often damages the relationship. Why?
The short answer is because the other person—whom you love dearly—is very likely to be hurt.
What Does “To Criticize” Mean?
To understand the damage that can be inflicted on a loving relationship, let’s first look at a definition of the word criticize. According to the Merriam-Websters Dictionary, to criticize means:
- To express disapproval of (someone or something)
- To talk about the problems or faults of (someone or something)
- To look at and make judgments about (something)
We can see from all three of these definitions why criticizing your loved ones is not a good idea.
Think about how they feel…
It starts with just a few well-meaning words. But as you get into it, they may start to feel stupid or perhaps rejected and like they’re getting smaller.
Being criticized can be a tough thing to handle (even though it sometimes can be very useful to help you grow or improve something you do).
No one likes to feel as though others they care about disapprove of them. They certainly don’t like to have their faults examined. And no one ever likes to feel as though they are being judged.
As yogis, judging others also applies to our thoughts and attitudes, not just words. People are sensitive and can feel when we are mentally criticizing them.
When you criticize, the other person can easily feel as if they are falling short of the mark and disappointing you in some way. That may or may not be your intention if they have failed to live up to your expectations.
But here’s the thing.
They are your expectations.
They might be spoken or unspoken expectations.
If you demand your expectations be met, or else you will withhold your love, that is not true love—it is conditional love.
Unconditional love, by contrast, says you love and accept the person no matter what. You don’t hold them up to an impossible standard of perfection.
You see their flaws but don’t consider them to be a “deal breaker” that would be worth ending the relationship over.
Your love isn’t just based on what that person can give you, but on what you can offer them.
Your relationship is not one of suffocation through expectation, but rather, a mutually supportive environment in which both parties are able to grow and thrive in a way that allows them to be their best self and live their best life.
Does This Mean You Accept Everything without a Word?
Many people think that loving unconditionally means tolerating anything, swallowing disappointments over and over again, and suffering in silence.
This is not the case.
You can give feedback when it is warranted, in a particular context, and in a particular way that builds the person up, not tears them down and undermines them.
For example, imagine your partner is a very messy housekeeper. They drop their clothes everywhere and leave dishes in the sink for a “later” that never comes.
There are several approaches you can take. One is to show them the dirty clothes hamper and explain your sorting system, white, dark, colors. You can point out how it is better to do the dishes right away than for the food to get stuck on, or even worse, attract bugs and mice.
However, in my experience, this is not likely to work.
Explaining your “system” is difficult to do without coming across as patronizing.
And they probably know all that.
You need to dig deeper into why they don’t do it.
3 Things to Think about before Deciding to Criticize Someone
1. Are they ready to hear it?
This is more for character faults than actions like not washing the dishes. People are not always ready to hear the truth about themselves. And can be devastated if you force it on them. You may need to wait a very long time. My spiritual teacher once waited twenty years to tell a student of a major flaw that needed to be worked on.
2. Are they interested in changing this particular thing?
You may think that because they’re interested in personal growth and improving themselves, that they’d be grateful to know. Think again. Maybe it’s just your agenda and they don’t even consider it a problem.
3. Offer positive reinforcement instead.v
You could also try positive reinforcement, such as, “Thanks so much for helping to sort the laundry. It makes doing the wash so much easier every week.” In terms of the dishes, you could say, “I really appreciate your washing the dishes. You know how important it is to keep the bugs away from the kids and pets.”
Be careful of the “but …” I once had a manager who always began his criticisms with a compliment. I used to dread his “praise” because I knew something bad was coming.v
Often people don’t do something because they’re afraid. They don’t need their procrastination—which they’re already aware of—pointed out. They need love, encourage, and support to activate their courage and motivation.
Positive reinforcement creates an air of appreciation in the relationship, and this goodwill can help you get over the tough times, for a successful and loving relationship.