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Constant criticizing points to need for better communication

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Better communication is key

Crazyville: I am driving myself and my partner crazy by constantly criticizing him, harping on little things, being oversensitive and having my feelings hurt and sulking. He is great, and I feel like I am driving him away with my constant dissatisfaction with him over trivial things. I dislike myself when I'm doing it and am constantly apologizing and resolving to do better. Yet I end up repeating this behavior. If I were with me, I would dump myself. How can I snap out of this?

Carolyn: Need context. Have you always been this way with him, or is this new? If always, have you been this way in past relationships? Friendships? Are you this way with your family?

And if it's new, when did it start? Did anything change around that time?

Crazyville again: I am not this way with family and friends, but I was this way in a significant past relationship. This new relationship is almost 2 years old, and this behavior is recent, triggered after we moved in together six months ago. The nagging is about a month old, and coincides, I guess, with my wondering if we are compatible.

This is the most loving, caring person I know, but we seem to move at different speeds, with wanting to do things and needing time together, with others and alone. It's a clash of introverted vs. extroverted personalities. But the fundamentals — trust, love, great communication — are all there.

Carolyn: Well, I can't think of anything more fundamental than your personalities.

And, I wonder how you define "great communication." It looks to me as if you have major questions knocking around in your head, and instead of articulating them or thinking them through independently, you're expressing your stress in low-risk snips and nags. That's the antithesis of great communication.

So your first job is to recognize that harping is your easy way out of facing the difficult feelings and doubts.

Next, form those feelings into words — just for you, to start. You don't want to blurt out "I'm having huge doubts, and because of that I'm jumpy, and because of that you're getting on my nerves." It might come to that, and it wouldn't be the worst thing if it does; you just don't want to break out the conversational bazooka until you know what you're aiming at.

It might help to think very specifically about what isn't working. What does he want, believe or do that you don't want, believe or do?

Now ask yourself, what is the smallest possible change that could reconcile (to your mutual satisfaction, at least) your two diverging needs? For example, if you like parties, and he likes quiet dinners, then try, one night a week, going your separate ways socially. Is that enough, or is this issue just another mask for doubts that run even deeper?

If you want his take, a conversation that establishes and validates each other's needs is easier to start than "I have doubts" — and can clear the path to compromises.

It can also reveal that you're not willing to budge, or your heart isn't in it anymore. Productive outcomes all.

Tomorrow: Other routes out of Crazyville.

Constant criticizing points to need for better communication 03/28/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 26, 2010 12:06pm]
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