Criticism is very common in most marriages. However, if left unchecked it can lead to more deadly horsemen. A criticism expresses negative opinions about the other’s character or personality (Gottman & Silver, 2018). Criticism often starts with absolutes such as; “you always” or “you never.” A criticism also includes phrases like, “what is wrong with you?” “Why do you always do this?” or “ You are so selfish.” 

In every marriage there are some complaints between each spouse. However, a complaint and a criticism are very different. A complaint focuses on a very specific behavior such as, “I’m upset you didn’t clean the bathroom, like you said you would. Can you take care of it before tomorrow?” The focus is on the behavior of not cleaning the bathroom rather than on the spouse. Here is a formula to keep in mind to give a complaint: 1) express how you feel (I’m upset); 2) about a specific event or behavior (not cleaning the bathroom); 3) and this is what I want/need/prefer (can you do it before tomorrow) (Gottman & Silver, 2018). A compliment is a healthy way to use assertive communication to express feelings and suggest what is needed in that moment. 

Complaint: I’m angry because I didn’t know you made plans tonight. Next time can you communicate with me better?

Criticism: I can’t believe how selfish you are. You never communicate with me. Now my night is ruined. 

Complaint: I noticed the laundry still isn’t done. I’m frustrated because you told me you would do it yesterday. Can you start doing it now? I’ll help. 

Criticism: You never follow through with chores around the house. 

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2018). The seven principles for making marriage work: A practical guide from the international bestselling relationship expert. Orion Spring.