By Cathy Neville, LPC, NCC on February 25, 2016
Courtship to Criticism
There’s a new cable television show on Tuesday nights.
It’s called Fit to Fat to Fit.
Essentially, the premise every week is this:
A fitness trainer who is quick to heap criticism and lacks a measure of empathy for his or her overweight clients agrees to spend four to six months ruining his or her own taut physique with fatty, unhealthy food and a sedentary lifestyle. When he or she becomes sufficiently fat, the trainer then meets up with a heavy client who has struggled to lose weight.
Together, bonded by their desire to be fit and toned, they get to work.
Soon, their bodies are restored, goals are met, and lessons about compassion and appreciation for health are learned.
Isn’t it that way with some of our most intimate relationships?
We start out courting each other, in love, and promising each other devotion and loyalty. Relatively fit.
But along the way, things change. Irritation, unresolved issues, and resentment set in. The shape of our love is changed and the shape and comfort level of our connection is compromised.
Criticism and disdain clog communication like fatty food around the hearts of that trainer and his client. The heart of our relationships start to struggle and strain. We have to work our way back to the respect, admiration, and encouragement of our early relationship to save our love. Back to relational fitness. And it’s worth the work out.
Criticism Back to Courtship
So what does that look like?
How do you shed the weight of criticism that drags your relationship down?
Well, let’s start at the beginning…that period of courtship that bonded you together in the first place.
What did you use to have? How did you and your partner pursue each other in the early days of your relationship? Was it a period of discovery? Weren’t you intrigued by each other, craving tidbits of information during long conversations that would confirm that he or she was “the one”?
Clearly, you got your answer. You talked, shared your dreams, made plans, and took the leap together. And for a while, your relationship was bliss. And then it was routine. And then there were problems.
All of that is natural.
Except that slowly your ability to solve your problems seems complicated by criticism. What happened?
Did you start to pick at each other over little things like messy bathroom sinks or forgotten dry cleaning? Were you exasperated by his/her parenting styles or lack of marital attention? How did criticizing and complaining about each other work its way into your communication and, worse, into the way you communicate about each other to others?
Criticism takes a heavy toll on love. It erodes trust and security.
It undermines that core idea in any intimate, committed relationship that says, “We’re in this together and you’re safe with me.”
It’s a heavy, hurtful, unhealthy place to be in your relationship.
And it’s time to move on. It’s time to get fit with a return to courtship.
It worked before and it will work again. Here’s how:
- Courtship assumes nothing. Approach your partner with curiosity. Criticism got in the way because it assumes too much. You are critical of each other because you think you know how the other person should operate. You’ve forgotten to look and listen to the how’s and why’s of who your partner is. You’ve forgotten to simply observe mindfully and allow the moment, feelings, and concerns of your partner to exist without your action or pressure to do anything.
- Courtship inspires selflessness. Once upon a time you were willing to edit a few of your wants and needs to accommodate your partner. Resist the critical attitude that focuses on how much attention your partner is not paying you. Practice routine “courtship consideration.” Trade a few demands and expectations for more caring, interest, and concern.
- Courtship embraces unconditional acceptance. Criticism at the start of a relationship is generally frowned upon…for good reason. It does not endear you to a person and will likely just lead to distrust, anxiety, shame, or resentment. Growing intimacy and trust is the name of the game when you court a partner. Don’t let your familiarity with each other rob you of the chance to keep getting to know each other. Repeatedly offer your unconditional acceptance.
Reclaim the healthier love and positivity of courtship.
Trim the criticism from your relationship and feed yourselves compassion. Nurture your love with loving feedback. Meet with a couples counselor if you need help.
Revisit the loving practices and communication that brought you together in the beginning and let courtship work its magic once again.