How to give constructive criticism in relationships

Discover 8 effective ways to offer constructive criticism to your partner, fostering greater relationship satisfaction.

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Criticism isn’t inherently bad, especially when it’s given in a constructive way. A longitudinal study showed that although criticism can lead to negative relationship outcomes short-term, it can actually be a huge predictor of relationship satisfaction in the long run. 1

In this article, we will discuss how to give constructive criticism that will lead to personal and relational growth.

Going through rough patches in your relationship? Our guide on dealing with conflicts and challenges in relationships will help you improve your communication and conflict resolution skills.

1. Choose the right time and place

1. Choose the right time and place

Choosing the right time and place to express constructive criticism is crucial. Choose a moment when both of you are least stressed and in a private place. For example, discussing concerns post a relaxing weekend brunch might yield better results than right after a tiring workday.

Of course, this strongly depends on the matter at hand, and some issues should be discussed sooner rather than later. However, in general, it’s best to avoid criticism when either of you is overwhelmed or too preoccupied.

Also, don’t criticize your partner in front of your family, friends, or colleagues. This can make your partner feel humiliated and embarrassed, which will only damage their self-confidence and your relationship.

2. Focus on behavior, not character

A main characteristic of constructive criticism is that it is aimed at a specific behavior and not the person as a whole. 2 Be careful to avoid generalizing and attacking character traits because this can make criticism sound like an attack rather than constructive feedback.

For example, rather than addressing your partner as a “lazy person”, focus on their specific behavior that you don’t approve of: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been neglecting some of your duties around the house lately”.

By using behavior-based criticism, you can ensure that your partner receives the feedback without feeling attacked or judged as a person.

3. Use “I” statements

Using “I” statements instead of “you” statements when giving constructive criticism can prevent miscommunication and arguments. 3 This is because I-language focus on our thoughts and feelings rather than placing blame or judging the other person. On the other hand, “you” statements can be very accusatory and push your partner to be defensive. 4

For example, you can say, “I’ve noticed that you interrupt me a lot when I’m speaking, and it makes me feel like my opinions aren’t valued." instead of, “You always interrupt me and don’t listen to what I have to say.”

By using “I” statements, you are not only avoiding blaming your partner but also showing them that their behavior has a direct effect on you.

4. Don’t beat around the bush

Be specific and direct when giving constructive criticism. According to a study, direct communication strategies have a greater long-term impact on achieving desired changes in romantic relationships, in contrast to indirect communication strategies. 5

While indirect positive communication may be effective in the short term, direct communication is more effective in the long run. 5 This highlights the importance of clear and direct communication for lasting positive outcomes in relationships.

So instead of hinting around or trying to be subtle about it, express your opinion in a direct way. This will make it easier for your partner to understand what you’re trying to say and respond accordingly.

Here’s an example of a direct yet kind way to communicate criticism:

“I feel like I have to make plans for us most of the time. I would appreciate it if you took the initiative and set up plans for us more often.”

5. Offer advice

Constructive criticism is focused on improvement and conveys a supportive spirit. 6 Therefore, suggestions for improvement are welcome as long as they are given in a non-judgmental and supportive manner.

For instance, you could say, “If you’re open to it, I could give you some advice on how to handle the situation better.”

However, it’s important to remember that your partner is ultimately the one responsible for their own actions, so you should avoid suggesting solutions in a way that makes them feel like they’re incapable of finding a solution on their own.

It can be difficult to receive criticism from others. Learn how to accept criticism from your partner with these 7 steps.

6. Mention positives

It is important to acknowledge the positive aspects of your relationship as well. Acknowledging how far you’ve come and noting what works well can prevent negative emotions from escalating.

Make sure to point out what you like about your partner - it could be something small, like “I love that we always laugh when we go out on dates together”, or something bigger, like “I really appreciate all your efforts to support my goals.” This will show your partner that you care about them and appreciate the things they do for you.

Not only this, but it can also make it easier to give constructive criticism when both of you have a positive outlook on the relationship.

7. Listen to your partner’s response

Giving constructive criticism is only one side of the conversation. It’s equally important to allow your partner enough time to give their response and take it into consideration.

Listening attentively and with an open mind not only shows respect for your partner but also helps you understand their perspective better.

Also, make sure to thank your partner if they take your criticism well and are willing to work with you to improve the relationship. This will help build trust and emotional intimacy between the two of you.

Become a better listener with these tips for practicing active listening.

8. Be empathetic

Remember that no matter how justified your criticism is, it can still make your partner feel uncomfortable. So try to be understanding and sensitive towards their feelings.

Be aware of the language and tone you use when delivering criticism. For example, by using phrases like “I understand why it might be difficult for you” instead of “It’s not so hard, why can’t you do it?", you can demonstrate empathy and help ease your partner’s emotions.

This will create a safe space for both of you to communicate openly and honestly without fear of criticism or judgment.

Here you can learn more about the importance of constructive criticism in relationships!

In the end, it all comes down to effective communication. Enhance your communication skills in your relationship with our communication guide for couples!

  1. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 47–52. https ↩︎

  2. Fong, C. J., Schallert, D. L., Williams, K., Williamson, Z. H., Warner, J. R., Lin, S., & Kim, Y. (2018). When feedback signals failure but offers hope for improvement: A process model of constructive criticism. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 30, 42–53. ↩︎

  3. Simmons, R. A., Gordon, P. C., & Chambless, D. L. (2005). Pronouns in marital interaction: What do you and I say about marital health?. Psychological science, 16(12), 932-936. ↩︎

  4. Biesen, J. N., Schooler, D., & Smith, D. A. (2016). What a difference a pronoun makes. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 35(2), 180–205. ↩︎

  5. Overall, N. C., Fletcher, G. J. O., Simpson, J. A., & Sibley, C. G. (2009). Regulating partners in intimate relationships: The costs and benefits of different communication strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(3), 620–639. ↩︎ ↩︎

  6. Abbott, A., & Lyter, S. (1999). The Use of Constructive Criticism in Field Supervision. The Clinical Supervisor, 17(2), 43–57. ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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