Advice or criticism? Which is it?

Author: Jaqueline Brandwynne
Posted: Friday, November 20, 2009

Advice or criticism? Which is it?


John’s wife asks, “John, give me your honest opinion, which dress suits me better, the blue or the print?”

“The blue, it makes you look trim,” John answers.

“Do you have to rub it in that I gained a couple of pounds?”


Alice’s significant other asks,

“Alice, you’re good at decorating. What do you think of this carpet for the living room?”

“It’s a little too busy, especially for that big an area,” replies Alice.

“I should have known. You never agree with my choice. It’s so irritating?”


Sound familiar? You’re asked for your opinion. You give your honest advice, but your partner hears it as blatant criticism. Within moments negative reactions and hurt feelings pile up on both sides. Partner one perceives they’re being criticized. Partner two feels attacked unfairly, having done nothing more than answer a simple request for advice.


The interchange that follows often continues like this: “If you don’t want my opinion, why ask me?” And from there the discord is building, adding to each partner’s bucket of discontent about the other person.




What one partner perceives as advice or constructive criticism is mostly viewed as quite the opposite by the other. The issue to focus on is how to break this destructive pattern. That means understanding and admitting to yourself, and the other, the shortcomings that rattle each other’s cage. We all have flaws. Admitting them, discussing them in a caring way and having the willingness to make adjustments or changes are a definitive way to make dramatic improvements in the relationship.       


Many of us interpret a simple opinion as scathing criticism. Why? Quite often the onsets of such feelings are due to hurtful childhood experiences we never really dealt with. In many cases overly critical parents may have caused the original damage, evoking feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy.


Later in life, innocent opinions expressed by a partner can trigger the same painful childhood traumas. By discussing our fears and flaws openly with our partner or, in some cases with a therapist, we can learn to let go of them, to avoid statements that can be interpreted the wrong way. We can then express our opinions in positive terms rather than being critical, or worse, contemptuous of our partner.




In this light, let’s review our two examples from above and see how John and Alice could have avoided misunderstandings.

In the first, John could have said, “Darling, you always look great. But I think the blue one is particularly flattering.” In the second example, Alice could have said, “It’s an interesting pattern. Maybe you could ask them to let you borrow a couple of samples before making a final choice.”


In each case the questioned partners show support for the other which is elementary in building goodwill in the relationship. Replacing empathy, kindness and goodwill and silencing criticism, perceived and real, can make dramatic changes in how both of you feel about each other. Guaranteed!


E-mail Jacqui your question: Visit: We never reveal or give out names or addresses. ©2007 Brandwynne Corp. All rights reserved.

Categories: Very Private

Tags: Hudson valley,Relationship advice

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