How Fault-Finding Destroys Loving Relationships

by Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D.

In my relationship book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, I discuss the real source of where most relationships become toxic–your own thoughts!  Sadly, there a lot of walking wounded out there! By “walking wounded”, I mean the scores of people who feel unfulfilled, or worse, emotionally neglected or abused, in their intimate relationships. It seems that everywhere we turn, we unfortunately see and hear about people who are unhappy and emotionally hurting, often severely, in their quest to feel loved. Most of these unfortunate couples struggle due to what I refer to as “relationship toxicity overload”.

Here are what I consider the top three signs of toxic relationships:

1. Criticism and contempt. According to Dr. John Gottman, criticism and contempt are highly destructive in loving relationships. Signs of criticism and contempt may appear as your partner distastefully making fun of you.

Criticism takes the not so exalted status of being the first on John Gottman’s famous Four Horsemen (the other three are: Contempt, Defensiveness, Stonewalling) of the Apocalypse, which predict divorce with more than 90% accuracy. Criticism is destructive to relationships when it is:

  • About personality or character, rather than behavior
  • Filled with blame
  • Not focused on improvement
  • Based on only one “right way” to do things
  • Belittling.

Criticism in intimate relationships begins, in most cases, on a small scale and escalates over time. It then moves in a downward spiral with increasing resentment. The criticized person feels controlled, which frustrates the critical partner, who then steps up the criticism, increasing the other’s sense being controlled, and so on.

Contempt expresses the feeling of dislike toward a partner, . . .

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