Most relationships move into a more sedate, post-honeymoon phase. After the good bonding, falling-in-love chemicals (dopamine, oxytocin) dissipate and we perceive permanence in our relationship, we subconsciously start to miss the arousal and excitement of newness and chemicals.
We can make healthy choices and work on ways to keep our relationship open and evolving. Perhaps we join a community together or we support each other’s careers, but quite often the easier default behaviors take over. We assume we know our partner and can predict their behavior so we go on autopilot and become less present.
Why criticism and blame are so hard to avoid
To stir up energy and wake ourselves from the autopilot stupor, we also do something else. We create drama. One way to guarantee a reaction is to create conflict by pointing fingers or criticizing our partner.
I recently discovered, according to Dr, Gay Hendricks in Conscious Loving Ever After, that our brains secrete adrenaline (epinephrine) when we aim blame or criticism at someone. Adrenaline relieves boredom, fatigue and despair. Is it any wonder this hit of excitement becomes addictive?
Do you know anyone who seems to live to critique and judge? It’s possible they can’t stop because they have not found other ways to feel this kind of mini-rush?
Chronic criticism and blame do not produce a positive result. Conflict that does not lead to progress does not serve our relationship. Our negativity and judgment only serve to perpetuate a race to see who is the biggest victim. Victimhood keeps us low. Criticism erodes intimacy.
When we’re stressed our partners become our enemies. When we feel safe, we are allies.
Ways to avert our addiction to blame and criticism
What do we say or do in place of criticizing or blaming?
- Extend our ability to feel natural good feelings (those not induced by alcohol, drugs, sugar, etc). When something good happens in our lives, we notice it and savor the moment. For example, when someone gives us a compliment, instead of deflecting it, we receive it fully and express gratitude by saying thank you. Practicing mindfulness and presence helps stretch our ability to hold onto positive feelings. Stay in the present versus looking to the past or future.
- Express wonder. When the urge to lash out at our partner (or children, friends, co-workers, etc.) strikes, pause and say “Hmmmm”. Get curious about your reaction and what caused it. Dr. Hendricks recommends asking ourselves questions like, “When have I felt this way before?” or “What is trying to emerge here?” Try to get at the fear behind our reaction and our loved one’s behavior.
- Express appreciation. One of the easiest ways to ground ourselves in the present and in good vibes is to express appreciation for what we have. Telling our partner how much we appreciate their help, kindness, home-cooked meal or anything about them, slows down our brain and focuses us on life’s gifts. All parties involved feel better.
- Take responsibility. It feels good when we criticize and get that hit of adrenaline, but it feels good when we reclaim our power over the situation too. Instead of delegating responsibility for a problem in our relationship, we can ask ourselves how we contribute to it and what actions we can take right away to absolve it. Numbers 2 and 3 above are good places to start.
Have you fallen into the blame and criticize trap? Is it keeping your relationship lively? How can you keep your relationship alive without going negative?