There are many models of Couples Therapy today. One thing that they have in common is the advice to eliminate negativity in communication. This is a hard thing to do, but is vitally important.

Let's take a look at why it's essential to remove criticism and what to do instead.
​Does your lover do things that bother you? Maybe he comes home late without calling. Or perhaps she leaves the cabinet doors open. You might not like the way he talks to the kids or how she spends hours on social media. Maybe you're annoyed about money, or sex or your mother-in-laws interference.

​​If you're like most of us, these behaviors may leave you feeling annoyed, angry, frustrated, hurt, or disappointed. How in the world can you express this without starting a fight and making things worse between you? We've all found ourselves embroiled in a heated argument over something that started out as rather small. Things just seem to escalate quickly as soon as we start with negativity.

​In his research, Dr. John Gottman, found that there are four forms of communication that spell disaster for your relationship. One of these is criticism. When we attack our partner, we invite defensiveness. Along with stonewalling and contempt, defensiveness is another indicator of relationship distress. Criticism and defensiveness lead to reactivity: shutting down or blowing up. Now we're fighting about the fight and the original issue remains unresolved.

​In Imago Relationship Theory, Dr. Harville Hendrix says that couples must enter the Zone of Zero Negativity. This means that they must communicate negative feelings in a responsible way. Instead of criticizing and attacking, there is a formula for expressing complaints in a way that doesn't destroy the basic emotional connection.

​He tells us that it's important to pay attention to timing. Rather than launching in when our partner isn't ready, it works better to say, "There's something I'd like to tell you. Is now a good time for you?". It rarely goes well if your partner is hungry, busy, in a hurry or distracted. If now is not a good time, it helps to set up an appointment for a better time when you'll have his full attention.

​Let's take the example of the guy who comes home late without calling. Instead of "Why didn't you call? You never call. You're so inconsiderate", try this: "When you are late and don't call to let me know, I worry and feel disrespected. Would you be willing to call me in the future?". In this example, I'm taking responsibility for my feelings and inviting my partner to understand me better. No need for him to get defensive at all.

​Also, by asking directly for what I want in a vulnerable way, I'm helping him to have empathy and compassion for my distress. I'm also far more likely to get what I need from him. Of all the wonderful qualities your partner may possess, I'll bet that mind-reading isn't one of them! As obvious as it may seem, he probably hasn't truly considered his impact on your feelings before.

​I like to say that both members of a relationship are 100% responsible for the quality of their relationship. That means that each of us must pay attention to speaking in loving, kind ways. It does not mean that we can never experience negative emotions. It's more about the commitment to keep each other emotionally safe so that we can feel connected and work through difficulties as a team. Take a look at this short video to see what I mean:

​Did you know that conflict in relationship is growth trying to happen? Each time we successfully negotiate a disagreement or negative feelings with our partner we are deepening our emotional connection and nurturing our loving feelings for one another. Couples who invest in learning and practicing effective communication tools, become (in the words of Dr. Gottman) the Masters and not the Disasters of Marriage!

Become Masters of your Marriage by attending one of my upcoming Couples Workshops, Private Intensives, or Retreats. Visit my website for details.

Author's Bio: 

Mary Kay Cocharo has been working with couples and families for over 25 years through her private practice in West Los Angeles, California and cannot imagine doing anything else! She is deeply passionate about helping couples and parents rediscover the joy of being together, deepen communication and resolve conflict.

Her heart in helping others bridge these gaps stems from her belief that regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or creed, we all want and need the same thing—love, equality, acceptance, safety and connection. She imagines a world when it is the rule, not the exception, that we see each other without judgment or fear, and instead come from a place of curiosity and interest.

To discover how to work with Mary Kay through private counseling, workshops, or private intensives as a couple – in any stage of relationship – feel free to explore more on her website:

* She is an active member of the California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, Los Angeles Chapter of California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, IMAGO Relationship Institute, and the Southern California Imago Therapists Association.