Imagine if you will, a man tells you that he is confused. He continues, saying that he is a good father to his children, a high priority in his life. He communicates really well. He is a good provider in a job that he finds meaningful and does his share around the house, house projects, cooking and cleaning. He has several good close friends and would do anything for them. He goes to church each week, has high moral standards, gives to charity, keeps up on the news, watches a couple hours of sports on TV each week and is an overall nice person. He is intelligent enough and not clueless emotionally.
Sounds like a pretty good guy, doesn’t he? So what is the problem here?
The problem is that he is being told that he is not a good husband. Not being married to him, I have no way of objectively knowing if he is or is not a good husband. He tells me he knows from his wife that he is not a good husband, but cannot answer, “What is a good husband?”
We attempt to tackle the question and answer it objectively and we both realize that there is not a single answer to that question. The answer for the same wife likely will change as they both grow and develop. He has a different answer to that question than she does.
He returns with more answers from her and he is visibly upset. He tells me that there is no man on the planet who is a good husband, given her perspective. As soon as the criteria are met, the bar is raised, the expectations hiked up. At this point he is demoralized, way beyond discouraged. There were so many unwritten expectations that he felt set up by her. That is when it hit him. It is subjective and he himself had many unwritten expectations of himself and her, as well. By the way, we could just as easily have asked the question and substituted "wife" for husband.
Sometimes it can be helpful to review out loud or in writing what you expect. Are your expectations a bit much for any mortal? Are they consistent, attainable, measurable etc? You can set yourself up with your expectations so that everyone you encounter will disappoint you. Watch how and when your expectations shift, as well. Some perfectionists, rather than enjoy their accomplishments, ratchet up the pressure as if to prove that they are not acceptable.
Think about your criticism of your spouse/partner. Is your criticism reality based? Is it truly attainable and can any human maintain it? Do you change expectations when they meet the challenge?
No one, no one enjoys being criticized. Some are more sensitive than others. It is rare that criticism helps the situation, especially if the one being criticized has not asked for it directly.