Communication can be difficult. Especially when that communication deals with intense emotions. Often times our complaints turn to attacks on one's character. I use the following analogy with couples, and individuals, to get them to understand the difference and the impact it can have on their relationship.
Let's say you walk into a room and I make a negative comment about your shoes. I might say, "Those shoes are terrible and really don't go with your outfit. You should've chosen different ones." That statement has the potential to make you feel bad as you might think that your outfit isn't as well put together as it could be. However, you could change shoes and essentially fix the problem and feel good again. That's how complaints work. They reference an instance, a moment in time, and leave opportunity for correction through change of behavior.
Criticisms, or character attacks, on the other hand don't provide much optimism about the ability to change the unwarranted behavior. Instead, they suggest that the individual themselves is the flaw and pretty much no hope for them in improving in the near future, if ever. An example might be, that instead of suggesting that your shoes don't match your outfit, I tell you that you're terrible at dressing altogether, have no sense of style, and can't comprehend what goes on in your head when you pick out clothes. In that instance the complaint is more enduring, meaning there isn't a quick fix to you learning how to pick better pairings of your clothes, and that if there were time for me to try and teach you, you might never actually come to understand how to do so effectively or correctly.
Complaints are necessary as they allow people to enhance their relationships by identifying what's not working and allowing for an opportunity to change. Criticisms leave lasting scars and leave the criticized individual feeling incapable of meeting the needs of their significant other, or questioning their ability to ever do so.
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