Updated: 2 days ago
Do you ever feel judged and criticized by your partner? Do you have the sense that your husband doesn’t value you or your wife doesn’t respect you? Do you hear a lot of pointed statements that start with, “You are so ….”? Or perhaps you are the one to speak statements like that to your partner?
Judgments. A value-based assessment of someone’s character or behavior. In their simplest forms, judgments are spoken in this format: “You/he/she/they are …. [insert noun or adjective]”.
Positive or negative judgments
Judgments can be negative or positive. When you make an assessment of your partner being kind or grumpy, generous or stingy, open-hearted or shut down, sexy or ugly, disciplined or lazy, you are making a judgment. Positive judgments, also thought of as appreciations, can richly infuse a relationship with love, connection and joy. We recommend you speak as many of those as possible to your partner and other important people in your life! In this article, we’ll focus on negative judgments, since those generally produce disconnection, suffering and breakdown in relationship.
Judgments are intimately linked to what Dr. John Gottman named “The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” in marriages: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. A criticism is a judgment that you should or shouldn’t be doing something in a certain way. Contempt is expressed through strong judgments about your person or character, such as “You are despicable” or “You are disgusting”.
The possible effects of judgments in your relationship run the gamut. It can be a minor annoyance that you shrug off easily. But it can also be completely destructive and make you feel terribly hurt and hopeless. Either way, they are worth paying attention to, and to learn better skills around, because over time even small doses of judging each other can build up to serious problems and distrust.
It’s worth noting that the human mind is basically a judgment machine designed to keep us safe and alive. We constantly make judgments about what is safe or not, what is dangerous or not, what should be avoided or attempted. To conduct ourselves around other human beings, we make moral and ethical judgments about what is good or bad, right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate.
Hence, it’s not useful to expect any of us to simply quit making judgments; that’s not going to happen. But, as we’ll discuss, it is possible to use our judgment-making faculties for a good purpose, and to create connection and mutual empowerment instead of hurt and disconnection.
Before you read on, subscribe to our newsletter to get more posts like this one:
Judgments in relationship
In intimate relationships, some typical negative judgments are …
You are impossible to please
You are selfish
You are critical
You are annoying me
You are oblivious
You are micromanaging me
You are obsessed with work
You are a hypocrite
You are controlling
You are addicted to sex
You are a bad listener
You interrupt me all the time
You shouldn’t be … [insert behavior]
There are so many more.
What judgments do you hear in your own relationship? What judgments do you speak to your partner? (And what judgments do you have about yourself?)
How we react to judgments
Think about your own experience in relationship. What usually happens when your partner states a judgment about you, or you about him/her? When your partner tells you that you are controlling, angry or stupid, how do you typically react?
Do you defend yourself and tell your partner why they’re wrong? Do you sarcastically say, “Oh yeah, and you’re sooo much better!?” Do you counterattack and judge your partner right back, like, “You’re calling me controlling! You’re the control-freak. You always … “ Or do you sigh and back away, wondering if there’s any hope for you?
Either way, most people have a direct negative reaction to a negative judgment. Why is that?
First reason is you don’t want to be seen in that way. A negative judgment directly conflicts with your best view of yourself. Since you strive to be kind and loving, you don’t want to be viewed as angry and selfish. It’s like the reflex response of a kid; when someone calls him stupid, he immediately says, “No I’m not!” As if to say, “you don’t get to tell me who I am. I know I’m kind, loving and smart, and I’m going to defend myself against anyone who says otherwise.”
The second reason we react strongly to judgments is that we’re afraid there might be some truth to the judgment. The judgment hits a sore spot, it “pushes a button”. If you didn’t have a sore spot, or a button, you wouldn’t even care about the judgment. For example, imagine your partner came to you and said, “You’re so symmetrical”. If you have no relation to that word, symmetrical, you’ll have no reaction to it, other than perhaps mild puzzlement about what it means.
But if your partner says, “You’re so angry all the time!” you’ll likely have a reaction to it. Especially if you already have a “button” about being angry. Perhaps you’ve been told before that you’re angry. Perhaps you’ve gotten into trouble for being angry. In some way, “angry” is a button for you, and that’s why you react strongly to it.
When you are the one doing the judging, why do you do it? What is that makes you tell your partner that he’s selfish, that she’s nitpicky, that he’s too angry, or that she’s inconsiderate?
For one, you observe your partner and you make a judgment about what you observe. For instance, you observe your partner looking at his phone while you’re talking to him, perhaps more than once, and you make a judgment that he’s inattentive. If you get really hurt or mad, the judgment will escalate in language. Now he’s not just inattentive, he’s ignoring you, disrespecting you, or willfully giving you a symbolic finger!
That’s only half the story, however. The real reason you tell a judgment to your partner, or anyone, is because you have a hope that it will make things better. When you tell your partner, “You’re not paying attention to me!” or “You’re ignoring me”, you have a hope it will wake him up and make him realize he should be paying attention, and hence, start paying attention. You hope your judgment will affect a positive change and bring about more of what you want.
What to do?
Here are three ideas:
First, take inventory of who you judge, and for what. Start with your partner. What do you judge him/her for? Write it down so you can see it clearly.
Second, ask your partner (at a time when you’re in a good space with each other), “What do you think I judge you for?” This is a great starting point for a conversation.
Third, learn how to handle judgments. Learn how to break them down and use them for connection instead of criticism and breakdown. We’ve put this in a systematized process in our mini-workshop, How to Deal with Judgments and Criticism in Relationship.
It’s easy to go through, you can do it when it works for you, from where ever you are. And it’ll give you tools you’ll use forever. Learn more here ...
LoveWorks: We believe relationships are meant to be an empowering, fun, passionate, safe place to grow, love, and learn. Where we get to be more of who we are, not less. We know it’s not always easy, but it can definitely be easier! With our unique and practical approach to relationship, you learn how to resolve conflicts quickly and enjoy fulfilling intimacy for the rest of your life. To learn more or contact us, visit www.loveworkssolution.com.