Giving Negative Feedback

How you share your feedback can really impact your relationship.  Proceed with caution.

The words you choose are so important. So are the non-verbals and tone.

THINK: “Will this help or hurt our relationship?”

  • Determine why you want to share this; ensure that your intentions to share the feedback are in the right place. What are you seeking to accomplish? (Remember, this is a withdrawal in the emotional bank account.)

Describe accurately.

  • Do not minimize/ exaggerate the story. Don’t label or use absolute words (like: “always/ never”).
  • Do not exaggerate the feeling – ‘dismayed’ when really ‘surprised’.
  • Don’t generalize; be specific.

I statements

  • Describe how you see and feel about the situation, not blaming or talking about the other’s responsibility.

Don’t make assumptions

  • Do not ‘cross-over’ or mindread. “You did it because you …”

Firstly, you don’t have to share your every thought. If you think your spouse is doing something that is a waste of time, think first if it is worthwhile to say anything. If you do determine that something should be said, BE HONEST, DON’T CRITICIZE.

Criticism is about the other person: something they are doing wrong, something they do that annoys you, something they should improve.
Honesty is about you: how what the other person is doing (or not doing) impacts you.

Criticism:You are wasting so much time on the computer.” This is about the other.
Complaint/ Honesty:I wish we would spend more time laughing and talking together.” This is about you.


Criticism:You’re a slob.” This is about the other.
Complaint/Honesty:I really like when the house is clean and neat.” This is about you.

Note: Don’t try to hide a criticism in words of honesty. “I feel that you don’t care about me” is a criticism of the other. “I would love to spend more time together” is an honest statement.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation.
No one likes to hear a tirade of complaints and gripes. Not you, not your spouse.

Choose words that are easier to hear. When talking about a concern, begin with words of connection. Show that you can see it from their point of view and you are offering a possible explanation of why it might have happened. This reduces defensiveness and puts the listener in a more receptive state.

“I know you have been so busy lately, so I see how you might have forgotten something important. When the bill wasn’t paid on time, we got late fees. When I see those late fees, it makes me anxious and frustrated. I really would like for you to remember to pay the bills on time.”

“I know you sometimes don’t realize how important small gestures are … Please try to remember; it is important to me.”


Excerpted from Marriage 911, Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R and Chaya Feuerman, LCSW-R authors.

No one likes to hear complaints; they give most people a downer feeling.

Instead of complaining, request. Requests establish a positive tone and invite helpful responses and solutions.

Complaint: “I hate …”
Complaint: “Why do we always …”
Complaint: “I don’t like that ….”
Complaint: “It bugs me when …”

Request: “How about …?”
Request: “How would you feel …?”
Request: “What are your thoughts about …?”
Request: “What do you think about ….?”

Often you can avoid conflict by prefacing your reactions, comments, and criticism with a statement that acknowledges your own sensitivities.

“I know I need more attention than a lot of other people do” rather than “You don’t pay enough attention to me.”

Why this works: People like to give to others. In general, the more you couch your request as having to do with your needs rather than your spouse’s failings, the more likely you are to be heard.

Some sentence openers:

  • “I know I get stressed by …. and I am bit compulsive about…”
  • “Even though what you are doing doesn’t bother many others, it does annoy me…. I’d appreciate if you would …”

Timing matters. Set an appointment for when you two can be alone, without distractions.

“There is something that has been bothering me. When would be a good time to talk about it?”

Ideally, you’d give your spouse a heads-up about what it is that is on your mind.

  • There is no point in surprising them; giving them some time to think about the issue can help make the conversation even more productive.
  • For most people, when they hear the words “We need to talk”, the anxiety and stress begin: what is it that we need to talk about? that builds up and can even disrupt their productivity.

“I want to talk about that comment you said yesterday….”

Once you both are using the same definition of complaint vs criticism, you might use the words: “I have a complaint. When would be a good time …”

You might come up with your own code words (use humor!) to indicate that you want to share a complaint. “Popcorn!”, “Growth moment ahead.”

Calm yourself.  Work from logical part of brain, not emotional.

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