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The Boomerang Effect

The all-too-common cycle of negative communication is similar to a boomerang, says marriage coach Richard Nicastro, PhD. When one partner throws out criticism, the result is usually criticism returned. That’s because criticism makes people feel defensive and uncomfortable, so the natural response is to find something to criticize back.

Nicastro says he noticed during coaching sessions that when one partner took a different tack, and responded with something compassionate or kind, the negativity weakened. Occasionally, a kindness was even returned.

Interestingly, few couples notice these patterns while they are occurring, even though they may sound obvious. They don’t understand the power of the boomerang effect—that what you send out will eventually come back to you.

The solution: Make a conscious effort to send out positive energy and to use kinder words, even when you’re faced with criticism. Be warned that it may take some time to change long-term cycles of hostility or negative communication. Nicastro says most people give in too quickly and resort to old patterns or to withdrawal.

His other warning says don’t merely act kind to get a kindness returned, as your partner will probably sense this, and the results will be weakened.

Once you’ve made it a habit, keep up your efforts of sending positive messages even when things are going well.

I’ve sometimes felt myself becoming very defensive from criticism, particularly on hot-button issues like mothering. Do you find it difficult to respond to criticism in a calm, kind manner?

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