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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Breaking an Unhealthy Habit: Interrupt the Pattern

Breaking an unhealthy habit can be challenging, especially a longstanding habit.  As I discussed in an earlier article about smoking cessation, one way to break a bad habit is using a pattern interrupt, which is the topic of this article.

Breaking an Unhealthy Habit: Interrupt the Pattern


Healthy habits and routines are a valuable part of life because they get reinforced automatically after a while.  For instance, relaxing, reading a book or listening to calming music might be part of the pattern that reinforces healthy sleep hygiene.  

In the same way that healthy habits get reinforced through certain patterns, unhealthy habits get reinforced in the same way.  So, although there is no one way to break bad habits that works for everyone, one method that works for many people is to interrupt the pattern.

Steps to Breaking an Unhealthy Habit
The following method is one that I use when I work with clients who want to stop smoking. Although I use it with clinical hypnosis, it can be used without hypnosis for almost any unhealthy habit that you want to change:
  • Set Up a Chart For Yourself: Get clear on what you want to change.  Focus on one unhealthy habit rather than trying to change two or more at the same time.  At the top of a chart write down what you want to change (e.g., smoking habit, nail biting, stress eating, etc). It doesn't have to be a fancy chart. It can be something simple, which has the following columns:
    • Date and Time
    • Trigger and Emotion
    • Reward
    • Small Change You Can Make
  • Get Curious: Rather than being critical, get curious about your habit. If you find yourself getting judgmental, ask yourself if you would be as judgmental towards your best friend who was making an effort to change (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

  • Fill Out the Chart With the Date, Trigger (or Cue) and Emotion: For instance, if you want to stop biting your nails, write down the date and time you bit your nails, the trigger that came just before you bit your nails (e.g., you had a confrontation with a coworker, you argued with your spouse, etc), and the emotion(s) you experienced with that trigger (anxiety, anger, sadness, etc).
  • Identify the Reward: This can be challenging because rewards don't always look like rewards, so you might be unaware of them. But there is almost always a payoff for engaging in the bad habit. For instance, if you bite your nails whenever you get anxious, you might momentarily dissociate (zone out) from whatever is making you anxious, so biting your nails provides temporary relief.  Also, if you bite your nails very low, you might experience an endorphin release.  
  • Identify a Small Change You Can Make: Rather than trying to stop engaging in the bad habit altogether, identify one small change you can make.  This can help you by not setting you up for failure by trying to make too big a change at once or eliminating the habit altogether. For smokers, a small change might be changing a brand or, if you smoke just before breakfast, change that habit so that you smoke after breakfast.  
  • Identify Your Successes: Recognize that breaking an unhealthy habit can take time and effort, so don't focus on trying to do it "perfectly."  For example, if you're trying to stop biting your nails and you're able to do it for two days (when you've never been able to stop it before), identify this as a success and renew your efforts (see my article:  Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Wins Along the Way).

Getting Help in Therapy
There are often unconscious reasons why people develop unhealthy habits, and these underlying reasons are difficult to identify on your own.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to identify the unconscious reasons that make it difficult to change and provide you with tools to succeed.

By seek help from a licensed mental health professional, you can make positive changes so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.












Monday, November 29, 2021

Sexual Wellness: Discovering Your Peak Sexual Experiences

In the past, I've discussed exploring your sexual fantasies as a way to discover what you like sexually.  In this article, I'm offering a writing exercise to delve deeper to discover your peak sexual experiences (see my articles: Sexual Pleasure and Discovering Your Erotic SelfExploring Sexual Fantasies Without Shame and Guilt7 Core Sexual Fantasies and Women's Sexual Self Discovery).


Discovering Your Peak Sexual Experiences


For many people thinking about peak sexual experiences (or any sexual experiences) is easier said than done. Shame and guilt, which are often related to religious or cultural taboos or to a strict upbringing where sex wasn't discussed, are often major obstacles (see my article: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes).

As a result, many individuals don't allow themselves to have sexual fantasies or if they realize they're having a sexual fantasy, they shut it down before the fantasy has time to develop.  So, in situations like this, the process of sexual self discovery can involve seeking help in therapy (see the section below on Getting Help in Therapy).

Discovering Your Peak Erotic Experiences
Assuming you feel comfortable enough to explore what you want sexually, one way to begin this exploration is by thinking back to sexual experiences or fantasies you've had in the past to discover your peak sexual experiences (see my articles: Reviving Your Sex Life By Learning About Your Peak Sexual Experiences and The 2021 Self Pleasure Survey).

As I mentioned in my prior article, Dr. Jack Morin, who wrote The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, recommends remembering your peak sexual experiences as one way to discover what you like sexually.

Thinking back to memories of peak sexual experiences allows you to define and explore what you enjoyed sexually.  

Writing about it in a journal, which you keep in a private place, allows you to delve deeper to provide yourself with more details about these experiences.

What Were Your Most Satisfying Sexual Experiences?
Take your time to think about these memories and when you write about them, give as much detail as possible on each one, including:
  • What was the situation?
  • Who were you with?
  • Where were you?
  • What sexual activities were you engaged in at the time (be specific)?
  • What got you sexually turned on?
  • What were you thinking?
  • What were you feeling emotionally?
What sensations were you experiencing?
    • What did you see?
    • What did you hear? 
    • What did you feel (physical sensations)
    • What did you smell?
    • What did you taste?
If you're having problems remembering the details, one way you can enhance your memories is by listening to music from that time.  

Sound can be evocative.  For instance, if your memories are from a different time in your life, what were some of the songs you liked listening to at that time?

Similarly, smell can be evocative.  For example, if you or your partner in your memory wore a certain cologne or aftershave, smelling that scent can bring you back to that memory in a deeper way.  Another example of scent could be your partner's personal scent.

After you've written down your peak sexual experiences, read them to yourself to get a sense of whether there are particular themes.

Making connections between themes you discover in your memories can give you more information about what you like.

For instance, according to Dr. Morin, sexual attraction plus obstacles often lead to sexual excitement, so think about whether there were particular obstacles to overcome or a forbidden  quality to any of these experiences that made these experiences exciting.

I'll continue to discuss this topic in my next article.

Getting Help in Therapy
As mentioned earlier, many people find it hard to think about their past sexual experiences due to strong inhibitions or a history of trauma.

If you're struggling with conflicting emotions about sex, a history of trauma or other experiences that are keeping you from exploring your sexual desires, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience with these issues.

Overcoming emotional obstacles can free you from your history so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.











Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to get together with family and friends to celebrate and express gratitude for all that we have in our lives.



Even when we're going through rough times, we can usually find simple things in our lives that we can feel grateful for.

Keeping a gratitude journal where we keep track of the daily blessings in our lives can help to shift our perspective from one of pessimism to a more optimistic point of view.



Taking the time to write down even two or three things we're grateful for each day can help us to notice positive things that we might otherwise take for granted.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR therapist, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist


To set up a consultation, call me at 212 726-1006.














Saturday, November 20, 2021

What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages

In my prior article, What Are the 5 Love Languages?, I began a discussion about Dr. Gary Chapman's book, The 5 Love Languages - The Secret to Love That Lasts, by identifying and defining the concept of love languages (see my article: Understanding Your Emotional Needs).

In the current article I'll be discussing how individuals in relationships give and receive love and what to do if your partner's love language is different from your own (see my articles: Love Maps: How Well Do You Know Your Partner? and Learning About Yourself in Your Relationship).


What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages


What Are the 5 Love Languages?
To summarize briefly from my prior article:  Most people have a combination of the five love languages, but they usually have one that is primary, including:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Acts of Service
  • Gifts
  • Physical Touch
  • Words of Affirmation: If your primary way of feeling loved and appreciated is through words, you want to hear your partner tell you say "I love you."  You also want to be complimented and hear other expressions of love.  
  • Quality Time: If quality time is most important to you, you want to spend time with your partner without distractions.  You want your partner to be fully present, actively listening and attuned to your feelings.
  • Acts of Service: Acts of service include things your partner does for you that make your life easier, like taking care of chores. For you, action speaks louder than words.
  • Gifts: If your primary love language is gifts, you feel most loved when your partner makes the effort to give you gifts that are symbolic of their love for you.  
  • Physical Touch: When physical touch is your primary love language, you want to feel loved and appreciated with intimate touch that includes holding hands, hugs, cuddling, kisses and sex.
Communicating Your Emotional Needs to Your Partner
It's common for individuals to show their love in the way that's most meaningful to them but not necessarily meaningful to their partner.  

So, for instance, for a husband whose primary love language is acts of service, he might show his love for his wife by mowing the lawn or doing the laundry. He probably assumes that since these acts are most meaningful to him, they are also primary to her.

But what if his wife's primary love language is words of affirmation?  She might appreciate that he does these tasks, but she'll want to hear him tell her that he loves her.  If he doesn't know this and she doesn't communicate it to him, she'll miss hearing these words from him, and the relationship could deteriorate (see my articles: Telltale Signs You're Growing Apart in Your Relationship and How to Get Closer If You've Grown Apart).

That's why it's so important for each individual in a relationship to be able to communicate his or her emotional needs.  But in order to do this, each person needs to know how they feel most loved. That requires that each person take the time to reflect on their emotional needs (see my article: Understanding Your Emotional Needs).

It also requires that each person be able to see beyond what's most meaningful to him or herself to be attuned to their partner's needs.  For example, if an individual notices that his partner comes alive when he hugs her, but she doesn't respond with as much enthusiasm when he does the dishes, he needs to change how he expresses his love.

Clinical Vignette:  What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages
The following clinical vignette, which is a composite of many different cases, illustrates how a couple can makes changes in how they express love when their partner's love language is different from their own:

Amy and Ted
After 10 years of marriage, Amy and Ted realized they were drifting apart emotionally and sexually.  They still loved each other, but they each felt emotionally disconnected from each other (see my article: Loneliness Within a Relationship).

As a way to rekindle their relationship, Amy suggested they go on vacation--just the two of them instead of their usual way of vacationing with friends.

Amy thought going away together would bring them closer, but after the initial excitement of being in the Bahamas for the first time, they were both bored, uncomfortable and disappointed in the experience.  They started looking for other distractions to avoid being alone, including meeting and spending time with other couples (see my article: Understanding Sexual Boredom in Long Term Relationships).

By the time they got back from their vacation, both of them knew there was something wrong.  Before the vacation, each of them had assumed that they weren't as close because their lives were so hectic and stressful, but when they had a chance to relax and spend time with each other, they didn't know how to relate to one another.

A few days after they were settled back home, Amy talked to Ted about the emotional distance she sensed between them.  Although Ted usually wasn't as comfortable talking about emotional issues, he agreed that he also sensed the emotional distance and that he had been feeling it for quite some time, but he didn't know how to bring it up.

Their discussion didn't get far because neither of them knew what to say or do about their problem, so Amy suggested they go to couples counseling to try to work on their marriage (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT)?).

Their couples therapist told them their problem wasn't unusual for people who were married as long as they were.  As she got to know them as individuals and a couple, the couples therapist realized that each of them had different ways they expressed and wanted to receive love.  She also realized that each of them expressed love in the way that was personally meaningful but not meaningful to the other partner.

Amy learned in couples therapy that, even though she liked elements of all five love languages, she preferred to hear Ted tell her that he loved her.  So, her love language was Words of Affirmation.  

But Ted, whose own love language was physical touch, would try to be have sex with Amy before she felt turned on by hearing him tell her that he loved her.  

It wasn't that Amy didn't want to have sex.  It was more a matter that she needed to hear Ted tell her that he loved her before they were sexual, and if she didn't hear him say it, she didn't feel sexually turned on (see my article: Whereas Women Usually Need Emotional Connection to Connect Sexually, Men Often Need Sex to Connect Emotionally).

Ted was confused at first, "But Amy knows I love her.  Why does she need to hear it?" But as he listened to Amy tell him how important it was for her to hear words that affirmed his love for her, he realized he needed to be more aware of what Amy needed and change his way of relating to her.

Ted learned that he also liked elements of all the five love languages, but his preference was physical touch.  He spoke in couples therapy about how he was often disappointed that Amy almost never initiated sex and, worse still, when he tried to initiate sex, she didn't seem interested.  

He said this left him feeling hurt and rejected, and this was why he was hesitant to initiate sex--even when they had more time than usual on their vacation.  He felt even when Amy agreed to have sex, she was just "going through the motions" to appease him, which was a turn off for him.  

As Amy and Ted listened to each other talk about how they felt most loved, they both realized that they needed to make changes in how they interacted with each other, and it might not be so easy.  

Amy agreed with Ted that she often just "went through the motions" when he wanted to be sexual because she needed more time to get turned on than he did, especially if she had a stressful day, and he wasn't taking the time to get her turned on (see my articles:  Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).

She told Ted that she needed needed to feel relaxed first and ease into sex.  She preferred to start by hearing him tell her that he loved her and spend time cuddling, but he often wanted to have intercourse without expressing affection and without much foreplay (see my articles: Rethinking Foreplay As More Than Just a Prelude to Intercourse).

Ted thought about this, and then he said he would also like to cuddle, but he often felt apprehensive lately about approaching Amy sexually because he sensed she wasn't interested, so he would rush through sex by focusing on having an orgasm, "I guess I just try to get off as quickly as possible to get it over with" (see my articles: Sexual Wellness: What is Performative Sex? and  Changing Your Sex Script).

He said he felt awkward, at this point in their marriage, telling her that he loved her because this wasn't his way of expressing love, but he wanted to improve their relationship, so he would make more of an effort.

Amy told Ted she remembered a time when she enjoyed sex with him more when they were both more verbally expressive about their love, so she was also willing to express her love for Ted with more physicality (see my article: Reviving Your Sex Life By Exploring Your Peak Erotic Experiences).

Their couples therapist suggested they set aside time at least once a week to practice these new ways of being together.  At first, they each thought it felt artificial to have specific times to do this, but they soon discovered that if they didn't set aside the time, life would take over and they didn't do it.  So, they both agreed that Friday night was a good time for each of them.

At first, they were awkward with each other.  Ted, who wasn't someone who usually expressed his love in words, felt annoyed with himself for feeling like an awkward teenager when he tried to tell Amy that he loved her.  Amy, who often bristled when Ted tried to touch her in a sexually playful way, also felt uncomfortable at first.

During their next couples therapy session, they talked about how they each felt like they were performing rather than actually feeling emotionally intimate with each other.  But, over time, as they continued to practice each week, they each learned how to relax, look into each other's eyes, and say and do what their partner needed to feel loved.  In turn, they learned to receive their partner's expression of love.

After a while, it felt natural again--similar to how it felt in the early days of their marriage (see my article: How Couples Therapy Can Help You to Form New Bonds of Love).

As time went on, Amy and Ted learned to develop the skills each of them needed to give and receive love (see my article: Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship).

Conclusion
As a relationship matures, it's not unusual for that initial stage of passion to diminish.  Ideally, after that early stage of passion, love matures and deepens.  

But sometimes couples get into a relationship rut.  Whereas the new relationship energy carried them along at first, they might not be saying and doing the things that enabled their partner to feel loved and appreciated.

There might be so many other things that are competing for their attention, including raising children, stressful jobs, and caregiving responsibilities for older relatives, that they forget to do the things that nurtured their relationship.  

The other possibility is that one or both people in the relationship might never have understood what their partner needed from them with regard to giving and receiving love, but the new relationship energy carried them along during the initial stage of the relationship.

The good news is that, with effort, people can learn to give and receive love in ways that are personally meaningful to each of them.  Sometimes, when a couple is stuck, they benefit from working with a skilled couples therapist to help them develop these skills.

Psychological Trauma Can Affect a Person's Ability to Give and Receive Love

Getting Help in Therapy
There are times when you might need help to overcome problems, especially if you've struggled on your own without success.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has the expertise to help you overcome your problems (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are holding you back from living the life you want and deserve.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.









 


















What Are the 5 Love Languages?

In his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Relationships That Last, Dr. Gary Chapman discusses the five most common ways that people give and receive love and affection.

What Are the 5 Love Languages?

What Are the 5 Love Languages?
According to Dr. Chapman, the five love languages include:
  • Words of Affirmation 
  • Quality Time
  • Acts of Service
  • Gifts
  • Physical Touch
Although you might have more than one love language that's meaningful to you, you probably have a primary love language that is most important to you.

If your primary love language is:
  • Words of Affirmation: You like to hear verbal acknowledgements of love and affection.  This includes hearing "I love you," compliments, words of appreciation, and words of encouragement.  Verbal and written messages of affection help you to feel loved, understood and appreciated.
  • Quality Time: You feel loved and appreciated when your partner wants to spend time with you.  You like your partner to be an active listener and be fully present with you.  You also like to have meaningful conversations without distractions.
  • Acts of Service: You believe that actions speak louder than words, and you like to be shown how much your partner cares for you.  You value your partner doing things that make your life easier. This might include your partner doing extra housework, taking the children after you've spent the whole day with them, going grocery shopping and so on.  
  • Gifts: You feel most loved when your partner gives you meaningful gifts that are symbolic of their love for you.  For you, it's not about the value of the gift--it's about the thought behind the gift, and you're moved when your partner has made a thoughtful, deliberate choice about a gift that is just right for you.  
  • Physical Touch: You feel loved when your partner gives you physical signs of affection, including holding hands, hugging, kissing, cuddling, and having sex.  For you, physical touch is a powerful way to connect emotionally as well as physically.
It's not at all unusual for individuals in a relationship to each have different needs when it comes to how they want to experience their partner's love.  So, it's important to be able to understand and communicate your own needs as well as understand and give to your partner based on their needs.  

Next Article in This Series:
In my next article, I'll discuss how to give and receive love based on your own and your partner's love language: What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people don't know how to identify and communicate what they need to their partners.  Often this is because they didn't get what they needed when they were younger, so they're not used to having their needs met.  

Other people, who might have grown up in childhood homes where family members didn't express love or affection, feel uncomfortable expressing or receiving love.  

Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome these obstacles so you can give and receive love.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has experience helping clients to overcome these obstacles.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.



Sunday, November 14, 2021

How to Use the Wheel of Emotions

The Wheel of Emotions was developed by Dr. Robert Plutchik, who was a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an adjunct professor at the University of Florida.  His research included the study of emotions (see my articles: Learning to Sense Your Emotions and How Experiential Psychotherapy Can Enhance Emotional Development in Adults).

The 8 Primary Emotions
According to Dr. Plutchik, there are eight primary emotions:
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Disgust
  • Surprise
  • Anticipation
  • Trust 
  • Joy
These emotions are considered primary, according to Dr. Plutchik, because they have survival value (see my article: Understanding Primary Emotions).

For instance, fear has survival value because when this emotion is triggered, it can save your life due to the flight-fight response.

What is the Wheel of Emotion?

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions


Plutchik's Concepts:
  • Limbic System/Midbrain: The midbrain (or limbic system) of humans is similar to the midbrain of other mammals.  Humans and other mammals experience the same emotions.
  • Evolutionary History: Emotions developed long before humans existed.  They have evolutionary value as part of survival.
  • Survival Role: Survival is the primary evolutionary role of emotions.
  • Combinations of Emotions: Combining primary emotions will create new emotions.  For example, joy and trust = love.
  • Opposites: As can be seen from the Wheel of Emotions, each emotion has its opposites.  For instance, sadness is the opposite of joy, and so on.
  • Intensity of Emotions: The change in the intensity of emotions can be seen on the Wheel of Emotions: Trust goes from acceptance to admiration, joy goes from serenity to ecstasy, and so on.
Characteristics of the Wheel of Emotions (click on image to make it larger):
  • Color: The eight emotions are arranged by colors for similar emotions.  
  • Layers: Moving to the center of the circle intensifies the emotions.
  • Relationships of Emotions: Emotions are arranged on the Wheel of Emotions with regard to their relationship to each other.  For instance, note the position of polar opposite emotions.
How to Use the Wheel of Emotions
Many people have problems identifying their emotions.  They might have a sense that they feel "off" or "bad," but they don't know what emotions are causing them to feel this way.

The Wheel of Emotions:
  • Provides an image or visual tool to get curious about yourself.
  • Helps you to be attuned to yourself.
  • Normalizes your emotions.
  • Increases your self awareness.
  • Helps you to stop judging yourself.
  • Helps you to identify your emotions.
  • Helps you to verbalize the emotions you are experiencing.  
  • Helps you to feel empowered.
  • Helps you to gain self confidence.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems identifying and expressing your emotions, you're not alone.

Working with an experiential psychotherapist can help you to develop and enhance your ability to identify your feelings for your own self awareness as well as to improve your communication with others (see my article: Psychotherapy Can Help You to Stop Sweeping Uncomfortable Emotions Under the Rug).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in experiential therapy (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy).

About Me
I am an experiential psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.


















Monday, November 1, 2021

Improve Communication in Your Relationship: Eliminate the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Relationship expert, John Gottman, Ph.D., came up with a metaphor to describe destructive communication in relationships which he calls the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a term which was originally used in the Bible to describe the four elements of the end times: conquest, war, hunger and death (see my article: Improving Communication).

Improve Communication in Your Relationship: Eliminate the 4 Horses of the Apocalypse


What Are the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
According to the Dr. Gottman, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a relationship are:
  • Criticism
  • Contempt 
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
Let's take a look at each one to understand why these actions represent destructive communication styles that can lead to the demise of a relationship:
  • Criticism:  When you express a complaint to your partner, it's different from attacking him or her personally.  When you criticize your partner, s/he feels rejected and hurt.  Here's the difference:
Complaint: "I feel sad that you forgot my birthday."
Criticism: "You never remember my birthday because it's not important to you. You're selfish!"

Note that in the first example, the complaint, you're speaking from your own experience ("I felt") whereas in the second example, the criticism, you're making a personal attack on your partner's character.  

Criticism is especially damaging when it happens frequently.  Furthermore, you're not likely to resolve the problem if you use criticism (see my article: Learn How to Stop Criticizing Each Other).
  • Contempt: Contempt is worse than Criticism.  When you address your partner with contempt, you're being mean.  Contempt includes sarcasm, ridicule, name calling, and cursing your partner, among other things.  You're showing disrespect for your partner, and you're speaking to your partner from a position of moral superiority:
Contempt: "You forgot to bring home the milk! I give you one thing to do and you're too stupid to even do that."

Note that contempt is often fueled by longstanding resentment towards a partner that comes out in a toxic way.
  • Defensiveness: Defensiveness is a common problem.  When you feel criticized by your partner, you find excuses for your behavior. Unfortunately, this doesn't resolve the problem because your partner is likely to feel that his or her concerns aren't important to you.
Defensiveness: "So what! I forgot to bring the milk. You know I've had a lot of things on my mind. Why didn't you have one of the kids get it?"

Note that, aside from not resolving the problem, you're also not taking responsibility for your part, and you're pointing an accusatory finger at your partner.  

By being defensive, you're also just escalating the conflict (see my article: Habitual Defensiveness Can Ruin Your Relationship).
  • Stonewalling: Stonewalling usually occurs when the listener becomes overwhelmed by contempt.  The listener can either tune out, walk away, distract him or herself and, generally, shut down emotionally (see my article: Are You a Stonewaller?).
People who stonewall are often shutting down to regroup emotionally.  The problem is that they often don't tell their partner that they need to take a break from the conflict to calm down.  

The other problem is that people who make a habit of stonewalling appear to be calm on the outside, but they're flooded with stress on the inside.  

Since people who stonewall appear to be calm externally, the other partner will often double down on their criticism in an effort to provoke the partner to speak.  

This starts a destructive cycle where the person who is stonewalling shuts down more and more and the other partner escalates their argument.  Soon they're caught in a destructive cycle.

In my next article, I'll discuss alternatives to using the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're like most people, you learned how to communicate from what you observed in your family of origin.  

If you weren't lucky enough to come from a family where you experienced healthy communication, you might have developed destructive communication habits.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to enhance your communication skills to maintain a healthy relationship.

Rather than continuing in destructive communication patterns that could lead to the demise of your relationship, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.