I’ve never understood how you’re supposed to handle these situations. Say my girl got her hair done but it looks basic. Do I tell her that even though she’s going to get pissed or do I tell her she looks fly because that’s what she wants to hear?
I think we’re all familiar with the sitcom tropes about relationships and honesty. They usually start with a woman asking her bewildered* husband if she’s looks good in what she’s wearing. Cue him shooting a terrified look at the camera, followed by a sheepish “you always look great, sweetie” comment.
While I suppose that scene is entertaining to some given how often it shows up on my screen, it’s based on this bizarre premise that we can’t be honest with our partners. There’s only lying (“of course you look great honey”) or the assumption that an honest opinion will lead hellfire to rain down upon us.
I think this idea stems from the fact that some people don’t ever learn how to share criticism (or disagreement) without being hurtful. They either don’t offer up a critical opinion at all, or they have that toxic attitude of “I just tell it like it is.”
To avoid being an asshole, I think you should be honest with your thoughts but soft with your delivery. That doesn’t mean you should spit criticism like vomit, unrestrained and acidic. Instead, you should seek to be kind in what you say. And, if possible, offer an alternative.
Example: Your partner is getting ready to go out, and she picks a dress that is new but that she seems uncomfortable in. She’s asks your opinion on how it looks. Instead of saying “it’s great!”, you could say “you don’t seem very comfortable in that. We’re going to be out for a few hours – what about that blue dress you love?” She might say “no, I like this one.” Cool. Done. Move on. Or she might appreciate that you reminded her of the other dress that’s better suited for the evening you all have planned.
It can be harder when the change is more dramatic and less easily reversed. For example, let’s say your partner always wears her hair long, and one day comes home with it all chopped off. You hate it. Okay, it’s a shock. But think about a couple of things: first, she might be thinking to herself “oh god what have I done.” I cut all my hair off a few years back and it looked ADORABLE, but it still took me some time to accept that I was missing like a foot of hair. Instead of being critical, consider that you might just be reacting to the change yourself. Let her know that you’re happy she likes it and that you just need a little time to get used to the change, and that *she* is still lovely.
The reality is she might not appreciate that response. She may want you to just tell her what she wants to hear – that this is the best hairstyle ever and she’s never looked better. But I don’t think that’s the best way to maintain a healthy relationship in the long run, especially between romantic partners. Sure, I think many of us have those friends that will essentially blow smoke up our asses and boost our confidence no matter what, but I also know that those friends aren’t as genuine as the ones who will see me step out of a dressing room and say “I love that dress but it just doesn’t work with your coloring.” I know that what they say — compliment or criticism — is coming from an honest and caring place. I want that same quality in my partner.
Also, keep in mind that your opinion is not the only one that matters. It’s possible that your partner’s hair may look awful to you, but she likes it. Can you step out of the shallow end of the pool and be happy that she’s happy? Same with clothing choices and make-up. If you aren’t a fan, you’re certainly allowed to share that, but only if your opinion is solicited, and then only in a kind way. But you have to be okay with the fact that she may not be dressing for you – she may be dressing for herself, and you’ll just have to fall in line.
Finally, think about things that can be changed versus things that can’t be changed. If someone shows up with a misspelled tattoo, you can point it out, but only in concert with the name of a good tattoo removal specialist or a good cover-up artist. If it’s just a generally ugly (in your opinion) tattoo, instead of talking about how much you hate it, point out the things you like (“the detailing is really crisp” or “those colors pop!”).
*Why is he always so bewildered? Has he just met his wife? Did he not see this question coming? I hate this so much.