It can be difficult dealing with criticism from your nearest and dearest, especially when that critic is your partner. After all, they’re supposed to love you no matter what, right?

Sometimes spousal criticism can be rooted in false expectations of human nature, on either side. Everyone makes mistakes and has bad days. The problem starts when negativity and unrealistic expectations become the pattern for your relationship. Or when you start depending on your spouse’s good opinion for your own feelings of self-worth. That’s just a recipe for unhappy, for both of you.

No matter how much you love one another, there will be some degree of criticism in a relationship. To make the best of it, and maybe even help it make stronger, try these four tactics the next time your spouse offers you constructive criticism.

1 – Don’t Make it Your Problem

See the criticism as an indication of what’s going on with your spouse, not necessarily something you’ve done wrong. Maybe they’ve had a bad day, or they’re worried about something. Negative vibes or outright criticism can be a reaction to other stuff that’s happening for them, and they’re paying it forward. Try to stay detached, especially if they are seriously upset. Give them some time to cool off and then broach the subject so you can work it out together.

2 – Don’t (Over)React

The worst thing you can do is to have a knee-jerk reaction, whether it’s angrily defending yourself or turning the criticism back on them. That’s just creating conflict and won’t get you anywhere close to a resolution. It also ups the emotional ante and paves the way for a full-on argument.

3 – Be Open About Your Feelings

Instead of fighting back, try to stay calm and tell your partner how their criticism makes you feel. Probably they had no intention of hurting your feelings. You can stop the blame cycle by each taking responsibility for your own emotions.

4 – Take Some Time Out

If your partner is angry, it’s clearly not a good time to talk through their issues. Make it clear that you will speak to them when they’ve calmed down. There’s no need to stay in the firing line.

Taking time out also allows you to regulate your own emotions and work out a strategy to deal with your partner’s criticism. There could even be something in what they say, but you need to be able to depersonalize the issue before you discuss it.

A healthy relationship can take some criticism. The important thing is to maintain your separate identities within the relationship and to be able to deal with issues as a team.