so first of all, the basic rule about criticism is DON'T! Ha. No seriously, whenever possible, just avoid criticism all together!!!
The Hebrew word for criticism is "tochacha" but a better translation of this word might actually be 'rebuke', meaning basically that you are saying this for a purpose, not just because you're bothered or annoyed by a situation, but because you are thinking of helping this person fix their actions/behaviours/outlooks for the future...
so here are some of the guidelines about the right and only way to criticize (keeping in mind our goal is successful, loving relationships and building up ourselves and those around us!):
When you feel like criticizing, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I emotionally charged about the situation?
If you are angry at the person or upset about the situation, you MAY NOT CRITICIZE... chances are you will not say the right thing as your perception is skewed... wait until you cool down and can be objective (this could take a few minutes, hours, day or days, or even longer...)
2. What do I want to achieve?
E.g. if your significant other is constantly late when meeting you, you need to identify your GOAL in the situation... do you want to berate and belittle him (if you read my last post, you will know the answer to that is NO!)? do you want to just vent your frustration by focusing on what he did wrong? or maybe you want him to STOP BEING LATE? If you can identify a specific, tangible goal then you can start working on constructive strategies... instead of criticizing, there could even be other solutions, like maybe he just needs a new watch...
3. Is there a reasonable chance the person will listen in a way that they might be able to take my message to heart?
If you don't think there's a chance they will listen/change, you should not go ahead with what you want to say because it will only cause damage (by straining your relationship).
4. How can I say it with love?
Whenever you do have to say something critical, make sure the person knows that it is coming from a place of love, because you want to help them improve and you really think they can. One way which should actually probably be used every time, is to create the proverbial criticism sandwich, where the negative comment is sandwiched by two positive ones..
e.g. in the late husband example... he walks in the door late, again... first of all, wait until you are calm and the situation is right to talk about it... so when he walks in, maybe the first thing you do is jump up to greet him, and maybe ask if he'd like something to drink (he can do this for you too, btw, this is not just for women)... YOU WANT HIM TO FEEL LOVED WHEN HE WALKS IN THE DOOR- YOU WANT HIM TO WANT TO BE THERE... later when things are calm, you might say to him:
"honey, i know how much you care about me and do everything you can to make me happy [positive statement #1]. unfortunately, it's kind of hard for me when i'm expecting to meet you/ have you come home at a certain time and you don't come at that time. ["critical"/negative statement] I also know how much you have on your plate and how hard it is for you to fit it all in [positive statement showing you're not angry and giving him the benefit of the doubt]. can you think of a way we might be able to work on this, whether it's you calling ahead if you know you'll be late, or trying to schedule less right before you're meant to meet me... any ideas?" [giving him the option to come up with a solution]
in this example, you are creating a situation in which the husband (one being criticized) WANTS to do what your asking (achieve your goal of being more punctual) because he does love you and does want to please you, and hasn't been put down (and therefore put on the defensive) in the process... so who knows, either you'll get a more punctual husband, or at least you've created even one more positive interaction to bring you two closer!
Ooh, and one more thing... so the whole jumping up to greet your husband thing is actually an important lesson in and of itself. One of my teachers, the amazing Rebbetzin Lori Palatnik, gives the example of a woman chatting to her girlfriend on the phone in the kitchen one afternoon when all of a sudden Oprah and her t.v. crew come rushing into the house... clearly you don't stay chatting on the phone, you hang up IMMEDIATELY because what's going on is much more important... so what's the moral of this funny example? Who's more important, your husband or Oprah? Clearly your husband!!! And if that's the case, then every single time he walks in the door, you quickly say to your friend on the phone (and loud enough so he can hear you and get the message), 'my husband's home, gotta go, bye.' WOW... your husband is going to feel like the king of the castle, and you know what that makes you? the queen... here's a quick (4 min) clip of her explaining this- MUST WATCH!!!