Relationships
Woman whose partner won't stop criticizing her gets upset.

Here’s What To Do If Your Partner Won’t Stop Criticizing You

Because you deserve to be with someone who lifts you up.

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You know that scene in Mean Girls, where everyone stands in front of Regina George's mirror and states what they don't like about themselves? That still keeps me up at night. It’s easy to be your own worst critic, and difficult to silence negative thoughts. There are a lot of ways in which women and non-binary folks can feel societally pressured, to the point that self-criticism begins to creep in. At times when you wish your boo would help boost you up, it can be extremely frustrating if your partner won’t stop criticizing you.

Your significant other should be your partner in crime, a shoulder to lean on, and the person who orders the other entrée you wanted so you can try a bit of theirs. When you spend a lot of time with someone, your guard may begin to come down, and you can really be yourself. But with this newfound comfort comes vulnerability. When someone knows what hurts your feelings, they can start to take advantage of how to hurt your feelings in the cruelest way.

Feeling constantly criticized by the person you're dating can be really painful. It can be difficult to tell a direct attack from sarcasm or well-intended advice. And when a man criticizes a woman (or the partner with more privilege and power finds fault with the other), this can create an especially toxic dynamic. It's entirely possible that your partner may not be intentionally hurting you, but rather, they just communicate differently than you do. But there’s also a chance you could be in a toxic situation.

I talked to Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show and Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent dating and relationships therapist, about when playful negging starts to cross the line, and how to deal with someone who constantly criticizes you.

Distinguish Healthy Conflict from Constant Criticism
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Relationships take work. Disagreements, tense moments, and even full-blown fights are not uncommon. But healthy conflict and constant criticism are not the same things. If you're feeling like your partner is always bringing you down, it may be time for a serious talk.

"Healthy conflict means no hitting below the belt," Dr. Brown tells Elite Daily. "You don't exploit your partner's vulnerabilities during an argument. Instead, even though you may need to say something that’s painful to hear, you don't want to say anything that is going to cause emotional damage."

A lover's quarrel is bound to happen from time to time. But when disagreements arise, it's important to be mindful of your words and not lash out in anger. The same goes for your partner.

"Conflict is the experience of disagreement, something not in alignment, and varying opinions," Dr. Klapow tells Elite Daily. "Criticism is more personal; it is targeted at the individual. Conflict happens between couples, criticism is delivered from one person to another."

Conflict is a two-way street, but criticism goes one way. If you're finding more negativity directed at you, rather than back-and-forth problem-solving, it could be a good idea to check in with your boo about how they're making you feel.

Notice When Joking Feels Personal

How can you tell a warm-hearted but not-so-funny joke from a direct attack? "When feedback is directed at your character, your personality, who you are vs. what you are doing, then the feedback becomes criticism," Dr. Klapow says. "When you feel like you don’t want to hear from your partner, when you are avoiding them or interactions so you won’t be criticized, it is time to take action." When looking back at situations that were supposed to be lighthearted, how do you feel? Do you perceive them as no big deal, or are you left wondering, “Why does my husband criticize me constantly?” If it’s the latter, that’s a red flag that you’re not being treated respectfully.

If you're feeling a pit in your stomach or like you need some time apart, you might still be reeling from a previous conversation. "You know it's too much when you literally just can't take it anymore,” Dr. Brown says. “If you find yourself feeling chronically anxious, sad, worried about when you are going to be criticized again, losing sleep, and wondering if it is healthy for you to even be in this relationship, then chronic and excessive conflict may be a sign that it is time to either find better ways to communicate, or if that fails, to move on with your life.”

When your partner's words seem to constantly bring you down, it may be time to have a big talk. And, if you state your feelings and needs and don't see a change in their behavior, it's OK to think about taking a step back from your relationship.

Talk It Out With Your Partner
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Regardless of what was said, how it was said matters. If you hear your partner's jokes or tips as criticism, you may start to feel ganged up on, even when they aren't trying to hurt you. If a comment or remark stung, it's important to tell them that.

"It is critical that if a person feels like they are being criticized, they say something to their partner and that the couple first explore the reasons for the comments," Dr. Klapow says. "Was it really criticism? Did it feel like criticism but it wasn’t intended that way? The only way to get on the same page about communication is to express what you are feeling when you say or hear words. The key is that both partners must understand their intent, their partner’s experience, and how the words are either lining up or not."

Understanding your partner's intentions and past experiences is crucial to unpacking what they are saying. If they don't mean to hurt you, but nevertheless are hurting you, it's important for them to learn more productive ways to address conflict with you. If they do intend to hurt you, it's important that they find kinder ways to talk to you, because you (as all people) are amazing and deserve respect and appreciation.

"A partner who criticizes frequently is a partner who does not know how to communicate, may not care enough about your feelings, and may fail to consider that the relationship must work between the two of you," Dr. Klapow says. "Heavy criticism — if it is indeed criticism and it has been confirmed to be — is a red flag for breaking off a relationship."

Confirming criticism can help confirm where the relationship stands. If someone can only express themselves in tearing you down, they may not be the one for you. It might serve you to consider whether this relationship is healthy or veering on toxicity.

Know When To Walk Away

Maybe your boo has a dry wit that comes across as aloofness. Or maybe they intentionally send negativity your way, or they're not a very uplifting partner. Whatever the case, you don't need to put up with feeling put down on a daily basis.

"If you can't find ways to resolve the frequency and intensity of heavy criticism, you may very well need to consider how much you can tolerate this," Dr. Brown says. "Constant criticism can be a possible red flag that your relationship has become toxic."

If all your partner tells you is an endless cycle of “you're not good at this" or "you shouldn't have done that," maybe you've heard all there is to hear. You deserve to date someone who makes you feel strong and happy. Talking to your boo about reframing their words could be the solution you need, but it's also OK to say goodbye if they’re constantly bringing you down.

Warning signs of relationship abuse include extreme jealousy, an attempt to control your actions, or insulting or demeaning you alone or in front of others. Your partner may be masking their own insecurities by trying to bring you down. If you find yourself in this situation, there are resources available. The National Domestic Abuse Violence Hotline is a toll-free, 24/7 service that can link you up with counselors who can advocate for you. You can call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or use their live chat. It’s also important to create a safety plan, which includes telling trusted friends and family about your situation. Learn more about safety planning and preparing to leave an abusive relationship here.

Speak Up For What You Deserve
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Of course, a relationship where the individuals have different communication styles can exist, perhaps even thrive — as long as those communications styles are healthy, respectful, and well-intentioned. Maybe your partner isn't trying to hurt you and is willing to both listen and change their behavior in order to make you feel valued and cared for.

"We all criticize occasionally — it is human. However, there is no room in a healthy relationship for regular criticism," Dr. Klapow says. "Talk it out. It will be a difficult conversation but it is one that must happen for the relationship to survive."

Saying something like “That hurt my feelings” is not easy, but it's important in establishing boundaries and creating a healthy relationship. Speaking up can help your partner learn more about what comments are unacceptable to you so they can censor themselves moving forward and speak to you in the way you deserve — with love and respect.

If negging is somehow a playful and acknowledged part of the way you and your partner speak, then by all means, have at it. But, if the negativity seems more one-sided, it's OK to stand up for yourself and say that enough is enough. No matter your sense of humor or communication style, you are strong, smart, and powerful. You deserve to date someone who reminds you of this constantly. Be with the one who builds you up, not the one who tears you down.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org. You can also text "loveis" to 866-331-9474, or call LoveisRespect at 1-866-331-9474.

Experts:

Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show

Dr. Gary Brown, dating and relationship therapist