7 Signs You're Actually Belittling Your Partner, Even Though You Think You're Helping Them

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Sometimes, when you try to give your partner friendly advice or constructive criticism, it may come out differently than you intended. For instance, maybe the tone of your voice was a bit harsh or what started as one thought turned into a monologue of thoughts which are more judgmental and hurtful than loving and helpful. Soon, your good intentions turned into belittling your partner — even though you thought you were helping them.

“Without permission, some of us unconsciously start trying to fix or change our partner,” Amie Leadingham, Amie the Dating Coach, Master Certified Relationship Coach, tells Bustle. “By doing so, we think we are helping, but in reality, it shows that we don’t trust our partner to be capable of doing it themselves — which, in turn, tears at their confidence.”

Leadingham says the key is to trust your partner and see if they are capable or incapable of meeting your relationship requirements and needs. She says if they cannot, then it may be time to reevaluate your relationship. In that case, she points out it may be time to move on. “Find someone that will make you happy, but avoid getting your tool belt out, because it’s a partnership, not a car,” she says.

So what are the signs your criticism is going way too far? Here are some unexpected signs you’re belittling your partner, according to experts, and what you can do to change it.

Questioning Their Choices
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While questions and communication are a part of a romantic relationship, the kinds of questions you ask your partner may be a sign you’re belittling them, Antonia Hall, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of the Sexy Little Guide books, tells Bustle. “Whether it’s the clothes they’re wearing, foods they’re choosing to eat, or some other notation you’re making, by questioning your partner’s choices, you’re giving the impression that they’re not capable to make these choices for themselves,” she says. “Trusting your partner to adult themselves is well worth the peace it’ll bring to your relationship.”

Correcting Something They Say
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Perhaps it drives you crazy when people mispronounce something. Shouldn’t they know better? you think. But yes, by correcting their speech, you may be talking down to your significant other and not even realize it. “We’ve all heard when someone says something wrong, but constantly correcting your partner can become annoying and belittling,” Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert, tells Bustle.

Teasing Them
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Although it’s common to joke around and laugh with your partner, how you do it may morph into behavior that puts them down. “Be careful that your teasing isn’t getting to your partner and lowering their self-esteem,” Hall says. “While it may seem like it’s just in good fun, ask yourself how your comments would make you feel, and what your true intention is when you do it. Partnerships depend upon two people lifting each other up, not bringing each other down.”

Giving Them “Advice”
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At times, your partner may want your advice on something, but are you *always* giving them advice, whether they want it or not? Heidi McBain, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes, tells Bustle that this can be belittling behavior. “Sometimes people get really into giving advice and feel really attached to that advice they are passing on to their partner,” she says. “So, if they are throwing out ideas to be helpful and aren’t attached to the outcome their partner chooses, that’s very different than giving advice and getting upset if their partner does not take it and chooses to do something else.”

Correcting The Way They Do Things
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While everyone has their own way of doing things, if you have a “your way or no way” mentality, and make that apparent to your partner, you may be unexpectedly belittling them. Safran says this may reveal itself through cleaning the house, for instance. “You show them how to ‘properly’ clean, she says. “You may like the dishwasher loaded one way or to clean using a certain cleaning product. The reality is, while you may be ‘right,’ you may also be belittling your partner. Be sure to be flexible and understand that both ways can work.”

Safran says another example of this is trying to “correct” the way your partner dresses or looks.

Disregarding What They Say
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No one likes to be wrong, but are you often telling your partner they’re wrong based on how you speak to them? Thomas Edwards, founder of The Professional Wingman, tells Bustle that disregarding what your partner says is an unexpected indicator that you’re belittling them. “Oftentimes, the belittled partner will feel their opinion or ability to tackle their own problems gets disregarded or ignored,” he says.

Edwards adds that one sign of this is using words that sound like “no” in your sentences to your partner. For example, your partner will hear things like, “No, that’s not right,” or “No, you’re wrong, this is the right way.” Thomas says this usually happens right after your partner gives you their opinion on something you asked about. However, the more you use belittling language toward them, the less likely your partner will be to seek your advice in the future.

“After a while, your partner won’t want to volunteer their opinion or even offer help when you need it, because they won’t feel their opinion or value to the situation matters,” Edwards says.

You Avoid Compromising With Them
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Relationships are all about communication and compromise, and if those suffer, the whole relationship suffers. “If you’re uncompromising — if most of the decisions and plans come from you — you could be making your partner feel insignificant and less-than-capable.” Hall says. “Even if it’s smaller stuff, like choosing a restaurant, it’s important to have a balance of decision-making in your relationship.”

As you can see from the above, there are several unexpected ways you may be belittling your partner. You might not be aware you’re doing it, but you should figure out why you’re doing it. “Sometimes, we feel a need to be ‘in control,’ when, to others, it can come across that you are belittling their way of doing things,” Safran says. “Either way, you have to realize that your way is not the only way to do things, and it might be something to compromise on. Everyone has ‘quirks’ and annoying habits, but the difference is how you approach treating your partner: Is it like a child that misbehaves or like a partner?”

If these signs resonate, it's time to come up with an action plan to fix this destructive behavior. You both deserve respect and to feel good in your relationship — and when one partner belittles the other frequently that won't happen. First, it's time to figure out if the relationship is the right one for you. If you do feel it is, it's time to come up solutions. One way to stop talking down to your partner is to recognize that you do it and talk to them about it. In addition, seeing a therapist — either on your own or together — is also an invaluable way to learn how to build a healthier relationship.