10 Unexpected Ways You're Actually Belittling Your Partner

“Without permission, some of us unconsciously start trying to fix or change our partner.”

examples of belittling in a relationship
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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 that 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 can’t, 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 examples of belittling your partner, according to experts, and what you can do to change it.


Questioning Their Choices

While questions and communication are a part of a romantic relationship, the kinds of questions you ask your partner may be a way 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

Perhaps it irks you 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

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”

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

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

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, the 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.


Avoiding Compromising With Them

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.”


Comparing Them

Comparison is truly the thief of joy, and relationships are no exception. “Our minds work 24/7 at processing our lives, and this includes previous partners [and] comparisons with your current relationship, especially in newer relationships," Jorge Fernandez, LCSW, an individual and family psychotherapist, previously told Bustle. "This is absolutely normal and doesn't indicate any sort of dissatisfaction with your current partner."

Even though you might have good intentions in doing so, comparing your partner to other people or standards could really lower their self-esteem and make it seem as though they aren’t good enough for you as a partner.


Questioning Their Goals

Just like you, your partner is on their own personal journey when it comes to their vision for the future. Whether it be career goals or ones within your relationship, it’s important to show that you respect them and to tread lightly when you give feedback on the things they are hoping to achieve.

“There is nothing wrong with holding them accountable if they are receptive to your involvement, but overall, working towards one's goals is a personal and often vulnerable journey,” Dr. Racine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist, previously told Bustle. "You can be supportive while also respecting their individual process, even if it seems like they are doing things the hard way." Even if you think that your partner is having trouble getting started or finding a sense of ambition, creating emotional space for them and being gentle can prevent them from feeling belittled.


Talking Over Them

Do you let your partner speak freely, without interruption, or do you tend to get your own thoughts in before letting them finish? If you find yourself pushing your two cents into the conversation often, your partner may start to feel like you don’t care about or value what they have to say.

“[Interrupting] demonstrates an impatience and disinterest — and basically minimizes their partner's need to be heard,” Toni Coleman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach, previously told Bustle. “Over time, it’s a huge turn-off that couples often raise in counseling as an issue.”

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 with 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.

Additional reporting by Lexi Inks


Amie Leadingham, Amie the Dating Coach, Master Certified Relationship Coach

Antonia Hall, psychologist, relationship expert, and author of the Sexy Little Guide books

Stef Safran, matchmaking and dating expert

Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes

Thomas Edwards, the founder of The Professional Wingman

Jorge Fernandez, LCSW, an individual and family psychotherapist

Dr. Racine Henry, a licensed marriage and family therapist

Toni Coleman, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship coach

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