How To Know If You Are Too Critical In Relationship & Why

By Posted in - Blog & Conflict & Criticism in a Relationship & Relationships August 25th, 2015 20 Comments constant criticism relationship

Being Too Critical In A Relationship

Criticism is a behavior that can be toxic to a relationship. It erodes away positive feelings over time and leads to other problematic behaviors that can destroy a relationship.

constant criticism relationshipWhile constant criticism in relationship can easily occur, it also is a major predictor of divorce according to John Gottman, a major couples researcher. It is very tough to be around someone who is constantly remarking about your flaws and blaming you for your shortcomings. Over time, being too critical will whittle away at the health and enjoyful parts of a relationship.

Criticism occurs when we focus on our partner’s flaws and pass judgment. It is expressed through disapproving, critiquing, correcting, blaming, nitpicking, or fixing.

Constant criticism is not constructive, encouraging, or inspiring. The act of being critical focuses on the negative aspects and does not offer useful information for solutions and improvement. Criticism attacks someone’s character rather than addresses specific behaviors (i.e. “You are selfish. Rather than, “I would love your help with planning our upcoming trip”).

A critical attack focuses only on one aspect of the person or situation. It is natural to want to point out all the areas that do not fit into the critical statement. It is normal to feel defensive, and want to defend against the critical attack. Most people don’t know how to take criticism in a relationship because it is draining, adversarial, and depleting.

10 Signs That You Might Be Too Critical In A Relationship

Most people who are being too critical in a relationship are not even aware of it. Here are some indicators to help alert you to the fact that you may be more critical than you think:

being too critical in a relationship

© Stuart Richards | Flickr

1. You are very critical of yourself when you make a mistake (i.e. what do you automatically tell yourself when you make a mistake?). If you are highly critical with yourself, then you are probably highly critical of others.

2. Your parents were highly critical and/or had high expectations.

3. You tend to be a perfectionist.

4. You tend to offer editorial commentary on others appearance, home, and choices.

5. Your loved ones tell you that you are critical.

6. You are easily offended and insulted.

7. It is easier to find fault than praise. You will find the flaw rather than the positive.

8. Even if your partner does 90% of a task, you focus on the 10% that is incomplete. You get preoccupied with how your partner didn’t complete the task to your liking, and you forget to focus on the value of your partner’s effort and help.

being too critical in a relationship

© Gareth Williams | Flickr

9. You micromanage. You have a hard time letting go. If your partner didn’t complete a task in your preferred way, you will go afterward and fix it to your liking.

10. You tend to view others mannerisms and behavior as negative. As Steven Stosny jokes in his article about criticism, people will say  “I give feedback; you’re critical. I’m firm; you’re stubborn. I’m flexible; you’re wishy-washy. I’m in touch with my feelings; you’re hysterical!”

Only when we feel comfortable with our own choices — and embrace our own imperfections — We will stop feeling the driving need to criticize others. ~ Brene Brown

16 Reasons Why You Might Be Too Critical In A Relationship

1. You have to be in control.

2. Things need to be your way. You are used to getting what you want. You are attached to your preferences and things being a certain way.

3. You think your way is the right or correct way. Being critical of others validates your thinking, position, and perspective.

4. You think if you can manage the world around you, anxiety and vulnerability will go away. It is hard to look inward at your own internal discomfort (i.e. feeling anxious or not good enough).

how to take criticism in a relationship5. Being critical of others helps you feel in power and dominant by focusing on others weaknesses or shortcomings.

6. You grew up in a critical environment and you learned that this is how things are supposed to be.

7. Criticizing has become a bad habit. You don’t know how to relate and get attention any other way. It is the way you have connected with others…talking about others, comparing, complaining, criticizing.

8. You doubt your value and worth. It is easier to try to defend against the vulnerable feelings by criticizing others rather than dealing with your own feelings of inadequacy and self-esteem. You criticize others before they have a chance to criticize you.

9. Your criticism of others is a reflection of what you do to yourself. Your internal voice and dialogue is highly critical.

10. Being critical of others keeps people from getting too close. You feel more protected and less vulnerable.

11. Criticism distracts you and helps you avoid how you really feel. If you are scared or stressed about something, it can be easier to criticize others rather than look at your own feelings, imperfections, and shortcomings.

12. You want to feel better about areas in your life where you don’t feel good enough so you compare yourself to others so you can be seen as more favorable.

13. You worry about what people will think of you and you try to protect your self-image. You think your external surroundings reflect on your identity and how others will view you.

being too critical in a relationship14. You feel overly responsible for others. You think you are trying to help and you think your feedback is necessary to help guide or facilitate their growth.

15. You feel strongly about an issue, but you do not know how to communicate directly to someone. It is difficult to speak up and advocate for your preferences. Instead, the issue keeps bothering and festering you. You seem to get more annoyed and critical as the issue festers.

16. You are harboring hurt feelings and resentment about something. You do not feel confident in resolving an issue with your partner. You feel irritated and critical with your partner because you cannot clear the hurt.

Stay tuned for the next article which is 17 Ways To Shift Criticism To Maintain A Healthy Relationship, which discusses how to deal with being critical in a more positive and constructive way. 

Are you interested in getting support for being too critical in a relationship? If so, contact me here. Let’s have a conversation to see how I might be able to help. No obligations. The consultation is free of charge.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the signs of being too critical in a relationship. Please leave me a comment below.

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If you are interested in developing new skills to meet relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or getting some relationship coaching.

(20) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Ken Tye - Reply

    August 25, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Very informative article. Thanks for sharing…..I think much of the criticism that flows between spouses is just a carry over from the way we interact with our children. We get so use to barking out orders (shut the door, go to bed, comb you hair, brush your teeth, etc.) that it naturally or habitually continues with our partners. And when we bark out the commands it is often in an angry or impatient voice. Unfortunately the more this happens the more we tend to avoid our spouses in order to minimize the conflict….or when our boiling point is reached, we say and do things that are not in the best interest of the relationship. I know…been there, done that.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      August 28, 2015 at 10:48 am

      Thank you for your comment, Ken. I agree. It can be stressful and challenging to deal all the tasks and responsibilities of parenting and running a household, not to mention all the other duties that go along with having a life and career. You describe the snowball effect well. I am such a fan of taking moments to decompress, regroup, and refuel. When I do this, I am so much more able to approach situations in the way that I intend. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and openness to share. Thank you!!

  • Ryan - Reply

    January 13, 2016 at 11:16 am

    If I see that every morning when I work from home my partner is rushing to get the kids out the door to day care and is 5 or so minutes late, everytime. She is able to stay in the home. I pay all the bills. I also know that this is happening on days when I am not there. It is very hard to rush 3-5 Yo’s, things just take time. I think she needs to get out of bed at 7:30 instead of 8 to give her self (and the kids) more time so she can start some of the process’s earlier. Usually I am gone to work as I leave the house at 6:30. I think this would alleviate the stress or being late every day. I’m worried that suggesting such a thing would cause a “conflict” where she would be mad at me. So therefore I won’t say anything. I guess I just don’t know how to be. I really like/want to talk discuss everything and she doesn’t. I realized that her and I have different definitions of peace. She feels peaceful when there is no “confrontation” even if that means we don’t talk. I want to talk about everything. I want to work through everything and have all our feelings out on the table. I’m very much and extrovert and she is an introvert, in terms of wanting to interact physically or emotionally. I feel like we are so different. Our conversations allways go so poorly, I end up feeling like I’m so wrong and in order to have the closeness that I crave I just “can’t say anything”. I’m not even clear on what is reasonable or ok to say/suggest.

    We have been living together for a year. She has the kids from a previous relationship.

    35yo Male

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      February 1, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Ryan,

      Thank you so much for posting a comment. I responded to this comment a couple of weeks ago. However, I was out-of-town in another country. It looks like it did not go through. I would love to speak to your question. Do you listen to my podcast? If so, may I answer your question using your name? Thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciate your desire and effort to improve your relationship!

  • ST - Reply

    February 13, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you for your personal view on being overly critical. Your article is overly critical of critical people. Start with yourself before judging others.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      February 14, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      Hi ST,

      Thank you for commenting. Would you be willing to share more about how you feel this article is being overly critical of critical people? I think “being critical” is more of a behavior that people participate in. I tend to not see people as “critical people.” Also, I personally strive to practice everything I teach, and I know I can definitely be critical at times. I do my best to work with these practices. I realize how challenging relationship dynamics can be. I am sensitive to how painful they can be. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you. Jessica

  • Andrew - Reply

    March 7, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Love the article. Would be interested in hearing comment about constructive criticism and the difficulty of using it in a constructive rather than destructive manner.

  • Marie - Reply

    May 4, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    I am sad to say I identified with almost every behavior in this article. I know I am overly critical. I just don’t know how to stop it. I also know it is a protective mechanism. It pushes people away so I don’t get too close and risk rejection. It is a very sad and lonely existence, even if you have a partner. Nothing is ever good enough. Trying to learn that not everything has to be perfect is an ongoing battle. I wonder what your thoughts are on the connection between being overly critical and depression & anxiety. I live with both and some days it is a battle just to get out of bed and be somewhat productive.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      May 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm

      Hi Marie,

      Thank you for commenting and sharing. I hear your concern, and I can empathize with how painful this can feel at times. I do have thoughts regarding your question. However, I am not sure I can do it justice here in a comment. Would you be open to me creating a podcast episode on this topic? I think many other people would benefit from this topic.

      • Louise - Reply

        December 5, 2016 at 9:11 pm

        I am having a similar experience to Marie. Is there a podcast on this subject I can listen to?

        • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

          January 4, 2017 at 9:56 am

          Hi Louise, thank you for sharing. Yes, I did a three part series on criticism, complaints, and blame. Please check out episode 65, 66, 67. Also, I am thinking you may also get value out of episode 52 about understanding attachment needs. Please let me know if I can be of any support to you. Or if you have an additional question. Thank you.

  • Dianna - Reply

    September 29, 2016 at 9:24 am

    So interesting! I’m in a relationship with someone that is frequently critical and disapproving of things I do/don’t do.
    I believe it’s mental/verbal abuse.
    Any info from a receiver of criticism, perspective?

  • Anonymous - Reply

    December 27, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Your article did nothing but make me mad. I felt like you were criticizing me personally. One blow after another after another. Followed by one life example after another. I saw flashes of people being mad at me. All of them ganging up on me in little boxes all over my mind all talking at the same time. Followed by slamming of doors. Alone as I sit here after a blow up with the only sibling I have on Christmas day because I was “too critical” I hate it! I hate being so abnormal. So different. I hate how people all laugh and can be in a room and get a long and my opening my mouth only brings out strange looks and dislike. Sometimes I hate myself for not being able to be just like everyone else and pass for normal and I hate how many times I say the word hate as much as I hate I am too poor to afford any type of counseling. I guess that’s why I stay home. I want to be normal. I want to be accepted. I want people to say nice things about me. I don’t want to hurt anyone. I just wish people would like me. Just how some people get along with everyone and seem like they are really enjoying it. It is so easy for them and for me it is not. I disagree so much with peoples choices, decisions, the way they do things.

    There are so many things that cause me great angst. Like a boyfriend who rushes through assembling furniture and has pieces left over! I never have left over pieces. I always assemble things perfectly. Why can’t people do the same? Why do they refuse to do things how I do them when it is obviously a better way or even a superior way of doing it? I show them because I want to save them time, pain, or a bad time. I don’t do it because I want to be better, put them down, bring them down, or be superior. Why do they get mad when my way is the best way in certain situations?

    Or my mother who got mad because I wanted to show her how to properly cut a bell pepper because she was hacking it to pieces? Why do people cut vegetables all kinds of different sizes don’t they know that they won’t all taste the same when you cook them? Think of heat dispersement, thickness etc… Like someone who makes a steak skinny on one side and fat on the other. HELLOOOOO I know they aren’t dumb but why not just do it right? What’s the problem and why get mad when I point it out?

    Or my sister who didn’t know how to load a dishwasher properly and was going to do two loads. So I said that’s not how you load a dishwasher. I took everything out and managed to fit two loads in 1 perfectly with even some space left over. Why can’t that be appreciated? Why is it seen as a personal attack. It makes me so mad. I feel so unappreciated. They should all be grateful.

    Or the cute guy who asked me to help him with his nutrition. So I told him to just take pictures of whatever he ate throughout the day. Every picture I commented as he said “too harsh and too rough and nothing he was doing was right” well if someone wants to have a six pack everything he was doing was absolutely wrong. I was doing nothing but giving him exactly what he wanted. I deliver. I’m loyal. I’m faithful. I won’t fail you or anyone I love. Yet it seems that is all I do. Fail at making people love and stay in love with me.

    People ask me for advice and when I give it to them they can’t take it. They get mad or offended. I don’t like the effort it takes to manipulate words around to keep people around. However, I hate being alone even more.

    Being excluded is a feeling I am all too familiar with. Seeing on Facebook people go behind my back and have a girls day etc.. I no longer have any social media because I can’t take seeing those I know do things without me or not inviting me.

    This article did nothing but bringing out pain. I endured it till the end to see if you offered a solution then when you didn’t I was mad. As if I had been punched in the face and I didn’t even get to criticize your response / solution to the problem.

    P.S. I did try therapy once with a licensed family therapist. After I poured my heart out the therapist said. “It is really hard to be your friend. It’s like walking on eggshells” That pissed me off because it didn’t really offer a solution.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      January 4, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Thank you so much for sharing. I am so sorry you are hurting! I didn’t see this post until just now. I need to find out how to get emailed when someone posts a comment. I appreciate your patience in my reply.

      I hear you. It is extremely painful to feel so misunderstood and disconnected! It sounds like you have the best intentions to be honest, helpful, and authentic. You are right…many people have difficulty hearing feedback or corrective comments. This is especially true when the connection within the relationship feels already tense or strained. People have the tendency to project and interpret based on their fears and insecurities, which makes interacting extremely complicated and difficult.

      I KNOW you are truly worthy!!! Nothing is innately wrong with you!! My intention for writing this article was to address what is often going on for people that find themselves criticizing others. Most often people criticize other’s because they have some pain or unmet need. I wanted to offer some insight into people’s experiences, so that people could reflect on their own process. Gaining awareness is helpful into taking steps towards relating differently. My next article I offered 17 ways to shift criticism I also created a relationship guide for how to turn criticism into powerful communication.

      However, I don’t know if you identify as being highly critical. It seems like other people are accusing you of being critical. If this article does not resonate with you, then I would look into other resources. It sounds like something is happening within your interactions with others. If you are getting a consistent message from others across the board (people other than your family), then it might be worth asking yourself “what I am doing that is conveying criticism, when my intention is to help?” Again, I don’t think you are doing anything wrong. This question will work best when it comes from wonder and curiosity. “How is it that the message I am sending is not being received?” “what is getting mixed up within my communication with others?”

      I believe in you.

  • Cathie - Reply

    December 30, 2016 at 5:03 am

    I am paid to be critical and I’m really good at it! As a small business consultant I have indulged my worst flaw. Thank you for this post. I have eroded the closeness in my marriage because I was unconsciously ultra critical. I am very aware of it now, not just reading your post but through thoughtful self examination and in my perfectionist way (LOL) will strive to do better. When I am kind to myself, I am automatically kind to others.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      January 4, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Hi Cathie,

      Thank you for taking the time to post. You are so right. A critical mind is a huge asset and resource in many aspects of life. When it comes to relationship, it is helpful to add some transparency, vulnerability, and warmth to the mix. Easier said than done, when emotions are high.

      I love your thoughtfulness and intention to be more conscious. It is a process for sure. I believe it is well worth the investment though. Did you check out my 17 ways to shift criticism and the free guide too?

      Keep up the wonderful work!!!!

  • Matt - Reply

    October 23, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Pretty much every comment resonates with how I act, & how I feel! I’m a self confessed perfectionist, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing, but the over critical aspect of that , has become a major problem to my family,friends, workmates & myself. Thankfully I now recognise this major flaw in my character & will strive to take your advice about being more positive & praising rather than negative & critical to people. Thanks to the other people’s comments, & your advice, I feel quite liberated now I’ve recognised & admitted to myself that I have this problem.

    • Dr. Jessica Higgins - Reply

      October 27, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Hi Matt, Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I love that you recognize your positive intentions and realize that your high aspirations are a good thing. Learning to incorporate some positivity in your approach will definitely support you and your relationships. As with most things, the practice becomes easier with time and repetition. Wishing you all the best! Jessica

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