Dealing with nitpicking in a relationship
If you are a nitpicker and constant criticism damaging your emotional connection with your partner, then here are a few things you can do to save your relationship:
1. Let go of the little things
John Gottman, Ph.D., one of the most influential therapists and authors, believes that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. Steven Stosny, Ph.D. adds “Criticism is the first of John Gottman’s famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which predict divorce with more than 90% accuracy.” However, criticism can be seriously damaging even for “nonmarried couples” as well, according to Dr. Gottman. When nitpicking becomes a habit, it can eat away the foundation of your relationship. And it is always the little things which lead to criticism and friction between you and your partner.
When you enter a long term, committed relationship, you need to learn to live with certain temperamental qualities and personality traits that you may dislike. When you are unable to accept these issues, it can lead to perpetual conflict. As you begin to accept and live with certain unsolvable problems in a relationship, you begin to realize that just because you love someone, it’s not necessary to like everything about them. You can dislike certain aspects about your partner and still love them. That is the very essence of unconditional love.
“Sure, people can make changes and marriage is about adapting to a life together; that’s a natural part of it. However, if the little things cause conflict, how can the two of you handle real conflict or the serious issues that will arise?” writes marriage consultant Sheri Stritof.
2. Choose to be nice instead
If you often criticize your partner, then there are certain things you can do to save your relationship or marriage. Although some of these things may seem insignificant, they can have a strong positive impact. Sheri explains “First and foremost, the most important thing you can do is be nice. When you feel like picking out a flaw, turn your own thinking around to simply be kind and show respect. A compliment can be far more helpful.”
When it comes to building happy, lasting relationships, being nice to your spouse and making small loving gestures often can make a huge difference. Susan Boon, PhD, social psychologist at the University of Calgary, says “The little things matter. What a happy marriage is based on is deep friendship, knowing each other well, having mutual respect, knowing when it makes sense to try to work out an issue, when it is not solvable. Many kinds of issues simply aren’t solvable.”
The secret to happiness is to identify the relationship problems that can be productively solved and letting go of the unsolvable problems. “Learn to live with the rest. Just put up with it. Work around them. Commit to staying together, even though this is something you don’t like,” adds Boon.
3. Be supportive
Supporting your partner through their mistakes and faults is another way to overcome nitpicking in a relationship. Make some effort to know, understand and listen to your partner. When you and your partner share each other’s feelings in a nonjudgmental way, you can know them even better. Susan Boon says “Make sure to balance the negatives with positives. Your marriage has to be heavily in favor of the positives.”
Although being nice and supportive in a relationship may seem like common sense, adapting to positive behavior when you are inclined to criticism can be a greater challenge than you imagine. The key is to be loving and supportive consistently. Boon adds “You have to do nice things often. But it’s harder to be nice when the heat is on, when you’re really angry, or when something has happened for the 15th time. Nevertheless, the balance must be heavily, heavily stacked in the positive,” in order to build a happy relationship.
4. Show respect
When you begin to respect your partner, you will become more accepting of their quirks and criticize them less. When you use positive emotions in your communication and interactions, you will be able to counter the damaging effects of nitpicking and experience a satisfying, happy relationship.
Shae Graham Kosch, PhD, director of the behavioral medicine program in community health and family at the University of Florida, explains “Most marital conflicts don’t ever get resolved.” But the problems are irrelevant and solving them is unimportant when you have deep mutual respect. When you focus on the positive, you learn to live happily with your individual differences and opinions. You realize it is important to accept your partner’s perspective and focus more on discussion than criticism. Kosch adds “Couples that have good marriages retain their mutual respect and understanding of each other – even during discussions of their differences – will stay together much longer.“
5. Understand your needs
Oftentimes what we criticize in others is exactly what we dislike in ourselves. When we don’t have the strength to acknowledge our own faults or the will for self development, we choose to criticize our partners instead. As we lack control in our own lives, we falsely point out the lack of control in their lives. Why? Because it’s easier to ask someone else to change than to change ourselves. It is only by understanding our own psychological and emotional needs from ourselves and our partners can we fruitfully stop nitpicking.
Sheri Stritof writes “Before you decide to nitpick, focus on your internal feelings. What is it that you really need? Attention? To be heard, seen, or hugged? There’s a good chance the nitpicking is just a poor attempt to get some other important need met.”
“The best way to get what you need is to become what you need. Nagging your partner into perfection will only get you so far – you are the only one who can ultimately make yourself happy. Happiness is a daily choice and a mindset,” explains Vancouver-based sex therapist Dr. Teesha Morgan.