How Nitpicking Can Damage Your Relationship

Couple having a discussion in the kitchen

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Nitpicking involves pointing out minor faults and devoting too much attention to unimportant details.

When you live in the intimacy of marriage, personality flaws or bad habits of your spouse can get revealed—often much to your annoyance. It's something couples have to deal with when they enter a relationship or get married and it can lead to nitpicking.

This kind of fussy fault-finding usually involves petty, inconsequential issues or tasks. But if done on a regular basis, the ramifications to your union can be serious, ultimately tearing away at the bond in your relationship.

Signs of Nitpicking

Some signs of nitpicking in relationships include:

  • Constantly pointing out trivial annoyances
  • Expressing excessive irritation about irrelevant details
  • Fussing over minor, unimportant things
  • Accusing the other person of having flaws and faults
  • Having excessively high expectations
  • Being needlessly self-critical
  • Complaining excessively
  • Being overly sensitive
  • Bringing up past behaviors to shame the other person

Nitpicking in relationships is characterized by being excessively critical of the other person, often in a way that is overly fussy, pedantic, and perfectionistic.

One study found that people with social anxiety are more prone to nitpick their partners. Socially anxious people also tend to become more upset when criticized by their partners.

The Negative Effects of Nitpicking

A relationship like a marriage brings together two people who most likely have different habits and personalities. It can be easy to pick apart aspects of your partner that you dislike or don't agree with. However, this type of criticism does nothing to help the foundation of your relationship.

The negative effects of nitpicking can include:

  • Arguments and conflict
  • Decreased trust and intimacy
  • Feelings of resentment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reduced relationship satisfaction

Research has also shown that excessive criticism from romantic partners is associated with negative outcomes, including an increased risk for depression.

When you point out what your partner has or hasn't done or how they said or did something wrong, you may be belittling, embarrassing, and demeaning your partner. You're also saying that you want the other person to change and that they aren't good enough.

Essentially, nitpicking is a sign that you don't fully respect your mate. Even if this isn't your intention, it can be received this way.


Though it can start small, especially at first, it can be a red flag in your marriage. If you continue to nitpick at your spouse, a growing resentment can create a wall between you.

Learn to Live With the Small Stuff

John Gottman, PhD, founder of an organization that bases relationship advice on research, notes in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that 69% of relationship problems consists of unsolvable issues. These include the little things about your partner that rub you the wrong way and lead to nitpicking.

All long-term relationships have issues that involve personality traits or temperamental qualities and can cause perpetual conflict. These unsolvable problems are things you simply need to learn to live with.

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?

Being overly critical or laying blame on the small stuff can lead to bigger issues and even divorce.

Instead of Nitpicking

Rather than nitpick your spouse, there are a number of other things you can do. Many of these are seemingly small, but the impact on your relationship can be great. You'll both be happier in the long run if you learn to deal with each other's quirks without quarreling.

Be Kind

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.

Be Supportive

You can also do your best to be supportive of your spouse. Take the time to listen about your partner's day, feelings, hobby, or whatever they want to talk about. It's another way that you can continue to get to know one another better or try to see your spouse's perspective on the issue.

Ask yourself if you are expecting perfection. If so, no one will be able to meet your expectations and you'll always be disappointed.

Accept Your Partner

It's also important to accept that your spouse will have some habits that annoy you. Learn to pick your battles and save your arguments for the big issues (while fighting fair). No marriage is conflict-free. It's how you handle the conflicts—large and small—that makes the difference.

Understand What You're Feeling

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. Finally, if you can't stop nitpicking, acknowledge this as a problem and get help for it.


Instead of nitpicking your partner, focus on being kind and learning to accept their quirks and habits. Assessing your own needs and emotions can help you address your feelings without nitpicking.

If You're Being Nitpicked

If your spouse nitpicks at you, puts you down, or demeans you, it's important that you talk about this issue. It may be a difficult discussion, but it's necessary. Strategies that can help you deal with being nitpicked include:

  • Setting boundaries: Explain that such behaviors are not tolerable and that you will leave the situation or conversation if your partner does not respect these boundaries. Then follow through with the consequences if your boundaries are violated.
  • Using "I" statements: When you are having a conversation with your partner about nitpicking, focus on using "I" statements to describe how you feel. Such statements focus on communicating how you are feeling instead of the other person's behaviors. This can help reduce conflict and defensiveness.

Describe the hurt and pain you feel from this behavior. Let your spouse know that when you think you're being nitpicked, you won't overreact but you will say "enough" and leave the room.

Hopefully, after you've done this a few times, your spouse will start to notice their nitpicking behavior. If the nitpicking continues, marriage counseling may be the best option.

When Nitpicking Crosses the Line

In some marriages, the level of nitpicking may accelerate into blaming, severe criticism, and hurtful remarks. It's important that you realize when nitpicking crosses the line into abuse.

Nitpicking can be a problematic behavior in relationships, but there are times when it can become a form of emotional abuse. If nitpicking is used to degrade the other person and intentionally harm their self-worth, it is toxic and abusive.

If nitpicking has crossed a line from an annoying level of perfectionism to emotional abuse, it is important to seek help. 

Whether it's physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, abusive behavior is never acceptable. If you think you're being abused, please seek professional help immediately. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Campbell SB, Renshaw KD, Klein SR. Sex differences in associations of hostile and non-hostile criticism with relationship quality. J Psychol. 2017;151(4):416-430. doi:10.1080/00223980.2017.1305324

  3. Neoh MJ, Azhari A, Mulatti C, Bornstein MH, Esposito G. Disapproval from romantic partners, friends and parents: Source of criticism regulates prefrontal cortex activity. PLoS One. 2020;15(10):e0229316. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229316

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  5. Marjaree Mason Center. The cycle of violence.

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.