Nitpicking Your Spouse Can Damage Your Marriage

Why Continually Finding Fault May Lead to Divorce

Couple having a discussion in the kitchen
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Living with someone else can reveal little personality flaws or habits that can get under your skin and be annoying. It's something couples have to deal with when they enter a relationship or get married and it can lead to nitpicking.

Nitpicking is often defined as finding fault and ​criticizing your spouse over petty, inconsequential issues or tasks. These can tear away at the bond in your relationship if one person nitpicks the other too often or you're both continually pointing out each other's faults.

In order to have a healthy marriage, this is something you have to get over. But how do you do that? Whether you're the nitpicker or the spouse getting picked on, there are ways to resolve this common relationship issue. 

The Negative Effects

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 does nothing to help the foundation of your relationship and you cannot expect perfection from anyone.

When you point out what one another has or has not done or how your spouse said or did something wrong, you have decided to belittle, embarrass, and demean each other. You are 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 is not 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 will create a wall between the two of you.

Dr. John Gottman, founder of an organization that bases relationship advice on research, notes in his book, "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," that 69 percent of relationship problems are unresolvable issues. These include the things that you may nitpick about your spouse: socks on the floor, a toilet seat left up, the in-laws, etc.

All marriages have issues that involve personality traits or temperamental qualities that can cause perpetual conflict in any long-term relationship. These are things that you 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, 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 will both be happier in the long run if you learn to deal with each other's quirks without quarreling.

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. Many of us were taught as children, "Don't say something if it's not nice." This is a good rule of thumb for healthy relationships as well. A compliment can be far more helpful.

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 will always be disappointed. 

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 one will promise you that marriage is conflict-free. It is how you handle the conflicts—large and small—that makes the difference.

Before you decide to nitpick, focus on your internal feelings. What is it that you really need? be heard...seen...hugged? There's a good chance the nitpicking is just a poor attempt to get some other important need met. 

There are many little things you can do that can make a positive difference in your marriage. Do them—often. Dr. Gottman recommends a 5-to-1 rule: for every negative, create five positives.

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

If You Are Being Nitpicked

If your spouse nitpicks at you, puts you down, or demeans you, it is important that you talk about this issue. Yes, it will be a difficult discussion, but it is necessary.

Describe the hurt and pain you feel from this behavior. Let your spouse know that when you think you are being nit-picked you will not overreact but you will say "enough" and will 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 for the two of you.

When Nitpicking Crosses the Line

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

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

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Article Sources
  • Feuerman M. Managing vs. Resolving Conflict in Relationships: The Blueprints for Success." The Gottman Institute Blog. 2017.