How 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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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.

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

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.

When you point out what one another has or hasn't done or how your spouse said or did something wrong, you are 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 the two of you.

Learn to Live With It

John Gottman, Ph.D., 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 consists of unresolvable 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 that 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.

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.

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.

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's 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? 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.

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.

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.

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).

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Article Sources

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