How to Deal With a Condescending Partner

Young couple arguing while having problems in their relationship.

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Dealing with a romantic partner who is condescending can be difficult, and painful. When someone is condescending, they talk down to you and act in a way that implies that they are better than you. It inherently shows a lack of respect, since the person seeks to show you that you are inferior to them. Their tone, words, and mannerisms all focus on making you feel less than them.

This article will clarify what condescending behavior looks like in a relationship, how you can respond if your partner is condescending towards you, and resources for dealing with a condescending partner.

How Do I Know If My Partner Is Being Condescending Towards Me?

“Condescending behaviors may include insulting or belittling comments, failure to recognize strengths or accomplishments, a dismissive attitude, or a holier-than-thou demeanor,” explains Oona Metz, LICSW, a psychotherapist in Boston, Massachusetts. Name-calling, making a person feel like they can’t do anything right, and phrasing insults as jokes are also indicative of condescending behavior.

Gaslighting their partner and making them feel crazy, second-guessing their perspective and experiences, [or] refusing to compromise or even engage with their partner after a conflict,” are also examples of things a condescending partner will do, according to Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, the owner and founder of Take Root Therapy, and a Board-Certified Art Therapist.

Sarcasm, eye-rolling, and even “playful” behaviors taken too far and at someone else's expense are also condescending actions.

Examples of Condescending Behaviors

Here are some examples of condescending behaviors:

  • Gaslighting
  • Insulting/belittling comments
  • Talking down to you
  • Name-calling
  • Saying something hurtful but disguising it as a "joke"
  • Treating you as if you're unintelligent
  • Sarcastic comments
  • Interrupting you when you speak
  • Mansplaining (i.e., the act of a man explaining something to a woman in an overconfident and demeaning way that implies that she's not knowledgeable about the topic at hand)
  • Questioning your ability to do something

How Condescending Behaviors Impact Romantic Relationships

“Condescending behaviors in an intimate relationship can cause a pattern of abusive communication, [and] inflict emotional pain for the one who is being talked down to,” states Karina S. Hester, LMFT, a therapist at Grow Therapy.

A person who experiences this type of behavior from their romantic partner suffers mentally and emotionally.

“If you have a condescending partner, it is vital that you protect your mental health, as being the target of another person’s condescension can negatively impact your self-esteem and the quality of your relationship,” says Metz. “One of the dangers of being with a condescending partner is the propensity to shut down and communicate less in order to protect yourself from your partner’s dismissive comments.” 

Karina S. Hester, LMFT

Condescending behaviors in an intimate relationship can cause a pattern of abusive communication, [and] inflict emotional pain for the one who is being talked down to.

— Karina S. Hester, LMFT

Reasons Why People Are Condescending

Condescending behaviors often come from people who are insecure, controlling, and afraid to be vulnerable.

Research shows that people with narcissistic personality disorder are often condescending towards others.

A condescending person may not even realize that their behavior is problematic and hurtful. However, their actions and words speak very loudly.

How to Deal With a Condescending Partner

If you have been insulted, treated as an inferior, and made to feel as though your thoughts and feelings don’t matter, it can be unnerving to think about confronting the person responsible.

However, staying in an unhealthy relationship is damaging to your mental and emotional health. But, there are steps you can take so you can operate from a healthier place.

Confront Your Partner

“The best response to condescension is a direct, even-handed statement about how it makes you feel rather than engaging by being condescending back,” advises Metz.

Address the Issue ASAP

Metz gives practical examples of how to handle belittling statements.

“If a partner talks or behaves in a condescending manner, it is best to address this issue early on and in a direct manner. Use simple statements like, ‘When you say my job isn’t as important as yours, it makes me feel disrespected. I love my job, and though I may not earn as much as you do, it is still important to me. I would appreciate it if you would stop commenting on it.’

Ask Your Partner Why They Are Being Condescending

Acting in a condescending way may be natural to some people. Helping them to think about what they are doing and why can be the first step toward changing your relationship dynamic.

“When people act condescendingly towards others, they expect others not to challenge their behavior. By asking someone genuinely why they would make a condescending remark or want to be unkind and hurtful, they may be caught off guard and think about a pattern of behavior that could have become second nature to them," says Lurie.

Lurie notes that having this conversation could be healthy for the relationship and lead to much-needed boundaries.

Find a Relationship Therapist

A neutral third party who is professionally trained can help you both get to the root of the condescending behavior. If a partner is condescending because they feel threatened, insecure, or have unprocessed trauma, a therapist can help deal with those issues.

A relationship therapist can also provide each person with tools to improve the way you and your partner interact with each other so that you can work towards a healthier bond.

If both parties are willing to listen, work, and learn, attending sessions with a therapist can be a valuable growth experience.

Protect Your Own Mental Health

Although you and your partner may be dealing with their condescending behavior, you still have to take care of yourself. That includes building yourself up and countering the negative impact of harmful words and actions by your partner.

Lean On Your Support System

“Spending more time with those who build you up and offer you support is also essential to protecting your mental health while dealing with a condescending partner,” Lurie notes.

Leave If You Feel Unsafe

If your partner makes you feel threatened in any way, or there is any risk of physical violence, you need to get help.

No matter what course of action you decide to take, your health should be the top priority.

Other resources include safe shelter organizations, local safe haven programs, and support groups. Individual therapy can also help you process and leave an abusive situation.

No matter what course of action you decide to take, your health should be the top priority.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are condescending and patronizing behaviors the same thing?

    While similar in that condescending and patronizing behavior make the person on the receiving end feel inferior, condescending behavior is meant to show someone's superiority over another person. But, the term patronizing implies an air of infantilization in how someone treats you (i.e., someone sort of makes you feel like a child).

  • Does condescending mean disrespectful?

    Yes, condescension is a form of disrespect as it is used to belittle another person.

4 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. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Mansplain.

  3. Schalkwijk F, Luyten P, Ingenhoven T, Dekker J. Narcissistic personality disorder: are psychodynamic theories and the alternative dsm-5 model for personality disorders finally going to meet? Front Psychol. 2021;12:676733.

  4. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Patronize.