6 Ways Your Partner Might Be Patronizing You

Man covering his face with hands with a gesture of despair in a couple's therapy with a psychologist

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Patronizing behavior is any form of talking down to someone from the position of projected authority. You’ve likely heard the term mansplaining—in which a man explains something to a person of another gender that’s obvious or that they already know and might even have expertise in. This mainstream term (and, unfortunately, behavior) is a form of patronizing someone.

“It can also mean to treat someone as if they are inferior, not capable of making their own decisions, or not worthy of respect,” says Kalley Hartman, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the clinical director at Ocean Recovery. “[It] implies that the person being spoken to is in some way less knowledgeable, competent, or capable than the speaker.” 

Does Patronizing Mean Condescending?

Being patronizing differs slightly from condescending in that it’s presented with a false front of kindness. Condescending behavior is a somewhat more outright air of superiority. 

A clear example of this: A woman working in software development is told by her boyfriend, who doesn’t work or dabble in tech, about which coding languages are the “best” to help her with her job. Patronizing behavior can cause a relationship to be unhealthy or even cause it to end. It can happen from any gender toward any gender and include things such as dismissing a partner’s work as “very important for some people,” undervaluing their opinions about specific items, and interrupting their points to make a “better” one.  

Kalley Hartman, a licensed marriage & family therapist

It can also mean to treat someone as if they are inferior, not capable of making their own decisions, or not worthy of respect.

— Kalley Hartman, a licensed marriage & family therapist

Signs You’re Dealing With a Patronizing Partner 

Patronizing behavior can range from subtle to in your face. It can also be hard to determine from inside a relationship. To give you a better idea of what to look for, here are different ways your partner may patronize you. 

They Interrupt You

Everyone is guilty of interrupting their partner occasionally with an eager thought or story. But, a patronizing person will make this into a habit, often interjecting with their opinion on the topic you’re discussing, says Nirmala Bijraj, LMHC, NCC, a relationship and communication therapist.

Think about it: When was the last time you could tell a complete story or express a thought, and it was acknowledged instead of steamrolled with your partner’s point of view? If a recent time doesn’t come to mind, they’re likely patronizing. 

They Undervalue You

A clear sign of a patronizing partner is when they ignore your opinions or experience and assume they couldn’t add anything to a discussion or decision, says Bijraj.

Maybe you’re planning a trip to a city you used to live in. You try to explain things about the culture or even get around the place, but your partner keeps telling you how so and so said their cousin who went a decade ago for a weekend said this, so you should follow that. This an extreme example, but one that shows the core of many issues on a larger scale. 

They Assume There’s a Lot You Don’t Know

Your partner doesn’t know everything about you. No one knows everything, but they shouldn’t assume you know nothing. “It can be patronizing if they automatically assume you don’t know about something and start to speak to you as if you were a child without checking in with your base knowledge first,” says Lauren Consul, JD, a licensed marriage & family therapist.

“You’re partners, and you want to speak to each other as if you were equals exploring an idea together.” It’s not hard to kindly ask, “Do you know about X?” or trust you’ll speak up if you’re unsure about something. 

You’re partners, and you want to speak to each other as if you were equals exploring an idea together.


They Always “Know Best” 

Sure, there are some things your partner is likely to know better than you, and vice versa. There are also lots of things you can figure out or come to a conclusion on without being told you’re wrong. “If they’re always telling you ways you can ‘do things better,’ whether it’s a household thing, a work assignment, or how to communicate to a coworker or family member, they believe their way is the best,” says Bijraj. 

They Belittle You While Explaining Things

It’s great when your partner can show you something new that you want to learn more about. It’s not great when they act like you’re stupid for not knowing it in the first place. “It can cross into patronizing if they belittle or demean you for not knowing as much or if they speak in a condescending manner while talking to you,” says Consul. They aren’t better than you because they know how to clean the oven. 

They Try To Control Everything

You are a fully capable human, and if you need help with something, you can ask. While it’s nice for your partner to assist you with different things, context is very important. “It’s the intent that matters,” says Consul. “If they are stepping in because they assume you can’t do it or can’t do it ‘right.’ Or if they make comments about you being incapable or dumb, then that’s stepping into patronizing territory.”

If you or a loved one are a victim of physical or emotional abuse, 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.

How to Deal With Patronizing Behavior 

The first step to take is to discuss this with your partner. “If you are on the receiving end of patronizing behavior, it’s important to communicate your feelings in a respectful and assertive way,” says Hartman. “Make sure to explain why the behavior is unwelcome so that your partner can better understand how their actions affect you.”

Consul recommends using “I” statements to emphasize how their actions and words make you feel and that you want to feel like you’re teammates. This places the shift on you getting what you need versus them changing something they’ve done wrong. 

It’s essential to not only end these interactions but to understand what’s fueling them. Consul recommends asking, “Is there some unresolved stuff your partner needs to address from their past? Is your partner having feelings about something but hasn’t been able to communicate them?” A couples therapist or individual therapist can help determine this and ensure everyone feels validated and respected in the relationship. 

Bijraj stresses that these behaviors have likely existed for some time and aren’t likely to disappear completely overnight—no matter how committed your partner is to changing them. 

In some cases, a person won’t want to change and “may think your feelings are not valid and even try to gaslight you,” says Bijraj. These instances are when it’s critical to keep your feelings and frustrations at the front of your mind, not to let them ignore your boundaries. 

You can discuss healthy relationships and dating abuse further by contacting Love Is Respect at any time or day. Reach them by phone at (866) 331-9474 or by text at 22522.