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4 signs you're being overly critical in your relationship — and 4 things you can do about it

4 signs you're being overly critical in your relationship — and 4 things you can do about it
  • Being overly controlling in a relationship can be a quick way to deteriorate a couple and your health.
  • Insider spoke to Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown and Dr. Nanika Coor about how to spot if you're being overly critical and how to address it in your relationship.
  • Major signs that you might be too controlling of your partner include always criticizing them, never complimenting them, constant conflict, having difficulty trusting people, and getting worried whenever they don't do exactly what you want.
  • Taking accountability for the hurt you might have caused, trying to be more flexible with your partner, and finding the positives in yourself and in your partner can be great steps to healing.

Being in an overly controlling relationship can be bad for you and your partner, not just in how you feel but in your physical health, according to a recent study.

Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell if you're being too critical of your partner, whether you mean to be or not.

According to Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown, a New York City-based clinical psychologist for Renewed Focus Psychology Services, sometimes the need to control a relationship comes from a lack of control in other areas of a person's life.

"When individuals feel a lack of control in other areas of life such as a job with a critical boss, struggles with eating and weight loss, or poor relationships with family, they may feel more convicted in their need to control things in their relationship," Robinson-Brown said.

Insider spoke to Robinson-Brown and Dr. Nanika Coor, a clinical psychologist and parent therapist for Brooklyn Parent Therapy, about four signs that you're being overly critical of your partner and four ways to address it in your relationship.

Your relationship involves a lot of conflict.

Your relationship involves a lot of conflict.
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The first sign that you might be too controlling over your relationship is the amount of conflict you and your partner have.

Constant fighting about what they did wrong, how they did it wrong, and your overall qualms with how they act could signify a deeper anxiety about needing to have control.

While the criticism can sometimes be warranted, other times, it acts as a defense mechanism for something deeper.

"Being critical or controlling may keep others at a certain distance, thus you can protect yourself and your feelings," Robinson-Brown told Insider.

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The feedback you give your partner is always negative and giving compliments feels difficult.

The feedback you give your partner is always negative and giving compliments feels difficult.
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If you don't naturally compliment your partner or remark on the good aspects of anything they do, chances are you are being too critical.

"If your partner accomplishes something at work, or if they get a promotion, win a contest, share a personal victory with you, you struggle to provide praise," Robinson-Brown said. "There is usually a focus on your partner's flaws."

Not only can this be hurtful for your partner and their health, but this can also stop you from processing past trauma and negative self-talk.

"If you've always been criticized as a child, it's likely that you've learned a way of relating to others that means focusing on flaws as opposed to positive characteristics or strengths," Robinson-Brown told Insider. "You're very critical of yourself, which often translates to how you interact with others."

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You get worried or offended when your partner doesn't do what you want them to do.

You get worried or offended when your partner doesn't do what you want them to do.
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Another sign that you're being too controlling over your partner is being hyper-aware and hyper-critical of how they follow your instructions.

"[A sign that you might be overly controlling is] you tend to micromanage projects or tasks, often struggling to feel satisfied with how something has been done," Robinson-Brown said.

If your partner decides they want to do something else entirely, you might take it as a full rejection.

"You might feel offended or worried when others don't do what you want them to do the way you want them to do it," Coor told Insider.

Whether it's how they fold laundry or wanting to get sushi instead of Thai food, if you're reading your partner's preference to do something else as a rejection of you, it could be a sign you have deeper worries in regards to control.

"Lacking experience with successfully relying on and trusting others makes it difficult to respectfully ask for what they need, so instead they make overt or passive-aggressive and indirect demands of other people who then react with resistance or resentment," Coor said.

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You find it hard to trust people.

You find it hard to trust people.
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According to Coor and Robinson-Brown, much of the need to control everything in their relationship that some people feel stems from their own past and trauma.

"Controlling people may have had early childhood experiences where the emotional availability of adult caregivers was unavailable or inconsistent," Coor said. "A child whose emotions were not attuned to enough while growing up often develops into an adult who has difficulty understanding their own feelings or the motivations of others."

If you find it hard to trust your partner — or people in general — it's important to think about why you might be. having trouble relinquishing control in certain situations.

"Controlling behavior is usually an unconscious way of managing or coping with anxiety," Coor said.

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First, apologize and take responsibility for the hurt your controlling tendencies may have caused over time.

First, apologize and take responsibility for the hurt your controlling tendencies may have caused over time.
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If you want to be less controlling in your relationship and heal things with your partner, the first thing you need to do is take accountability for your actions.

"If your relationship with your partner is important to you, apologize and take responsibility for the hurt and relational disconnection your controlling tendencies have caused," Coor told Insider.

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Ask your partner if they can give you gentle reminders when it might be happening.

Ask your partner if they can give you gentle reminders when it might be happening.
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Listening to your partner is key. Ask them when they feel the most controlled and what you can do to make them feel better in the relationship.

"It's important to listen to any feedback from your partner that you might be overly critical or controlling," Robinson-Brown said. "Start to notice and name where you might be more controlling in the relationship. Let your partner know that you are aware and you're trying to work on it."

If you're having trouble identifying when you're being controlling, you can always ask your partner if they would be comfortable flagging when you're being controlling so you can begin to notice a pattern of behavior.

"You can even ask your partner if they can give you gentle reminders when it might be happening so you can start to develop an awareness," Robinson-Brown said.

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Ask your partner genuinely and directly for what you need.

Ask your partner genuinely and directly for what you need.
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Sometimes, communicating passive-aggressively rather than clearly verbalizing your needs and then penalizing your partner for not doing what you wanted can be a form of bring over-controlling.

Instead, verbalizing your needs clearly and trusting your partner to work with you to come to a compromise if their needs clash with yours is the step towards building a healthier relationship.

"Strive to be more flexible, and collaborate to find win-win solutions to problems that arise," Coor said. "Make genuine efforts to ask respectfully and directly for what you need, and work on trusting that your partner will be helpful as long as you're committed to making room for their feelings and needs as well."

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Practice finding the positives in yourself and in your partner.

Practice finding the positives in yourself and in your partner.
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Hyper criticism of your partner often means you hyper criticize yourself. Learning how to be more kind towards your partner and yourself can help undue some of the hurt you may have caused.

"Practice finding the positives in yourself, in a given situation, and in your partner," Robinson-Brown said. "Again, ask your partner or someone you trust if they can help you start to find positives in different situations and in yourself."

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