Relationships

How to Stop Nitpicking in a Relationship

Fault-finding or nitpicking, regardless of which term you use, the outcomes are the same: it can create conflict in an otherwise loving relationship.

Whether you’re the nitpicking partner or the one on the receiving end, don’t lose hope. You can still work through these issues in your relationship and rekindle a loving, supportive partnership.

Here’s how to stop nitpicking in a relationship, as advised by experts.

Table of Contents

Cassandra F. LeClair, Ph.D.

Cassandra LeClair

Relationship Expert | Author | Motivational Speaker

Ask yourself why you feel compelled to nitpick, nag, or complain

Are there certain behaviors that trigger that response? Do you find yourself more likely to nitpick certain people? Can you identify where these behaviors come from and why you go to this pattern?

If you have unresolved issues with someone, you may be more likely to look at them critically. Nagging or complaining can also be an attempt to gain control over another’s actions or control your feelings about their behavior. When someone is being picked in a conversation, they may be more likely to check out or disregard what you are saying.

Nitpicking may also cause another person to become defensive and attack back or they may start stonewalling and completely shut down. Other times, they might agree to what you say simply because they wish to end the interaction. When someone avoids or ignores the other person, the nitpicking person may feel compelled to do it more. Doing so can create a cycle that is damaging to both relational partners and may cause the conversation to escalate into a destructive conflict pattern. The negative feelings others have about your behavior accumulate over time and can negatively impact your relationship satisfaction.

Related: How to Stop Being Critical of Others?

People who nitpick may also do so because the communication pattern was modeled in their household. If you were raised by someone who chronically complained about the way things were or the way others did things, you might think that is normal behavior. Is this how you were treated or talked to? If so, how did that feel? Do you remember feeling feelings of shame for being nagged at or having someone complain about your behaviors?

Think about the damage you are doing to another by engaging in these patterns

If you do not like feeling shame or guilt, then do not place those feelings on another with your words and actions. These tactics are not harmless behaviors.

Consider the feelings of your relational partners and acknowledge them as a reason for why your communication needs to be more kind. If you do not value the other person enough to treat them with kindness and respect, you need to also reflect on why you are maintaining the connection when it is unhealthy for you and the other person.

Taking a step back to look at your own patterns

As you are working to stop nitpicking, try to make sure you are not switching to a passive-aggressive strategy. Hinting at your disapproval or displeasure is not helpful and can also cause a conflict to spiral. Taking a step back to look at your own patterns helps raise awareness so you can acknowledge areas you wish to change.

Talk to your relational partners. Tell them that you are working to change behaviors and ask if they can provide you with gentle reminders if they notice your patterns. Recognize that it is a process. This type of communicative response often becomes habitual. It takes time to retrain how you respond to others without giving in to that initial impulse. When you catch yourself making a negative comment, try to correct it with something genuinely positive.

Work to make healthy communication patterns a new habit. We can always work to improve our relationships, but we must be willing to acknowledge where we need to improve ourselves.

Sabrina Romanoff, Psy.D.

Sabrina Romanoff

Clinical Psychologist

Consider a more effective approach

How is it that you’ve been trying to solve a problem in your relationship for so long with the same approach? The irrationality in that answer is keeping you stuck. Nitpicking is preventing each of you from becoming your full selves, and instead, you have become cardboard versions of each other.

Respect your partner’s differences

Often in couples’ work, we observe a tug of war where couples are a complementary fit, they are opposites. Over time, this harmony seldom lasts. You may find that you want your partner to become like you.

You initially pair-bonded with the other person because you want them to rub off on you, but as time goes on you become scared of their foreign approach to problems.

Think of the effect it has on your partner

Contempt is corrosive and often serves a self-protective function. Think of it empathically: a lot of bad behavior is self-protective. They are things you do to keep your partner away from hurting or engulfing you.

Keeping him or her down to prevent take over. Next time, consider listening with your partner’s ears when you have an urge to nitpick.

Consider the power struggle that exists between you

Extremes of the power struggle are domination and submission. There is a sense of a false dichotomy with nitpicking. Somehow, there is only room for 1 in the sun and 1 in the shade when it comes to getting your partner to do what you want. However, there is enough flexibility so each person can have room for sun/shade (to do things as they please).

Consider your need for domination and how it might be the preferred experience because if you don’t submit your partner will not keep you. However, both positions are lonely. There is only one person’s experience in each position. The process must be flexible, not rigid.

Crystal Castle

Crystal Castle

Speaker | Empowerment Coach| Founder, Mindful Shift

Relationships can be tricky to navigate, and if we allow them to, they can drive us insane. But that’s the key, the allowing. We need to learn that what we choose to focus on, is the real name of the game.

Know that you have the power to choose what you do and don’t think about

That’s right, you always have the power to choose what you do and don’t think about. If something sticks in your craw, and you fuss and fuss and fuss about it, it’s likely to drive you insane. Instead, try focusing on something good, instead of the one thing that’s going on that is upsetting you.

If someone is doing something like chewing or talking with their mouth open, maybe instead of thinking to yourself over and over how much you can’t stand it, you do the talking so the person can eat with their mouth closed. If the behavior continues, then maybe instead of letting it bother you, you walk out of the room. I’m not saying storm out (because that makes other people defensive), but just get up and leave.

Realize that you can’t control other people

You heard it right, you can’t control other people. You can’t control what they say or do, you can only control yourself, and in doing so, control how you act and react to situations.

You have to remember that conflict cannot exist without your participation, so don’t participate. If someone you know does things that you truly can’t tolerate, then maybe it’s time for you to reevaluate that person’s role in your life. If it’s someone that you can’t remove completely, then figure out ways to minimize contact with them as much as possible.

Related: How to Stop Being Controlling in Your Relationship

Stop giving away the keys to your sanity

There are just some people out there that will do everything they can to goad you, to get a rise out of you. The interesting thing is that they can’t do that if you don’t let them. So try, instead, to take back your power and stop giving away the keys to your sanity.

You and only you can decide what upsets you and what doesn’t, so don’t allow it to upset you (or at least don’t show it). I know this one can be a really hard one to do, but again if you don’t give them the buttons to push, then they can’t push them.

Keep track and figure out why the behavior bothers you

Nitpicking is really a reflection of insecurities and issues or flaws that you find with yourself. If you find yourself nitpicking over certain things, keep a journal of what those things are and do some reflective exercises on what they mean to you, and why.

I’m not saying that if someone is eating with their mouth open it’s because you do, but there is something innately about that behavior that makes you cringe and so you nitpick it. Instead of nitpicking, try and figure out exactly why it is that the behavior bothers you. I’m sure after some deep reflection, you’ll come up with some unresolved issues in your past that you’re unaware of.

Mindfulness can be an immensely helpful tool in stopping yourself from nitpicking

The key is to go from what’s known as unconscious incompetence (I don’t know that I’m doing it, or why) to unconscious competence (I do something different, and I know why, but no longer have to think about making a better choice). By moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence, you’re retraining yourself to do a different behavior without thinking about it.

So instead of nitpicking habitually, you start using mindfulness to help you to recognize when you are doing it (unconscious competence, I do know that I’m doing it, but I don’t know why). Then you start shifting that behavior to something different so instead of being critical, you say something nice instead (conscious competence, I recognize that I’m doing it and I’m making a concerted effort to do something different) and then once you do that enough times, it becomes a habit and you no longer have to think about it (unconscious competence).

This is something that a lot of people struggle with, and if you start small and work on one thing at a time, over time you will realize that it no longer is an issue.

Related: 18 Best Mindfulness Books

Abby King

Abby King

Certified Divorce Coach

Don’t let the small stuff become the only stuff

A lot of things happen in long term relationships. Connections deepen, bonds strengthen and those traits you found quirky ultimately become annoying. It’s easy, especially now when couples are spending so much “quality” (stressful) time spent together, to nitpick and split the most minor of hairs.

When we fall in love we don’t fall for the small stuff and we don’t choose a lifelong partner because they put their socks in the hamper or expertly clean the kitchen counter. Love, passion, trust, connection, humor, loyalty, priorities and life goals run deeper than unclipped nails and a messy bathroom.

Yet, it’s the nails, bathroom, egg on the counter, and an empty Brita that becomes life. Often, sadly, the only discussion of the day isn’t a catch up of importance or a de-stressor with the one you love. It’s twenty minutes dissecting who needs to do what and who didn’t do what they needed. A couple’s focus can become myopic in the course of a busy and stressful life.

The solution to living in a status quo state of quibbling is simple, yet easy to forget and at times hard to enact. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Let it go and focus on what you love about your partner.

It doesn’t need to be an at the moment deep reflection, just pick something, anything about your mate that makes you smile. The next time she leaves all the lights on, remind yourself how sexy she is. When he’s making a mess shaving in the bathroom, think about how he makes you laugh. Instead of nitpicking about how he loads the dishwasher focus on how he’s patient with your kids.

Always know the one you love isn’t doing what annoys you to annoy you, they’re doing it because that’s how they do things.

We are all different, how we move in the world isn’t personal except to us so don’t take it personally! In those times when you’re unable to let go and access the warm fuzzy feelings, fake it till you make it. Hold back your complaint, gripe, or growl. Instead, offer “man do I love you.” It will do you both a lot of good.

Lauren Peacock

Lauren Peacock

Relationship and Dating Expert | Author, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog.: Stories About Divorce, Dating, and Saying “I Do”

Nitpicking is inevitable in any relationship. The longer your relationship lasts (and hopefully it lasts forever), the honeymoon phase will wear off and you will find yourself getting into a routine.

Related: How Long Does the Honeymoon Phase Last

At first, the things that you each do in the beginning may seem cute. For example, my husband left the toilet seat up and one time, I fell in while in the dark. We had a nice laugh about it, but after 2 years of marriage, I’m a little annoyed (like clockwork) with having to put it down in the middle of the night. Although, that’s just one small thing if each of these small things adds up, does it become a big thing?

I think a big reason that couples do “nitpick” about some of these small things, which can ultimately lead to over-the-top fights, is that some of this is actually projection or displacement.

Even though projection is usually about an individual displacing one’s feelings onto another person or object, I believe the reason a lot of time spouses get so worked up about some of the small stuff is that they are upset about something else that is underlying.

Is it really that big of a deal for me to put the toilet seat down if he left it up? No. Is it really that annoying for me to close a cabinet that he left open? No. But our day-to-day lives of stress (possibly related to work), anxiety with maybe other family situations, and also wanting to be the best spouse possible, can sometimes put us in this position to nitpick.

Realize that the small things are not really flaws but just human behaviors

In order to change this behavior, we need to realize that these small things that we think are “flaws” about our spouse aren’t really flaws. They are just human behaviors. I, myself, have flaws too. We have habits and usually, those habits won’t be broken after a certain age.

Saving your energy for the important roadblocks in life like taking a job in a new city, financial decisions, and other life-changing decisions are much more important than wasting your time arguing for an hour over why he forgot to take out the trash again and you missed trash day.

For example, as a wife, I don’t know the stress my husband is under all the time, probably because he doesn’t share it with me and I wish he would. If I’m nitpicking at him all the time, this may prevent him from wanting to share the important things going on in his world. The last thing I want to do is push him away.

Have an open dialogue with your partner

In order to curb the nitpicking, we as individuals should be ok with talking about some internal emotions that may lead us to nitpick. To prevent it in the long run, I encourage couples to have an open dialogue with one another about the things that may be going on in the marriage that are bigger problems, or things that are going on outside of the marriage. Having open communication is healthy and very important in any relationship.

Dr. Ericka Goodwin

Ericka Goodwin

Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist | Integrative Life Coach | Author | International Speaker

Nitpicking can unintentionally undermine your relationship by focusing on things you don’t like. It becomes dangerous when this is frequent behavior because your partner will start hearing that you don’t like them or how they do things. Who wants to hear all the time that you don’t like how they do things or how they look?

When the volume of these negative comments gets too loud, your partner will no longer hear the positive things or you may be at risk for neglecting to talk to them about the things that you love or enjoy. They will simply hear that you don’t like them. If you realize that all you want to do is nitpick, that may be the sign of a larger problem that can be discussed at another time.

Think before you speak

One strategy to guard against nitpicking is to think before you speak. Ask yourself some questions before you open your mouth. What is the goal of you giving your partner this criticism? What do you hope will change? Are you nitpicking about something that you also do? Have you recently told your partner something that you enjoy about them?

If this still seems like a criticism that you need to communicate, take another moment to think of a way to say it is a pleasant, nonjudgemental fashion. So this brings us to the question, “how do you give someone constructive criticism?” The keyword is constructive.

One strategy is to use sandwich communication where you sandwich the negative feedback between two positive comments. This way the positives balance the negative and your partner can still feel that you care about them and be open to your feedback.

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Certified Imago Therapist, The Marriage Restoration Project

No one likes to be scrutinized, especially in a love relationship. It makes the relationship a negative experience and discourages closeness. Here are some ways to stop nitpicking:

Realize that your partner is not perfect

Think about your own actions. Do you do things that may annoy your partner? How would you feel if they made a big deal about it? Would that be fair?

Become more conscious about why these things bother you

How much ownership can you take for your emotional response? Is it more about you than them? This will help stop your tendency to point the finger.

Examine whether it is really worth drawing attention to this issue

How pressing is it you? Are you able to live with it? Will criticizing your partner serve your long-term goals for your relationship?

Shift your focus

We tend to look for the bad in the other. Instead, begin to think and share what you appreciate about your partner. Look for the good, and you’ll stop seeing so much negative.

There are many valid concerns one can have in a relationship and it is important to be able to address them in a safe and connected matter. Nitpicking is usually not worth the effort as it distracts from the important issues, contributes to negative feelings, and contributes to creating a view of your partner that is more negative than positive.

Rev. Dr. Rick Patterson

Rick Patterson

Author, “Shame Unmasked: Disarming the Hidden Driver Behind our Destruction Decisions”

Shame compels us to find the shortcomings of others so as to diminish them

It’s not you, it’s me and it’s destroying our relationship.

The reason we nitpick isn’t that our partner has issues, it’s because we feel compelled to help our partner resolve their issues. The question is why are we compelled to fix other people.

The answer? We’re not compelled to fix other people. We are compelled to find the shortcomings of others so as to diminish them. We tell ourselves we are doing it for the benefit of the person we are “helping”, but really it’s for us.

It subconsciously helps us feel better about ourselves when we can pick out the flaws of others. However, the cycle is not complete until we make the other person aware of their flaws – we can’t keep this information to ourselves and hope to feel better about ourselves.

The reason? Shame. Shame insists we project our own self-hatred on others by pointing out their flaws. Finding the flaws of others and pointing them out sends a jolt of relief through us like a bottled-up pressure to unload our issues onto others.

The truly unfortunate piece is that the shame of the recipient of the nitpicking will likely require the nitpicker to lash back out at the one doing the nitpicking. This lashing out will either require them to disagree with your assessment and fix nothing (which will infuriate you) or will require them to find your flaws and make you aware of your own flaws(which will infuriate you).

This is called the shame spiral and results in the destruction of relationships.

The plan: recognize what shame is doing and do the opposite. By recognizing it’s not them, it’s you, will help you stop this destructive behavior, change to constructive behavior, improve your relationships, and derail the shame spiral.

Joe & Angela Carte

Joe & Angela Carte

Creators, Mini Riches

After 13 years of marriage and 5 children together, we speak from experience about overcoming nitpicking in a relationship. We are a family of 7 operating on a single income. Over the years, our experiences have led Joe and me to start a blog titled Mini Riches centered around family, finances, and household.

For a lot of us, we enter a relationship with rose-colored glasses. It isn’t until we are months or years into the relationship that we begin to recognize our spouse or partner’s irritating behaviors. But why didn’t I see this behavior before? Was I blinded by love? We have a theory that rings true for us and many other couples.

Why you may be nitpicking in a relationship

Unknown expectations. Setting expectations your partner isn’t aware of is a good way to set them up for failure. Even if your better half is aware of your thoughts on the matter, they may not be disciplined enough to implement change right away. Your partner loves you and isn’t (we hope) trying to infuriate you every day for the rest of your lives.

Nitpicking can also come from a place of control. You are not in this relationship to control one another. You are in it to work together. A real relationship takes real work. Love doesn’t bloom overnight, and neither does a change in unfavorable habits.

Have an open discussion together

Recognize that your spouse may have some suggestions for improvement for you as well. Be willing to accept constructive criticism if you plan to give it. Both parties are trying to help the other live their best life, and sometimes that means bringing up the bad or annoying habits that need to phase out.

Be patient, be kind, and be understanding

When you have a conversation with your partner about changing some habits, come from a place of love and genuine concern. Belittlement and negativity will spark anger and arguments. You get out what you put in.

Find a creative or loving way to remind your partner to do or not to do something

For example, I have a terrible habit of leaving the cupboard door open in our laundry room. In my mind, it creates easy access to the dryer sheets, so it’s no big deal. In Joe’s mind, well, he has hit his head on it before, and that is painful. Dust and lint also get into the cupboard, covering everything inside. He has asked me time and time again to please shut the door. I love him to the moon and beyond, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember to shut the door! It is a habit I will have to develop, and Joe found a way to help me. He taped an 8x10in piece of paper to the inside of the door. It has a smiley face and a note, “Please shut me! Thanks!” Seeing the note reminds me to shut the door. It’s been a few weeks, and I still don’t shut it 100% of the time, but I’m getting better!

It also takes humility to quit nitpicking

I have asked Joe to remember to put his socks in the hamper, but 98% of the time, he doesn’t. I humble myself to do this small task for him, and by seeing my service to him, he is reminded that 1. His wife loves him very much, and 2. He was asked to put his socks in the hamper and didn’t, so try to do better next time!

Ask yourself if it is even that big of a deal

Is the behavior hurting or affecting anyone other than annoying you? Better yourself and learn to let it go. You love your partner more than you’d love for that annoying habit to go away.

If you are on the receiving end of the conversation, realize that your partner is only trying to help you be the best version of yourself, just as you should be helping them do the same. A relationship isn’t 50/50—it’s 60/60. If it isn’t, you need to up your game, or the relationship won’t last.

Chris Pleines

Chris Pleines

Dating Expert, Dating Scout

Criticize objectively and make a mental note to ditch the habit

This is the fastest way to be aware of it is by making a mental note. Nitpicking comes across as insensitive and hurts your relationship. This doesn’t mean that you will stop pointing out the issues, but you will be more mindful about the words you will say. Criticisms help us grow but you need to do it objectively—and nicely!

Reflect and know the source of your nitpicking habit

There must be something inside which urges you to do it. It can be a childhood experience, it can be a recent one too. Either way, you need to resolve your personal issues so you’ll develop a healthy attitude towards your partner.

Assess yourself well! It is also possible that you are nitpicking to drive your partner away and end your relationship. Not all people are brave enough to initiate a break-up directly to their partner’s face.

“I” messages

No, we aren’t talking about an Apple function. We are talking about how you should shift your anger from “You are so”-messages to “I don’t like when you”-messages. Instead of accusing your partner of being too XYZ, emphasize that you feel disturbed by it and change to wording from blaming the other to sharing your perspective with him or her.

Stephania Cruz

Stephania Cruz

Relationship Expert, Dating Pilot

Constant nitpicking will tear away at any relationship. When a person nitpicks, their criticism is usually projected with anger and frustration. As a result, feelings of resentment and anger will also stem from the person being nitpicked, and the behavior change that the nitpicker is requesting usually doesn’t happen.

Assess what behavior needs to be changed and why it needs to be changed

Therefore, instead of nitpicking, the nitpicker needs to ask themselves what behavior it is exactly that they want to be changed and why? Why is this particular behavior bothersome? Is it something that can be overlooked or does it have to be addressed? By asking these questions, you are able to more effectively pick your battles.

Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements

If it has to be addressed, then the issue must be addressed calmly and without criticism, as doing the opposite will continue the cycle of nitpicking. Using “I” statements instead of “You” statements is a good way to express how a certain behavior your partner displays bothers you.

For example, instead of saying “You never pick up the dirty dishes from the table, it is always me.”, you can say, “I feel overwhelmed when I have to pick up all the dirty dishes from the table and also wash them.” Your partner will be much more receptive to picking up the dishes if you begin your request in this way instead of nitpicking.

Praise can also encourage the behavior you want to see, so if your partner does pick up the dishes, don’t forget to thank them and mention how much it means to you.

A mindset that is fixed on nitpicking can also keep a person from seeing the positive that their partner does for them. Therefore, before nitpicking it is worth exploring what helpful things your spouse has done. If they forgot to pick up the dirty dishes from the table but cooked breakfast and lunch that day, then acknowledge it and praise them for it. This can also stop you in your tracks from nitpicking and help you make a request in a much kinder way.

Chloe Ballatore

Chloe Ballatore

Relationship Expert | Author, “How to Live: Find Love and Keep It”

Women especially get a really bad rap for nitpicking or nagging their partners. This reminds men of their mothers, and typically men don’t want to sleep with their moms.

Set aside a time for an open conversation where you can complain, question, criticize, teach, or preach

You need to make an appointment with your partner to bitch, moan, complain, question, criticize, teach, or preach. You can’t simply barrage him with negative comments whenever you feel like it. The appointment setting allows your partner to prepare to hear criticism. You say, “I have something I want to talk to you about [x]. It might be a difficult conversation. When is it convenient for you to hear me, hopefully, today.”

When you have your appointment, therefore, it won’t be deemed as nitpicking. Instead, it will appear to be the result of thought and consideration.

At the appointed time, you start with a compliment. For example, “I love that you bring me coffee in bed every morning. It really makes my day.” Then you add a statement about how you feel. “But sometimes it’s too strong and I feel anxious after drinking it.” Next, tell him what you want and ask what he thinks about it. “What do you think about bringing me tea instead?” This framework allows your partner to hear what you have to say and not get defensive.

Additionally, a beautiful side effect of this process is that when you have to make an appointment, some things simply aren’t worth the effort. You end up saving the appointments for the really important stuff and focussing on what’s good more often.

Lynell Ross

lynell ross

Resource Director, Education Advocates

Before you speak, ask yourself if you need to comment at all

People hear nitpicking as criticism. If you correct or complain too often to your partner, they will hear it as criticism and begin to feel as though they can’t do anything right and constantly live in fear of being judged. Be mindful if you need to speak up for something you need without nitpicking.

Nitpicking is controlling behavior. Picking on every little thing a person does is controlling behavior. No one likes being told what to do, or constantly being told how to do things When a partner feels they are being corrected and criticized they often rebel or stop trying. Worse yet, you can create anxiety in your partner because they fear being criticized and feel they constantly need to walk on eggshells.

Recognize it as a habit that you can change

If you are the one nitpicking in your relationship, recognize it as a habit that you can change. Become aware each time you begin to nitpick. Keep a journal and write down what you were about to say.

Have an honest conversation with your partner

If your partner is the one who nitpicks at you, then sit down and have an honest conversation. Tell them how what they are doing is affecting you and ask them to stop. If they continue, remind them again and set a firm boundary, such as, “The next time you pick on me, I am going to leave the room.”

Nitpicking wears a relationship down. Sooner or later the person being picked on is going to get angry, resentful, or tired of it and may leave.

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