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When is it okay in a relationship to criticize someone, if ever, and when does it border on verbal abuse?

Tagged as: Troubled relationships<< Previous question   Next question >>
Question - (3 May 2013) 5 Answers - (Newest, 4 May 2013)
A female United States age 51-59, anonymous writes:

I have a general question about verbal abuse and criticism. When is it okay in a relationship to criticize someone, if ever, and when does it border on verbal abuse?

Just one example, my boyfriend came downstairs this morning, saw I had made him a hot breakfast and complained I had made waffles. He never said he didn't want waffles.

Then when I was dishing his eggs on his plate I accidentally spattered some egg and he started to lecture me on moving more slowly and said that it was okay because I am naturally a "klutz".

I asked him to come home this afternoon in order to go together to a friends. A date he had made. I reminded him of the time and asked him to meet me here at home. We live 7 minutes from his work. He started getting mad and asked me why I can't meet him at his work. I don't see the point in having 2 cars and we would have to go back to his work to pick up his car later anyway. It makes no sense to me. The place we are going is not close to his work so there is no benefit to doing it that way. Plus I would like to drive together. This caused a big fight with him yelling at me. Why can't I be more flexible. etc, etc.

When his daughters need anything from him, he gives it no problem. He has even cancelled our plans to give them rides. But when I ask him to come home, which he would have to do anyway, he picks a big fight with me. I actually went upstairs without kissing him goodbye, I was so upset.

He criticizes me regularly and when I get upset he accuses me of having no sense of humor or being stubborn. I just want to get others opinions on this issue.

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (4 May 2013):

I think it's the attitude behind the words and not so much the words themselves.

Some negative feedback is necessary in any relationship since you cannot read another person's mind so you can't know if you are doing something that really bothers them unless they tell you. negative feedback should be neutral and objective, it should be just giving you information that you did something that pissed them off.

But verbal abuse is words said with the intent to make you feel bad about yourself, to punish you, to berate you, attack you, get revenge on you, or to intimate and control you.

Complaining that you did or didn't do something, is not verbal abuse on its own per se (unless it was said with the attitude of berating you and trying to make you feel bad about yourself). It is selfish, ungracious and inconsiderate, that's for sure, if you did something nice for him and he didn't thank you and instead complained you didn't do it his way. But that isn't by itself verbal abuse as an isolated incident. However, if in your relationship there is a constant dynamic of him always complaining about everything you do, and nothing you do is good enough for him, then that is one characteristic of an unhealthy relationship.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (4 May 2013):

I have had a successful relationship with a man for three years and will be getting married next year. Listen to me carefully it is never acceptable to critique a partner in a relationship and demand things your selfish way. If my boyfriend said or treated me that way are relationship would of been dissolved after the first six months of us dating together. Its never acceptable to criticize nater or badger your partner. This is the 21st century you shouldn't tolerate any of this behaviour. Don't be a push over tell this Neanderthal to go back into the cave he crawled out of. Your story just makes me mad. Don't let any man use or abuse you in this manner in the future. Its is just morally unacceptable.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (3 May 2013):

I think he sounds like a dick. If someone is nice enough to make you breakfast then you don't be rude about it. that's just common courtesy and if he can't give you that then he's an asshole.

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A male reader, eddie85 United States +, writes (3 May 2013):

eddie85 agony auntSorry to hear that you had a tough morning. We get those from time to time.

What I am sensing is that your boyfriend lacks tact. There is a way to tell someone that what they are doing isn't up to snuff or doesn't meet their expectations. The fact that you made an accident by spilling eggs on him and he berates you for being a klutz indicates to me that he has a short fuse and doesn't know how to voice displeasure without it turning personal...

And that is where he crossed the line -- he made a simple accidental a character assault on you.

I suspect that he does this a lot and when he tells you that he would rather have had waffles, you take it personally as yet another attack (whether he meant it to be or not). I am not sure of the connotations associated with the waffle incident, but he could've at least been grateful for your actions.

The petty arguments that you are going through indicates to me that he may be stubborn. He may also view you as being stubborn as well. I've met many a cantankerous gentleman your age who believe it is their way or the highway. They also aren't interested in hearing opposing ideas and are pretty much set in their ways. Of course it goes both ways -- he may have gotten angry because you didn't hear his opinions. Sometimes just acknowledging what he is saying (by repeating it) will make him realize he is in error. One way to do this is to say: "So you really want to drive two cars to the party this evening? I would think one might be better, no?"

Would I call his actions verbal abuse? Not really -- he just doesn't sound like a very nice guy. I sense that your relationship could be seriously undermined, if it is filled with these constant little squabbles. It is hard to feel loving to someone who you fear displeasing or can't get your point across to.

I hope you take some time out and ask yourself if this relationship is worth it. Chances are you've been dating for a while now and this has probably been an on going issue. My suspicion is that he isn't likely to change, either. If you are living with a grouch, your opinions don't count, and you are being unappreciated, you may want to consider finding someone who treats you as an equal and who will value your opinion.


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A reader, anonymous, writes (3 May 2013):

Well if that's a typical morning and that happens regularly then perhaps you two aren't suited.

For the record I can be a dick in the mornings. I generally wake up grumpy and have on occasion been overly critical of my fiancée. It's no big deal though, she also has her moody side.

Now the complaining about waffles thing sounds minor when I relate it to how I would say it. Just a bit of a moan but not a criticism to be taken personally like you seem to have. So either you're a little overly sensitive or you're a little worn down from him constantly being critical.

So then he's obviously a little grumpy and you splash some egg on him? That would piss me off too if I'm honest, although my fiancée doesn't "dish out" food onto my plate, she's not a waitress. I'll get up bring my plate to her. She was nice enough to make breakfast then I don't expect her to serve me too. Plus it's very easy to make the kind of mistake you did and that's easily prevented.

To be honest OP it looks like a pretty average pissed off morning to me. A series of events then all went wrong and it escalated.

Look it's too hard to call from my perspective. I sense you're over sensitive but I also sense he does stick the oar in a little too much.

It may well be just a clash of personalities.

OP what's happening is not abuse. If he called you names, intentionally tried to make you feel worthless then you would have mentioned that and you'd know it's abuse OP. People who are being abused don't need to ask if they are.

OP grumpy and sensitive don't mix well. He finds too many flaws in the things you do and you take that exceptionally personally.

Maybe I'm wrong but it sounds like you and he are just not compatible and you need a far less high strung man. You're not a fool though, this is beyond the line of what is acceptable. But I sense it's more a case of how he acts and how you react more than him intentionally trying to upset you.

I think it is time to think hard about whether you and he really get along all that well or maybe it's time to call it a day. You sound like chalk and cheese.

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