“Sometimes your partner can teach you to be more efficient and help you take better care of yourself on a physical level, like your food choices or willingness to exercise, or on a personal level, like helping you organize your budget and structure your spending habits so you can manage your money better” says Jane Greer, Ph.D., New York-based relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. “There are many things we can learn from our partners, but the challenge is to have the experiences be positive and supportive rather than negative and controlling.”
But there’s a big difference between your partner expressing a good-natured concern and constantly nagging and diminishing you with criticism. The former can destroy you on an individual level and, inevitably, wreck your relationship, too. Here are some signs your partner has good intentions—and how to deal:
They wait for a calm moment to express their feelings. If your partner is patient, supportive and expresses their concern in a relaxed, heartfelt way, chances are they have good intentions. “If they’re ridiculing you in public or giving you constant, unsolicited advice around the clock about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, they’re not showing they care in a healthy, conducive way,” says Claudia Six, Ph.D., clinical sexologist and relationship coach and author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Yourself Sexually.
They communicate their feelings in a respectful manner.There’s no room for ridicule in a loving, caring relationship. “You partner should make you feel better about your downfalls and encourage you to overcome them, not make you feel small, put you down, or imply in any way that you’re a ‘bad’ or ‘damaged’ person unworthy of a relationship,” says Rosely Traube, Ph.D., a Boston-based clinical psychologist who specializes in relationship therapy.
They make a point to highlight your best qualities. He or she should tell you all of the things they love about you most while expressing their heartfelt desire for your to change in a genuine way. “It’s counterproductive if your partner is constantly berating you with what you do wrong and not mentioning what you do right,” says Traube. Your partner should also take the moment to remind you (and themselves) that they’re not perfect either. This opens up the door for a mutualdiscussion about change and not a one-sided one.
They provide support and resources to help motivate you to make that change. “Your partner should be patient, but lovingly insistent, about the change at hand, and remind you that they’re alongside you for the ride,” says Lady Ogletree, Ph.D. speaker, educator, and author of A Day With My Father. For example, if they want you to exercise more, they should be willing to sign up for the gym or take a workout class with you.
They don’t blame you for their negative feelings or emotions.“It’s important that your partner clearly separates their own baggage and issues with what they’re asking you to change,” says Brad Reedy, Ph.D.,marriage and family therapist. “If they’re the kind of person who doesn’t take care of themselves and only makes demands on others to try and enhance their mood, this is a bad sign.”
If you’re the person in the relationship who’s being asked to change—and your partner is seeking this change in a healthy, respectful manner—the best thing you can do is try not to get offended. Here’s how to deal:
Take a deep breath (or two, or three). “Of course, it can be painful to hear that your partner wants something you do to change, but let yourself really think about it before you respond,” says Traube. “Think about whether this is an honest request and, if it is, you might acknowledge that there’s some truth to the criticism.” Remember that your partner is making this request in the sincere hope that the relationship will grow and be better for the both of you.
Try not to respond in anger or frustration. As much as it feels like it is, this isn’t a good moment to tell your partner his or her faults as well. Even if they have plenty—that needs to be a separate conversation. “Let your partner know you appreciate how difficult it is to give negative feedback and you’ll sincerely think about what he or she is saying,” says Traube. “Talk about the small steps you can take to remedy the situation, but be weary about promising more than you can deliver.”
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Some relationshipsrequire therapy or outside help—and nearly all can benefit from it. “Your partner should come with you to these sessions to be supportive and do their share to help facilitate the change,” says Reedy.
At the end of the day, remember that the most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself. If you respect your actions and decisions, good things will follow. Don’t let yourself be pushed into doing something that you don’t believe in, says Traube.