When a Man Criticizes a Woman – Not The Percy Sledge Version

couple looking at each other with arms crossed

Back after a long weekend in New York attending a close college friend’s wedding. They met on JDate. Had lunch with my best girl friend on Saturday. She’s moving to be near her fiance. Met on eHarmony.

I’m just saying…

Anyway, it’s time for a little reader mail:

Your honesty article hit close to home and made me wonder what your perspective is in regards to honesty in long term dating situations.

I recently ended a dating situation because although he was honest about dating other people, after 9 months of dating he still wanted to continue to see other people. After initally telling me he was trying to see where this was going, I waited patiently a few more months only to hear him say, “maybe I am not ready for what you are ready for”. It also seemed that his once complimentary nature had changed. “You look cute” and “I enjoy spending time with you” turned into “maybe you should start doing sit ups” and “your arms and thighs are beginning to look bigger”. If anything, I have lost weight since I began dating him.

I initially took these to be minor critiques and thought he may have a point and began doing the situp thing, but he was continual with his comments and it just seemed like I could do nothing right or there was always something wrong with my appearance. Anyway, I ended it and his response was that he never wants to speak with me again.

What do you think of these types of critiques in a relationship? When do they become criticisms?


Dear Christine,

Thanks for your thoughtful note and kudos to you from getting away from Mr. Critical. If there is one thing in the entire world that drives me nuts, it’s people like him. I know nothing about you, but I’m confident that you’re a lot better off without him than with him.

As far as how I feel about these types of critiques, I’ve written about this extensively, most notably in a chapter from “Why You’re Still Single” called “I’m Sorry, We Don’t Make Change”.

In it, I distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism is criticism that is being offered for the benefit of the other person. Destructive criticism is everything else. Unless you’re asking for genuine feedback – “Honestly, does this dress flatter me or not?” – your boyfriend’s job is to keep his mouth shut about things he doesn’t like. It’s not that he’s not entitled to his opinion; it’s not that his opinion is wrong – it’s that as your boyfriend, he’s supposed to be the one who loves you unconditionally. And part of unconditional love is keeping quiet about your partner’s perceived flaws. If he thinks they’re too great, he should get out of the relationship. But to be with you for nine months and tell you all the ways in which you could stand to improve? That’s unhealthy – for both of you. He needs to be with someone he feels less critical about. You need to be with someone less critical of you.

My girlfriend is extraordinary in a number of ways, but especially in her ability to live and let live. She doesn’t pretend I’m perfect, she just doesn’t call my attention to all of my imperfections all the time. I greatly appreciate her for that.

In fact, I just had lunch with a friend whose girlfriend is always trying to impose her will on him, and he’s had it. Too much tinkering. Too little peace. Sure, relationships may take work, but this stuff is the easy stuff. Be nice to your partner, the way you’d want your partner to be nice to you. That’s it. Yet the desire to mold our boyfriends and girlfriends seems to be stronger than the desire to be in a supportive, peaceful relationship.

Finally, the fact that he never wants to speak with you again speaks volumes about him.

Good riddance, Mr. Critical. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

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  1. 1

    I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t comment on the nine month open relationship aspect of the question- particularly as the writer seemed to be holding out for an exclusive relationship.

    Personally, I’m more then happy with the “seeing other people” thing in the early stages of an online relationship – the emailing, the first few dates, even the first couple of times having sex. But once I start getting comfortable waking up in her flat I don’t want to be looking for anyone else, and i don’t like the thought of another man staying over on the alternate nights.

    Do you think its too soon to ask for this kind of exclusivity at that stage in a relationship

    1. 1.1

      I think that once you sleep with someone, it should become exclusive. And don’t sleep with someone before you get to know and like them (except for one night stands. If you just need to get off, do it but prepare yourself for a possible “Da’hell was I thinking?!” moment later on) “Open relationships” are not a good idea when you start/want to fall in love. I would choose a “good but not great in bed” nice and lovely person, over a “best sex I ever had” a-hole, any day. While practice makes you better at a sport, it won’t change who you are deep down inside 😉

  2. 2
    Evan Marc Katz

    Thanks for the reminder, Anon. But I didn’t even see what there was to comment upon. The guy was a jerkoff.
    Factor in that he’s a jerkoff who can’t commit and it doesn’t seem like there’s much advice for me to offer. Christine did the right thing.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that “seeing other people” is useful in the first few weeks/months. But if you don’t have a commitment after, say, three months, you’re probably not getting one at all.

  3. 3

    I can’t tell you how much this hits home. I’ve been the critical one in one relationship and the criticized in another. And honestly, neither side is a picnic.

    Love is unconditional, so if you can’t love someone that way, it isn’t right. And if someone isn’t loving you that way, it isn’t right.

    We all need to decide whether we’d rather be “right” or be loved…

  4. 4

    Amen Evan. Sounds like Christine was dating my ex. Silly me, I stuck around for 4.5 years. I entered the relationship confident, thin and pretty sure any man on earth would adore my quirky personality. I exited it 10 lbs. lighter, assuming I was irritating, lazy, mean and a little too chubby in the ass. And this guy ADORED me! 10 minutes after I finally ended it, I remembered why I was all those good things. 2 years later he’s still pining over me. People who are critical like that are just redistributing their own feelings of insecurity. His inability to commit is just the fact that he’s holding out for some imaginary better person who will take away all his insecurities. For the record, I found me an amazing guy who thinks I’m all the good things I am times 10. And so can Christine.

    1. 4.1

      What a beautiful thoughtful comment…thank you

  5. 5

    This gal made the right decision. Move with fleet feet away from anyone who makes you feel badly about yourself. While I appreciate Eleanor Roosevelt’s sentiment that no one can make you feel badly about yourself without your consent, it sure helps if they quit trying.

    I argued with a beau over whether men really should be honest with regard to questions like, “Does this dress make me look fat?” (Which I think I have never asked! I mean, why would you?) I argued for the truth. He said, “You mean I should say, ‘Yeah, you look like a fat cow in that dress!'” (New York native) “No,” I said, “You say something like, ‘That is not your most flattering dress.’ Then quickly mention something she looks GREAT in. (i.e. ‘I LOVE that one blue dress you wear; it is such an elegant look.’)” I know this may be asking a lot from a guy (although I did have a verbally skilled boyfriend who used “elegant” for me.)

    There’s always the warm embrace if you can’t figure out how to be verbally supportive.

    Re: open relationship… Ask for, nay, demand, whatever your heart and soul need. I do not think I could do that. Yikes. In my 20’s, back when we were all looser, I would just tell my beau, “If you are sleeping with someone else, you are not sleeping with me.” That was clear enough, and they made adjustments accordingly. It’s not total “exclusivity” in that they can still be interested in other women, but uh, not swapping bodily fluids. That is just not safe or hygienic, in my mind.

  6. 6

    my ex was exactly the same…now I have to pick up the pieces of my shattered self-confidence …no one deserves this type of treatment…but at least one good thing that’s come out of the relationship is that now I will have ZERO TOLERANCE for anyone who will EVER TRY to destroy who I am as a person..no one is perfect, and your flaws don’t matter anyway, because there is no perfect woman or man on the face of this planet…  
    your man is supposed to make you feel special, otherwise you might as well have 5 different ****buddies !  

  7. 7

    Tks, Evan! This advice is exactly what I came here looking for. I’ve been told I’m cute, I’m thin and I “should be on TV.” Whatever! Listen, I play sports. I also have a master’s degree and can walk and chew gum at the same time. Yet usually about the 3-month mark of a relationship, the guy who was google-eyed when we first met inevitably tells me “You’re not that hot” or “You could stand to gain some weight” or “I really like [ethnicity I’m not] women.” Frankly, I’ve dated shorter guys, taller guys, ethnic guys, wider guys and even AA guys but somehow I never comment on their bodies or areas they’re sensitive about. I usually think they’re great. Why else would I date them? So I don’t understand these driveby critiques. It’s hard not to feel like I’m attracting it somehow. Inevitably, when it starts, I know I’ll be out the door in 7-10 days. Every guy can’t be this insecure, can they? It just seems like this is my experience over and over. I’m happy to move on but it’s wearying, I’ll tell you that.

  8. 8

    Thank you Evan, Christine and all the commenters who found their self confidence back. I’ve been feeling pretty down lately, as if I’m drowning though aimlessly trying to stay afloat. My bf of almost 4 years has been critical of me, from app physical appearance to my mental and emotional state. He used to say things like “eew look at your hips your bones are sticking out. You anorexic?”, even though I eat as much as him. I’m pretty toned and sculpted, and luckily I get reaffirmation of this at the gym. I would tell him that it was not good to call me skinny and his reply was well you’re lucky I encourage you to eat more. My ex started gaining some hefty weight in her hip and thigh area and told her she needed to lose it and not eat too much.   After a while, he realized that I’ve been getting compliments for being so sculpted and now he’s saying I look like a man and that I just want to be manly.   From my car, to the activities I enjoy, to earning way more than him.   He has said a few times how i use stinky lotion on my face and that’s why my face is f***** up (I break out from time to time).
    i do know it’s deep insecurities of himself. He felt he was a little overweight though I never thought so. I always complimented him that he is actually muscular and that he is just built wide which are great athletic body types.   He is now losing weight as he imitated how I worked out and ate even though he criticized me and called me skinny, dieting, anorexic.  
    Like Cricket’s comment, I used to think I was thin, beautiful and could do whatever I put my mind to.   i thought I could help him feel good about himself and in turn our relationship will be healthy and though I see some slight change in his behavior and has been a little nicer to me, I am seeing a more (or continued) selfish, slightly narcissistic transformation of himself.   He now criticizes me for being insecure of myself in every way. I can’t disagree with him on that. I think after years of constant criticism about every aspect of my being (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), I did not reAlize that it has slowly chipped away at my self confidence and now I feel lost. So thank you for this post as it is one of the pieces that will help me self my self esteem back together.  

  9. 9

    I am in a two year relationship and the man I am with is wanting me to take charge and when I do take charge he resists them. Its starting to really affect every ounce and fiber inside of me. He tells me I am the one and everything until things git a little heated after some changes in my life. I started to say a lot of things that I know was wrong and yes a little selfish that cause. Us to stumble. its knowing how much I love my man knowing the tug a war affect its having on us. When we talk about our future its like one minute he is there next he isn’t. I am dealing with some family BS as well resulting how I am this evil daughter to get at everyone. Its like really? Most of the time I stay away from emotional needy parents who just want things there way all the time. I know I had a brief moment in my life when my needs became needy Because of family dispute and drama that doesn’t have to take   place at all putting undo pressure on me and its putting a strain on Us. Its knowing its become a huge domino affect in my life I am doing my best to keep my composure. He is a great guy yet his insecurity is also affecting us as well. I have walked 4 miles to see him to resolve issues he could not drive and see me when things got heated between is. Which is 15 min. Drive. It would be nice if he would do   that… Show how much I am meant to him. Instead of acting cowardly about situations where I confront him.  

  10. 10

    One things I despise is people saying they will do some thing which is important yet actions mean nothing. No wonder some people are being critical. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic I am pointing how screwed up reality can be at times.

    1. 10.1
      Anna Brazil

      You sound like my fiancé who is actually abusive and who only speaks negative and do kind things. Whoever comes out of his mouth is to criticize and verbally abusive. But his action is kind ans caring. That’s so screw up as well. Very confusing and detrimental!

    2. 10.2
      Anna Brazil

      He’s Russian. Must be a culture thing….

      1. 10.2.1
        Anna Y Moss

        That explains the jerk I was interested in, then! LOL   but on a serious note he broke my heart in a gazillion pieces. he knew how old I was when we met. Also knew I was divorced and had grandchildren. He also knew I was Black (but with some Russian ancestry). At any rate, within the course of a year and a half I went from being “beautiful” and “special” to being someone who is not ‘wife material’ because of my divorce and he tells me he doesn’t want to marry a grandmother. His criticisms were all things about me I couldn’t change: my age, my past and my nationality. Humph! To be honest, I said some equally mean things about him, too…but we did apologized and made up. We even agreed to meet up again…only for him 9 months later to send me a text with a picture of him and some gal he met on one of those mail order bride tours! he flew over there instead of coming to visit me. Needless to say I felt blindsided.   Of course she’s thin, of the “appropriate” ethnic group, pretty..and young? HALF HIS DOGGONE AGE..and he’s going to be sixty this year! Well they say when they play low, you play high. So I did. I texted back. Oh, she’s very pretty. I hope the two of you will be very happy together…and then I blocked him! I hope he’s just as happy after she gets her green card and dumps his Russky ass! LOL

  11. 11

    Sounds like he wants to control you with critics and telling you he never wants to see you again sounds like someone with a lot of personal problem and lacking emphaty

  12. 12

    One of my exes started out with the random criticisms, which culminated in physical abuse.  Even if it doesn’t turn physical, being put down constantly is worse than being beaten up (IMHO).   Not that those are your only twp options in relationships!
    They are taking out ther inferiority and anger issues on you.   Don’t let them.

  13. 13

    @marymary I dated a man for 2 years (jesus christ) who about 4 months in started telling me my arms looked fat, that I was getting a double chin. He even picked me up for dinner on my 30th birthday, after I just got my hair done and told me “your hair makes you look ugly” I didn’t run at that point because I was already so broken down but had started therapy a couple months prior. I was out the door about 4 months after that. Don’t ever let a man who criticizes you, continue to share his time with you. It gets worse, you get stuck because you feel so low. As soon as something mean comes out of his mouth, leave!

  14. 14

    Look at me, stuck for years due to circumstance.
    Its actually choking me that I find I can not breathe, fear.   Not knowing what next have I done wrong.   Get out before its too late. Its like his dissatisfied and so picks on anything he can find because it makes no sense. I feel hated.

  15. 15

    I fell completely in love with my boyfriend 3 years ago… about a year and a half in, he started getting extremely critical – to the point that he complained that I put a lot of the groceries on the top shelf of the refrigerator (rather than evenly putting them on all three), because it was more convenient.
    I’ve stayed for a year and a half through this abuse, and even partially fell in love with another man who was married (a coworker who gave me some shred of respect). I could’ve completely ruined his life, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t love the married guy anymore, but it just goes to show how horrible and counterproductive this kind of criticism is – it can affect your self esteem, change who are, make you consider doing things you’d never (in a million years) have ever considered doing.
    6 months ago,   I told him what was going on in my head. He apologized and got better for about a month, but things got worse again. We now have a mortgage, a child, and two dogs ( accumulated during the entire length of the relationship)……and I’m at the point where I’m terrified to break up and love him (he would do anything for me), but I also nearly despise him and often think about what it would be like with someone else.  

    I’m in this situation because I hoped things would get better; because I cared enough to give the relationship so many chances. I don’t think there’s any repair that can be made to something like this. Cut your losses and get out while you can.

  16. 16

    I was in a long distance relationship going in was happy, fit and confident.   At the end of two years I was a pathetic mess.   He proposed marriage with a comment about my weight.   To this day when I hear about an engagement I have a flashback of the horrid proposal I had.   Comparisons to his exes, comments about hot women we would see.   On top of it he was a stingy and arrogant and actually very unattractive himself.   I admit I was flattered a professional engineer showed interest at first.    I was an a vulnerable stage in my late 30’s still wanting a family so stayed way longer than I should have.   Like some of the other comments, cut your losses immediately, these types seldom change and if you value your own life and well-being, the sooner the better.

  17. 17

    The men who criticize their partners are ‘ gas lighting’- a term used when someone changes your perception of yourself and your experiences by belittling, ridiculing,put-downs, unreliability, unfaithfulness etc. It is known as one of the most cruel things anyone can do to another person. What is there to love about a man who does this to you? Nothing. Walk away the first time they say something mean….it makes it a lot easier to get on with your life, rather than hanging around trying to prove you are not the things he accuses you of. Many many men engage in it, so there are a lot of damaged women out there trying to pick up the pieces. Why should any woman have to ever do that. We are autonomous human beings with worth, self esteem, ability, dignity, needs and empathy. Remember that, and walk away. It is time more discussion took place about this topic- Domestic Violence is the end result of this type of cruelty and there would be a lot more women murdered by men if they didn’t diffuse all the aggression all the time and try to be the ‘ good girl’. I have 2 words for these men.

    1. 17.1
      Karmic Equation

      You made that definition up, Jo.

      From Google:
      gas ·light


      gerund or present participle:  gaslighting

      manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
      “in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband”

      (emphasis on “sanity” mine).

      Gaslighting, in its TRUE definition, is NOT cruel, it is psychotic.

      Invent a new term if you want to, but please don’t pervert a term to suit your narrative.

      1. 17.1.1

        Good grief Karmic – I put it in my own words – I did not pervert anything. Keep your shirt on! What google gives as a meaning is no different to what I wrote- I just gave examples of some of the behaviours that will help women identify when they are being ‘ gas-lighted’…there is a lot of info on the net and despite what the link below states, gas-lighting is used more by men in their relationships- emotionally   bankrupt narcissists that they are. So you can differentiate- it IS cruel to the victim and maybe psychotic on the part of the perp who inflicts the cruelty – I haven’t read anywhere that it is NOT cruel or that it IS psychotic – maybe thats just what you think. http://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/emotional-psychological-abuse/gaslighting-definition-techniques-and-being-gaslighted/                     ……. and :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting   …as a start


        1. misty

          Don’t puas actually instruct men in how to gaslight women to catch them off guard, make them feel self conscious  and make it easier to get them in bed?

      2. 17.1.2

        That’s a bit unneccessary! I am sure she didn’t mean to do that. Why don’t we just respond with acceptance instead of being mean to each other. how does that help?!

    2. 17.2

      I like your comment so much Jo, that I am copying it and keeping it to remind me not to put up with being criticised by the one who says he loves me.

      1. 17.2.1

        Glad to hear that Dee. Too many women think they ‘ love’ these guys when it cannot possibly be that – maybe neediness, or something else, but I find it impossible to believe anyone can respect and trust someone who falsely accuses them of being ‘crazy’ ‘hopeless’ and such like. It is a brutal thing to do. As for the above comments by Misty and Karmic – sad huh! Be strong- you only have one life….try and make it enjoyable.


    3. 17.3

      Thank you Jo!!! I was in two abusive relationships in my early 20s.
      At first, they seemed nice, but as their male friends started taking too much notice (and co-workers and classmates and my own circle of friends), as their classmates laughed at my jokes, and as I discovered life on my own terms…well…soon I went from “beautiful” to “pretty but in need of make-up, ” along with “not funny at all.” And of course all my artistic talents, backed by our professors sincere interest, were completely ignored. One of them sexually assualted me, and I struggle still with that. So thank you so so much for your words. It was everything I needed to realize.

  18. 18

    women love yourself enough to not put up with anything that’s not good for you.   God loves us all equally….

  19. 19
    Mary C

    I can relate to so many of these sweet women. I moved in with my bf a few months ago after he told me how he wanted to marry me etc etc and financially it made my stretched situation after surgery easier. We live together fine but he does make comments that I should exercise with him, when my hair is flat or laughs seeing a clown that his makeup is like mine. I’m 52 and I’m not qualified for good paying job after burn out from being a 911 Dispatcher. He treats me great aside from those comments but doesn’t want to discuss future anymore. Broke while working fulltime but trying to keep chin up and ” not be so sensitive?”

    I have faith but find my confidence lacks trying to find a way to the kind of man who will love me unconditionally


  20. 20

    I just broke up with a boyfriend who would make comments on my weight.   In fact, he actually told me once that he was ashamed to be seen with me in public because I wasn’t skinny.   And when he was at my house, he would look at my high-school pictures (when I was younger and thinner) and ask me, “Is that girl ever coming back?”   I would tell him, “No.   I’m here now.”   Those comments alone didn’t cause me to leave him, but they factored somewhat into it.

    A relationship shouldn’t have to make you feel bad about yourself or leave you in tears.   And, a quality partner should NEVER make you feel that way.   EVER.

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