How Fault-Finding Destroys Loving Relationships

Stop destroying your love with harsh criticism.

In my relationship book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, I discuss the real source of where most relationships become toxic—your own thoughts! Sadly, there a lot of walking wounded out there! By “walking wounded,” I mean the scores of people who feel unfulfilled, or worse, emotionally neglected or abused, in their intimate relationships. It seems that everywhere we turn, we unfortunately see and hear about people who are unhappy and emotionally hurting, often severely, in their quest to feel loved. Most of these unfortunate couples struggle due to what I refer to as “relationship toxicity overload.”

Here are what I consider the top three signs of toxic relationships:

  1. Criticism and contempt. According to Dr. John Gottman, criticism and contempt are highly destructive in loving relationships. Signs of criticism and contempt may appear as your partner distastefully making fun of you.

Criticism takes the not so exalted status of being the first on John Gottman’s famous Four Horsemen (the other three are contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) of the Apocalypse, which predict divorce with more than 90% accuracy. Criticism is destructive to relationships when it is:

About personality or character, rather than behavior
Filled with blame
Not focused on improvement
Based on only one “right way” to do things
Belittling

Criticism in intimate relationships begins, in most cases, on a small scale and escalates over time. It then moves in a downward spiral with increasing resentment. The criticized person feels controlled, which frustrates the critical partner, who then steps up the criticism, increasing the other’s sense being controlled, and so on.

Contempt expresses the feeling of dislike toward a partner, and implies that the other person is considered worthless and undeserving of respect. Contempt is communication through insults, name-calling, tone of voice, as well as facial expressions. Contempt eats away at a relationship rapidly and painfully.

One female client of mine would tell her husband he was sexually inadequate in response to him criticizing her excessive spending habits. Quite a toxic mess, for sure! Contempt can also appear as one partner criticizing another in public. Acting superior also conveys a contemptuously, toxic message. To experience the one you love, or once loved, ripping you with incessant fault-finding barrages is highly demoralizing and emotionally unhealthy.

  1. Avoidance. Do silent treatment-like, arctic winds whip off her shoulder and knock you over, leaving you breathless and hopeless? Does he deprive you of physical affection but then complain that you are too needy? Do you feel that every time you try to clear the air, he disappears into it? Does he refuse to go to counseling? Avoidance is a very passive-aggressive form of relationship toxicity and it often gets progressively worse over time.

  2. Negative relationship energy. You feel hopelessly lost in negative energy. At the end of the day, and most of the time during it, do you feel increasingly beaten down, emotionally bankrupt and numb? Do you feel that the times you do positively connect with your intimate partner are all in vain, only to just get sucked up by overwhelming negative energy? Does it seem that any initially promising positive changes are unsustainable?

Be honest with yourself

I certainly have seen far too many couples throw in the relationship towel way too early. At the same time, if your relationship is truly toxic, and your partner will not work with you to make changes, then it may be time to leave. Recognizing, and continuing to acknowledge, the persistent signs of a toxic relationship can empower you to get out of it. Above all, know your value! Prolonging the agony of a truly toxic situation will have deleterious effects on both you and your partner. When possible, see a qualified relationship counselor before making significant relationship decisions. Even if you decide to leave, it is important to learn your role in the toxic relationship dance so you don’t do a repeat performance!

Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over 23 years of experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples and family therapy. Follow him on Twitter.

Are You Micro-Cheating? 7 Signs You Might Be

Tiny acts of infidelity can and often do eventually lead to full-blown affairs. These are warning signs to be aware of.

I was in New Orleans for a friend’s bachelorette party when a man and I started dancing. He pulled me close to him and laid his chin against the curve of my neck.

“Are you single?” he whispered in my ear.

“No,” I told him. “Married.”

“Too bad,” he said, and I could feel his hot breath against my neck.

We danced for a while longer, and then I broke away to return to my friends and get a sip of beer.

“You guys were getting friendly,” a friend of mine said to me.

“Nah,” I said. “It was just nice to dance with someone.”

We danced together a few more times that night. He clutched me so tightly against him that I could feel the outline of his entire body. At one point, he rubbed his lips against my neck and said, “You sure you don’t want to go home with me?”

“I’m married,” I repeated and broke away from him.

“I just thought you might be interested. From the way we were dancing.”

“I wasn’t,” I said and didn’t dance with him again.

“Anyone hit on you last night?” my then husband asked me on the phone next day.

“No. I just danced with the other girls,” I told him.

By the time I did cheat on my ex-husband, I’d committed dozens of acts like this one, subtle ones that skirted between fidelity and infidelity. They felt so small, so inconsequential at the time. Why even mention them to my then husband? Why even make him worried when there was nothing to them?

But each act was indicative of a problem. Some people cheat because of a problem within themselves. Others, like myself, felt tempted because of problem within my relationship.

Micro-cheating, defined as tiny acts of infidelity, can and often does eventually lead to full-blown affairs. These are warning signs to be aware of.

1. Falling for thirst-traps

thirst-trap is defined as, “a sexy photo posted on social media to attract attention.” The intention of these is to draw you in to like, compliment, or DM. They’re “look at my cleavage or v-cut abs!”

If you are in a committed monogamous relationship, notice thirst-traps and acknowledge that you like what you see, but then keeeeeeeep on scrolling. Do not let them hook you so you like, comment “you look great!” or, worse, slide into their DMs. You’re playing too close to an electric fence when you start engaging with these.

2. Having active dating profiles

Exclusivity likely means for you and your partner that you don’t have any active dating profiles; otherwise you’ll have a convenient exit door. Maybe you tell yourself that you like swiping when you’re bored, but what if you see someone you like? Are you really going to not message them?

“The grass is always greener,” and it can always look that way if you’re not feeling too happy with your current situation. The other part of that aphorism you need to remember, though, is that, “It’s always greener where you water it.”

Spending any of your free time on a dating site or app is a problem, and one you should check quickly.

3. Not inviting your partner to certain events

I often went out without my ex-husband when we were married. Sometimes I would push him to go, but more often than not, I wouldn’t. We have different interests. This just isn’t his thing, I would tell myself, but because I would go anyway, it opened me up to be considered single or unattached.

If you find yourself purposefully not inviting your partner to events, it might be because there’s someone there you don’t want them to meet, or you don’t want this other person to see that you’re in a committed relationship. Doing this definitely qualifies as micro-cheating.

4. Being protective of your phone

Before I finally did cheat, I saved my crush in my phone under a fake name, and I’d never leave my phone unguarded without first setting it to “Do Not Disturb” and locking it. I knew I was doing something shady and that my partner wouldn’t approve, so I went out of my way to hide it.

While I was outrightly being protective and deceptive, you might be more subtle. Maybe you’re just a little nervous about your partner seeing your phone, or maybe you know they’d take it the wrong way if a certain name popped up on your screen. Either way, if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your phone unguarded, that’s something for you to think about.

5. Stalking an ex

You may be curious about an ex and decide to look them up every once in a while, but continually perusing their social media profiles can be a sign that you’re still emotionally attached. The same is true if you won’t quit talking about your ex. If your ex’s name keeps being in your mouth, you’re not over them.

6. Spending time with someone in a meaningful way and not telling your partner

Anything done in secret from your partner is a sign you’re not doing something you believe is appropriate. When I danced with that guy in New Orleans and then didn’t tell my husband, I knew I had participated in something inappropriate. If my husband had done that with another woman, I would have been furious, but I convinced myself it “wasn’t a big deal” because it didn’t go further.

If you spend meaningful time with someone, whether it be meeting someone for coffee or dancing with them at a bar, and you don’t then tell your partner, you should ask yourself why.

7. Waiting too long to tell someone you’re in a committed relationship

When you meet someone new, it’s common to chat with them about your life, but it’s a problem if you don’t mention that you’re in a committed relationship. While you may not be outrightly lying, you’re lying by omission by not mentioning that there’s a whole person you happen to share a home/life with.

If you don’t mention your partner to someone, it’d be important for you to figure out why. You could be trying to portray yourself as single, and that’s not okay if you want to remain in your committed relationship.

When you catch yourself committing some of these shady subtle behaviors, it’s time to take a look at yourself. Are you hungering for something more? Are you feeling neglected in your relationship? It’s likely time for you to have an open conversation with your partner and/or seek the help of a therapist. Affairs don’t begin out of nowhere. They start small and build, and micro-cheating is the very smallest way they can begin.


It Was Only a Matter of Time Before I Cheated on My Husband

It could have happened at any time, I know now.

 By: Tara Blair Ball