Nothing I Do is Good Enough For my Partner

Nothing I Do is Good Enough For my Partner

Relationships often start with plenty of demonstrations of affection and appreciation for one another. There is a sense of “this person gets me and accepts me for who I am”. The infatuation makes you want to attend to even the silliest requests from your partner. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, your partners request feels like demands that can’t be met. You feel confused and hurt that no matter what you do it’s never good enough to please them.

At first you chalk it up to some stress that has been going on in your lives. Soon you realize that your partner is constantly criticizing and blaming you. And things like this happen:

5 Things a Hard to Please Person Does

There is always a “if you just…then I would…” bargaining/ blaming statement happening. The bargaining portion serves the purpose of pretending you have a choice in behavior – you can do this or have the consequences. The blaming serves to keep you responsible for their behavior and entitlement. Their frustration that something isn’t to their liking is usually your fault for not following “the correct steps”. A trap that you constantly fall into because you want to “get it right”.

Their expectation can’t ever be achieved. Even when you do what they want the response is that you didn’t do exactly how they wanted, you took too long or you have to do more now. The standards are constantly changing. They might take over the task without letting you try, which causes insecurity and resentment for you.

You feel invalidated in your feelings and needs. If you express disagreement or disappointment you are met with “I didn’t mean that way, so you shouldn’t feel that way”.

Every argument ends with you giving up and letting them have their way as if it was a game they need to win.

They compare the relationship and/or you to their ideal model. This idealization might come from someone in their lives (parents, former partner) or from beliefs about relationships. In any case you always lose since you’ll never be as good as their vision.

Now that you can safely identify that your partner can’t be pleased you are left with a question: why? You have been blamed for their dissatisfaction for so long that it’s hard to imagine other reasons for such mind games and control. Before you lose all hope of happiness it can be helpful to understand why.

The possible reasons:

High anxiety: Your partner could have a high level of anxiety that is alleviated through taking control of situations and people – especially you. Notice that you are not the only target of their criticism. There is a constant hyper-vigilance about what is going on around them and how they need to make it right. People with high anxiety are very critical of themselves as well as others. The dissatisfaction is due to a high standard that basically no one can achieve for being so idealized. There is a belief that anything and everything can always be better than it is.

“Your partner could have a high level of anxiety that is alleviated through taking control of situations and people – especially you.”

The world is unsafe: Critical people might have learned that world is unsafe and you must be always on the offense and defense to not get hurt. The critical and controlling behaviors are to keep them with the upper hand in life. In this case you will notice a “winning behavior”. A need to be always right and “win” arguments no matter what.

Resentment: Something might have happened in the relationship that triggered the dissatisfaction. Your partner has resentments towards you that they neither express or let go. This is a passive-aggressive (though it feels very aggressive to you) way of dealing with conflict that has to be addressed.

Role models: Dysfunctional role models of what a relationship looks like can cause your spouse to not know how else to interact with you. Experiencing negative role models also has a side-effect of leading him or her to try and maintain control of the relationship so they are not hurt like their parents.

Finally, we get to the part that concerns you: what can you do about it? Resolving conflict always takes both partners engaging in the work. You also have responsibility to change the situation.

What you can do about it:

Accept that you have responsibility: You have been reinforcing this behavior by trying to please your spouse at any cost. Every time you give in and do what they want you are sending the message that it is ok to hurt you that way. However, responsibility doesn’t mean blame. It is not your fault that your partner became critical and possibly abusive. Accept that you have been enabling the behavior and use the knowledge to change interactions.

Set reasonable boundaries: it is ok for partners to make requests, but not demands. Set a boundary of what you are willing to work with your partner and how you expect to be ask to do attend to their needs. Don’t allow name calling, shaming or invalidation of your feelings. If needed take a time out to cool off and reengage in discussion later.

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About the Author Patricia Cochran is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She is passionate about helping couples and families to feel connected again. In her spare time, she is busy with her toddler and enjoying friends and family time

13 Responses to Nothing I Do is Good Enough For my Partner

  1. Thanks Patricia.
    I can really relate to what you wrote above.
    I tried to understand more about it, but what you wrote sounds all too familiar with what I experienced. I too kept asking myself why is this happening?
    How can we resolve things peacefully?
    Unfortunately I saw traits of this behaviour with my ex girlfriend, and sadly we are no longer together. In the end she simply wore me down so much, I was mentally drained by the experience. Her behaviour had changed after our honeymoon period lasted two months. She became Controlling, restless, frustrated, criticising, and very argumentative.. Unfortunately this nasty side to her took over, and I never got back the friendly, kind , jovial woman who charmed me into falling for.
    I simply felt trapped, I was in a dark place feeling down with a low self esteem.
    I’m still hurting after one month seperated. I miss her, but I know what’s best for me.
    What I like to know is can this person reverse this condition, disorder or anxiety?
    She has admitted to me she suffers from anxiety, most often having sleepless nights.
    Is she likely to remain like this in life?
    I simply don’t know how she’d cope

    • I was fired due to suffering a stroke at the place my husband and I had worked for 20+ years. He still works there. I miss it. I miss carpooling with him and eating lunch together with our friends. I miss my friends/coworkers. I feel betrayed and hurt.
      I am now constantly being told everything I say is “negative”. Asked why I have to make comments? He argues with me and we NEVER argued. We were very able to have an adult disagreement without raising voices nor anger and name calling. Now he argues with me about everything.
      I am not stupid. I was actually the breadwinner although he now makes more than I did. We made it a friendly competition. He is not stupid. I could never marry someone who I couldn’t have intelligent conversations with.
      I accept that he has anxiety over making sure all of the bills are paid (or the finances) – I pay the actual bills. We have no debt. And he has stress from work.
      I have admitted to him that I am working on my feelings but have not gotten over what happened to me at work. If I hear that I “just need to get over it” one more time, I am going to scream and leave the room.
      I don’t want to be negative or what he perceives as negative. I also love this man more than life and I am tired of feeling like he is disappointed in me every time he looks at me and speaks to me.
      I have not brought up to him that he may be suffering from some of his own issues- the loss of control. He will accuse me of making it about him and making excuses.
      It is his birthday today, so I made sure not to say anything about work or previously mentioned “comments”. A commercial came on and I made a comment and he blew up at me. It wasn’t negative. I will admit it if I am negative! I am severely depressed and hollow.
      But his reaction has me now wondering what I am doing in this relationship. Should I leave? I have loved this man half of my life. Our kids are grown. I am not even sure I could function without him. And, against everything I was taught by my fiercely independent mother, I am relying on a man to support me. Not by choice. I continue to go to interviews and apply for jobs, to no avail. We are not behind financially so I don’t know why he worries. Stay or leave? How do I get us back on track? I am miserable.

  2. Glad I came across this. I’m in a marriage where I’m struggling with what to do and how to move forward with a spouse so critical and hurtful. I’ve been seeing a counselor and taking meds for years to help me cope (ask my wife and she’ll tell you I’m there to “fix” my “problems”). What do you do with the knowledge but no ability to change the situation?

    • Chris, this one might be pretty microspecific but there are lots of counseling techniques that are warm, inviting and encouraging but are really soft on the practical side. If you’re feeling good in counseling but don’t feel like you’re getting the tools you need just bring it up with your counselor that you’d like to be ‘pushed’ a little bit more to practice what you’re learning. Most of us are glad to hear how we can help you. You may hear from your therapist that they don’t do ‘behavioral modification’ and that’s ok. Maybe they can recommend someone who can.

  3. I feel like this article was good and informative but I also think it was directed towards validating the bad behavior even though you said it doesn’t. For instance if I tried to show this to my BF who 100% shares the traits you addressed he would see “your partner could have high anxiety” and further use that as an excuse to continue with the constant critisism and belittling and shit attitude. So my question is how do I get him to stop critisizing me about everything I do and be more positive? I feel like he isn’t self aware at all. Is there any point in this relationship? We have two kids but I am so sick of being treated like shit.

    • This sounds like my life. I have a 2 month old baby with my husband. Sometimes he’s great and it’s why I stay but sometimes he’s ridiculous. He makes me feel so stupid and useless and has no insight whatsoever. He will find any justification for his behavior and it will always come back to being my fault. I’m looking after our baby and you’re fighting with me over the fact your work shirts aren’t ironed and ready? Then he has the nerve to tell me if he was looking after the baby, everything would be completed and the house in order. I’m doing the best I can but it’s never enough.

  4. I’m so great full for this article, I am living with this same kind of person and my god the pain with living with a high anxiety person is unbearable, most of the time I contemplate leaving because it is too much.

  5. My husband is many of the above “I didn’t mean it that way”, “if you wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t have done this; “I have ADHD so I it’s not my fault”; any apologies are backhanded and sarcastic “oh I’m soooo sorry” while he is rolling his eyes. Very immature for a 60 year old. His excuse is that he works so hard he doesn’t have time to think how other people feel, and I should work around him since he works so hard. I make $80,000 a year, have a good job, but my job isn’t physical, so…ya know, I don’t work as hard. I’ve always put up with it but the camels back finally broke this past weekend, as he brought home a bottle of wine from the woman he works for…for me, “he wasn’t sure why”…they both know I don’t drink, and have struggled with drinking issues in the past. She is a bored, mean typical rich woman type, and has my husband wrapped around her finger with her millions…it was like a slap on the face that he took part in a sick joke. Then…because I was upset about it, it was pick, pick, pick..I’m so sensitive and took it the wrong way…tried to make him understand it’s like offering scrambled eggs to someone who is allergic to eggs, and you know they are allergic, but you taunt them anyway. Saturday our daughter wanted me to go to Target quick with her, when I came home he screamed at me for leaving because “he had to work on our floors”. No, what actually happened is that while I was gone, the spoiled son of this woman he works for called him and told him he needed my husband to work for him Saturday morning. Instead of saying “it’s not an emergency, it can wait until Monday, I had other plans”…he tried to do both, and took his stress out on me. The rich family he works for comes first, my husband has money worship issues from his childhood, which I can usually handle, but not when I take the verbal beating for his stress. I couldn’t muster myself to be in a good mood for our kids on Mother’s Day, so I tried to talk to him about it, but got nowhere, no apology, no understanding, nope nothing his fault whatsoever, I’ve got to shape up. This is not like my old husband that I had known for 30 years. Before working for these people about 5 years ago, he was thoughtful and considerate, fun and easy-going, loved being around him. So much has changed since he was started working for these people. Last year he went out to dinner with them…on my birthday. He “forgot” it was my birthday, and still went out with them anyway even though they could have done it some other time…or…hey, why not ask me along. I had surgery last year, no more than get back to my room, and his boss lady calls and he tells me he has to take it because it might be an emergency (which it was not). To add to my frustration, my kids expect me to “cave” to make everything nice, it’s just Dad’s ADHD, that’s why he forgets, Dad is just so busy, Dad is a good provider and works hard (I guess my income isn’t enough and I don’t work hard). And then every time I do back down, I get crapped on again, so I’m kinda walking around in a perpetual state of PTSD…what am I going to be in trouble for now. I’m tired of being the whipping post, and quite frankly, very lonely. I am a people pleaser because it’s fun to see people happy, but it hurts so much when the one you love takes advantage of it. We have tried counseling, but he did all the talking, his ADHD ya know, he gets loud and just talks over people and thinks its funny…”haha”. Unfortunately the counselor fell for that too, and we haven’t been back since. My husband refuses to get any help for his ADHD, he says it’s not a problem…no, it’s just the elephant in the room, along with a few others.

  6. good lord, this is so real to me. I could have written this to describe the way my wife treats me. Thank you. And the advice about taking responsibility, setting boundries, acceptable behavior. That is all much much easier than it sounds.

  7. I work hard, maintain the home and garden (not washing and cleaning), do all the cooking etc etc. but my wife always nags about things that HAVEN’T been done! She never appreciates everything I HAVE done and continue to do. I prioritise things, and if it’s not important or pressing, I’ll not tackle it straight away. This is met with “you don’t ever want to do anything”, which infuriates me as I do so much.
    It feels that everything would never be enough. How do I sort this out?

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