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.
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.
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