Ask Dave-Her girlfriend is overly critical

Her girlfriend’s criticisms in private and public are wearing her down. Is there any hope for them?

By Dave Singleton

ear Dave,
I don’t know whether I am overreacting or being too sensitive, but I need some advice. I have been seeing a woman for several months. She’s a friend of a friend and we met at a lesbian social networking event. Since we’re both in our early thirties and
I don’t know whether I am overreacting or being too sensitive.
working like crazy, initially it was just good to meet a new friend. But a romance developed and it’s been up and down for me since then.

The problem is that she hurts my feelings all the time by being overly critical. Things will be going fine and the next thing I know, she doesn’t like what I’m saying, what I’m wearing, or friends I am seeing. Sometimes, she’s privately critical, but other times, she knocks me down in public, which I really dislike and she knows it. I don’t like addressing conflicts in public. Sometimes, she admits she’s being a jerk, feels guilty, and then begs me to forgive her, which I always do. She had a hard childhood with an alcoholic mom, so I know it hasn’t been easy. Other times, she says I am overly sensitive and that I need to get over it—that arguing is what couples do. I look at other couples with envy since they don’t seem to be so tense. Yes, I like it when we’re in sync and the low points are not that frequent. But when it’s bad, I get so down that my friends warn me to be careful with her and not lose myself. I’ve had issues before with expecting too much, so I am trying to accept that no one is perfect. But the relationship is weighing on me. What do you think I should do? Am I too sensitive or should I just try to be more accepting?
– Too Sensitive?

Dear Sensitive,
Overreacting is when she’s 10 minutes late for dinner just once and you pitch a fit. If you are consistently feeling bad about anything, you are not overreacting.

I think that trying to be accepting is a good thing when the issues are small. She’s sloppier than you. Work interferes and she misses a date. Occasionally, she’s in a bad mood and isn’t as nice as usual. But the overly critical behavior you’ve described is no small issue.

Psychologists refer to an excessively critical mindset as the “critical parent,” or superego. But just because she has a superego the size of California, that doesn’t mean that you should pay the price for it.

It’s time to face facts: After a few short months, this relationship is negatively impacting your self-esteem. “Under”-reacting is when something impacts your self-esteem and you do nothing about it. It sounds like you have tried patience and talking. In your case, being tolerant of her bad behavior equates to ignoring yourself.

Any expert will tell you that the first rule of a healthy
Being tolerant of her bad behavior equates to ignoring yourself.
new relationship is to not lose yourself as you connect with the other person. That’s hard to do when you are caught in a Ferris wheel of abuse. It’s up, it’s down, and then it’s up again. She’s nice, then she’s mean, and then she’s nice and wants to be forgiven for being mean.

Remember that she has a choice in any given situation. When she’s mean, she’s choosing to let indulgence and insecurities overtake her caring for you. She apologizes, but then chooses not to learn from her mistakes. It’s important that you recognize her choice to stay stuck in unhealthy patterns since that means you’re stuck, too, until something changes.

I think that your questions about whether this relationship is good for you are driven by your instincts, and you should pay close attention to them, because they’ve thrown out a huge red flag. Instead of accepting her bad behavior, consider these four questions before you decide what to do:

Are you searching your soul to understand your role in this?
Ask yourself a few key questions. Why are you willing to jump through emotional hoops to stay with someone who doesn’t respect you and engages in unacceptable behavior? Why are you willing to put her needs first? It might seem noble, but suppression of the self for another doesn’t serve anyone. When you subordinate yourself to the bad behavior of someone else, you sell yourself short.

Are you listening to your friends?
They can’t make key decisions for us, but close friends sometime act as mirrors to what’s really going behind our facades, especially when we don’t realize how bad things have gotten. Give your closest friends the opportunity to share freely their thoughts on your relationship and how it’s changed you.

Are you making excuses for her?
She alone is responsible for her behavior. Replace the excuses with a dose of reality. Poor baby, her mom was a mess (many people overcome tough parents and childhoods). She’s good to you some of the time (but the abuse stays with you all the time). How sad that you don’t want to be in too good a mood because you’ll just get shot down!

Where’s your line in the sand?
Does she know you have limits? It doesn’t sound like it. Make it clear that her critical behavior is a deal-breaker for you. Actions speak louder than words. It changes or you leave. It’s that simple. She needs to address this issue if she wants to stay with you—possibly through counseling with someone who’ll help her break the self-defeating cycle of criticism and guilt. Then, give yourself a deadline. If at the end of a couple of months nothing has changed, you have your answer. If it’s her unwillingness to change versus your mental health, choose your health.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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