Understanding the Destructive Impact of Belittling in Relationships

The Thin Line Between Banter and Belittling in a Relationship

Every relationship has its fair share of banter, playful remarks, and teasing, which can add a spark of fun and lightheartedness. However, it is crucial to be aware of the fine line between having harmless fun and crossing into hurtful territory. At times, without realizing it, we may say something deeply hurtful to our partner, unintentionally belittling them.

Belittling Starts Small

Belittling in a relationship often begins subtly, disguised as innocent remarks or playful jokes. For instance, she might occasionally joke about your mismatched clothes, or he might mock your cooking skills. Initially, these comments may seem harmless, and you learn to brush them off because you know your partner loves you, and that's what matters to you.

But sooner or later, you begin to realize that these words carry something deeper. There is a lack of respect or love underlying these seemingly insignificant remarks. Let's take a closer look at some examples of belittling in a relationship.

Examples Of Belittling In A Relationship

Belittling can manifest in various forms within a relationship, often catching us off guard until it's too late. Here are a few examples:

  1. Insulting you If your partner insults what you do for them, your hobbies, or your occupation, it's a clear sign of belittling. They might say things like "You look awful in that outfit" or "You should probably stop playing video games so much."
  2. Ignoring you

    While not hearing you over the sound of the TV can be rude, it is different from ignoring your needs, wants, and stake in the relationship. Whether it's "forgetting" to buy your favorite peanut butter or constantly talking over you at social events, these actions can be forms of belittling, even if you don't realize it.

  3. Patronizing you

    When your partner patronizes you, they make you feel small and incapable. Even seemingly innocent remarks like "Classic Amelia" when you spill orange juice on the floor in the morning can be indicators of patronizing behavior. Correcting you, explaining things repeatedly, or acting condescendingly are all forms of belittlement within a relationship.

  4. Provoking you

    Actively seeking a reaction from you or trying to provoke you is not only unacceptable but also a form of belittling. If your partner frequently screams at you to get a reaction or intentionally pushes your buttons, they are treating you poorly in the relationship.

  5. Disrespecting your opinions

    It is normal for couples to have disagreements and different opinions. However, when your partner uses your opinion against you to make you feel inferior, it becomes a form of belittling. Phrases like "It's stupid to think like that" or "Are you silly? That's not how things work" are not only emotionally abusive but also dismiss your perspective as if you were a child.

Belittling in a relationship is not solely characterized by loud insults or screaming matches. It often manifests in the subtle, seemingly insignificant incidents that can easily go unnoticed. However, these incidents leave a lasting impression on your subconscious and can lead to feelings of low self-worth and insecurity. Therefore, it is essential to recognize and understand the various forms of belittling in a relationship.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top