What to do when your partner criticises your looks

If your partner criticises your looks or body on a constant basis, it’s a horrible situation to be in. I’m not talking about the odd playful comment, but a constant barrage of comments and criticisms that leave your body image and self-esteem on the floor.

I know how it feels, because I’ve been there having spent 4 and a half years with a partner who put me and my looks down.  I constantly felt like I had to work on my body and appearance to live up to his exacting standards.  It seemed nothing was ever good enough.  I had a tubby tummy, hairs on my chin, and I wore the wrong clothes and colours.  The list was endless.

Thinking about it takes me back to a very dark place.  A place where I felt like the problem was with me and my body.  I wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t worthy enough to be with this man.

If you are in this situation too, I empathise.  But I want you to know that you are not the problem, you do not have to be in this place.  Here’s what you can do:

Know that you are not the problem

The moment I finally figured out the real reason for the criticism was a real light bulb moment for me.  Because I was caught up in blaming myself for not being attractive, fit or sexy enough, I’d totally missed what was really going on.

The problem wasn’t with me, it was with him

It dawned on me that when a person puts another down, it’s often an attempt to make them feel better about themselves.

My ex had some insecurities around his likability – he was worried others didn’t find him interesting and wouldn’t want to socialise with him.

We’d shared with each other things that we weren’t confident about, and one of my things was my looks, having been bullied about my appearance from any early age (you can read my full story here).

It never occurred to me that, in a supposedly loving relationship, my partner might take the insecurities that I had so vulnerably shared with him and use them against me for his own gain. But that is exactly what he did.  By picking on something that he knew would make me feel small, unattractive and insignificant, he was able to feel better about himself.

If your partner is very critical of you and your looks, ask yourself what is going on for them.  Is it possible that they are trying to feel better about themselves by putting you down?  Or perhaps they are worried that you will leave them, and use the criticism to keep you where you are.  If you believe that nobody else will want you, you’re more likely to stay with them.

Take a stand

As soon as I realised what was behind the criticism, I called him out on it.  I told him what I believed he was doing, and that I wasn’t prepared to put up with it any more.

At first, he didn’t concede that he was picking on me to improve how he felt about himself.  However, a few days later, following a period of reflection, he admitted (with some remorse) that this was the case.

I don’t think he was consciously aware of what he was doing, but on a sub-conscious level, his mind was trying to protect him – doing what it could to improve his self-esteem.

Just pointing the behaviour out to your partner might be enough to put an end to it, or at least open the door to a conversation about what is going on for them, and how you can support them

If you genuinely want to put a stop to the criticism, you need to be firm about what you’d like to happen, and the consequences if it doesn’t.  For example, you might say, “I’m no longer prepared to listen to derogatory remarks about my body or appearance.  If these persist I will (break-up with you/move out, etc.)**

Although my ex conceded that his behaviour was not acceptable, and that he wouldn’t continue with it, there were other issues that I needed to re-examine…..

Re-examine your relationship

A loving relationship is based on mutual love, trust, respect and acceptance.  Your partner should love and accept you as you are – warts and all.  When your partner constantly puts you or how you look down, they are not being loving, respectful or accepting.

Even though I took a stand against the critical behaviour, I still didn’t feel that my partner fundamentally accepted or truly loved me.  I didn’t think that I could trust him with my vulnerabilities.   I wanted to be in a relationship where I felt accepted, where I didn’t feel the need to be or look like someone else.

In examining your relationship, you have to ask yourself if this is what you really want.  Does the relationship make you feel safe and loved?  If your partner is genuinely able to address their behaviour, that’s great.  If they can’t, or you feel that the damage done by the put downs is too great, it’s time to move on to someone who will treat you in the way you deserve to be treated – with love, respect and acceptance.

**Please note that if you are being subjected to put downs and criticisms that make you fear for your physical or emotional safety, please tell someone.  Make sure you get the help that you need.  It is never acceptable to be subjected to emotional or physical abuse.

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