Tips For Dealing With A Condescending Partner

Your significant other should be your teammate, partner in crime, and trusted confidant. But what if they talk to you in a way that makes you feel not so great? That's a challenge you might run into if you have a condescending partner. At the risk of stating the obvious, condescending comments can take an emotional toll, especially if they come from someone you love. As Karina S. Hester, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Grow Therapy, explained to Verywell Mind, "Condescending behaviors in an intimate relationship can cause a pattern of abusive communication, [and] inflict emotional pain for the one who is being talked down to." Being patronized, dismissed, or gaslighted can make you feel like you can't do anything right.


However, your S.O.'s condescending attitude isn't your fault. "When someone demonstrates a pattern of condescension, it's showing a need for power, to keep people feeling small so they feel bigger," Joni Siani, a communications and media professor at Manhattanville College, told Fatherly. "It stems from that person's insecurity."

Put another way, your partner's behavior says far more about them than it does you. With that said, you don't have to stand by until they decide to change (because, spoiler, they might not). If you're tired of feeling invalidated and disrespected, it's time to protect your peace and start making changes in your relationship. One tip, for example, involves being direct with how their behavior is making you feel.


Prioritize your mental health

You might try to brush it off when your partner mansplains or let it go when they use sarcasm to make fun of you. But the reality is that being treated in a condescending way can seriously harm your emotional well-being. "If you have a condescending partner, it is vital that you protect your mental health, as being the target of another person's condescension can negatively impact your self-esteem and the quality of your relationship," psychotherapist Oona Metz told Verywell Mind. Kiaundra Jackson, a marriage and family therapist, agrees, telling USA Today, "When it's a consistent pattern, and it's done over and over again, it can definitely diminish the person's mental health." Jackson added that self-doubt is a common by-product of being repeatedly talked down to.


To guard your mental well-being, one strategy is to surround yourself with positive messages to counterbalance the negative ones you hear in your relationship. For instance, spend time with loved ones who encourage and validate you or listen to comforting mental health podcasts.

Be sure to also cover the basics: Get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy meals, and move your body every day. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these self-care habits boost not only your physical health but your mental health too.

Survey the state of your relationship

Condescending comments have no place in a healthy relationship. According to relationship research center The Gottman Institute, condescension can be a form of contempt, the most damaging relationship behavior. The Gottman Institute even identified contempt as the number one predictor of divorce among married couples — above infidelity or any other type of betrayal. In many cases, a relationship where condescending behavior is the norm isn't even worth continuing.


Choosing to leave or remain in a romantic partnership is a highly personal decision, but one way to get some clarity is by surveying the overall state of affairs between you and your S.O. Ask yourself: "Do they often talk down to me, or are their condescending remarks a rare occurrence? Do they generally respect me and my opinions, or are they usually quick to 'correct' my actions and views?"

Additionally, look at any abusive behavior that warrants leaving the relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines abuse as "a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship." If you feel threatened, controlled, or in danger, know you don't have to live this way. Reach out for help and devise an exit plan to leave your toxic partnership.


If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Respond swiftly and directly

Condescension might sound like a fancy term for bullying, but there are instances where a partner may be condescending without meaning to cause harm. Still, this doesn't give them a pass. Next time bae patronizes you — whether intentionally or not — point out the behavior and set appropriate boundaries. As Oona Metz told Verywell Mind, "The best response to condescension is a direct, even-handed statement about how it makes you feel rather than engaging by being condescending back." This makes it clear which specific remarks or actions hurt you without creating additional conflict. Then, make a clear request for how you'd like to be treated next time. "Avoid saying things like 'I want to be respected.' It doesn't give anybody a clear picture about what you are expecting from them," relationship counselor Paul Gale-Baker explained to ABC Everyday. "Respect can mean different things to different people."


If your message seems to fall on deaf ears (which might be the case if you and your S.O. were already mid-argument), try plan B: setting boundaries during a scheduled talk. Choose a time when things are calm and there are no distractions. Tell your partner in advance you'd like to talk so they don't feel ambushed. Then, follow the same steps as above: respectfully state which behavior hurt you, express how it makes you feel and describe how you'd like to be treated in the future.

Follow through with consequences

Being clear about your feelings and needs is just the first step in setting boundaries against condescension. To enforce your boundaries — and show that you won't tolerate them being crossed — it's crucial to also follow through with consequences. Caitlin Cantor, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, explained the concept of consequences in a Psychology Today article: "Consequences are a way to make sure the other person can't continue to treat you in a way that you find unacceptable. The consequences I am referring to are not a punishment. They are an act of self-love and self-care."


Warn your partner that there will be repercussions if they continue to be condescending. For instance, you might leave the room if they call your ideas dumb, or you may stop engaging in the conversation until they speak more respectfully (though it's important to communicate this intention to avoid stonewalling in your relationship).

No matter which consequence you choose, you must stick to it. Otherwise, according to Choosing Therapy, your S.O. might assume your boundaries aren't that important and that you'll continue to accept their rude remarks.

Speak to a therapist or couples counselor

A lot of what goes down — including hurtful behaviors — between you and your partner might typically remain private, but bringing in a third party can help you better handle and assess the situation. "Most issues within a couple start small and then grow in size when they don't get resolved. This is where therapy can help, by giving tools and techniques to improve conflict resolution," Kristie Overstreet, a licensed mental health counselor, shared with CNN. "The majority of couples that I work with say that they should have started therapy years earlier." Keep in mind that you don't have to be married or on the brink of breaking up to visit a professional — there are benefits of couples counseling even if you have a healthy relationship.


If you or your partner still aren't ready to take the leap, consider individual therapy instead. As we mentioned previously, being with a condescending partner can negatively impact you and your mental health. A trustworthy therapist can help you rebuild your self-esteem, encourage you to continue setting healthy boundaries, and explore any deeper patterns that could be contributing to your relationship issues.