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Maybe I'm just an asshole...
November 2, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

How or when is it okay to "correct" your SO?

I have a tendency in general to "correct" people when I see them doing something in a way I think is incorrect or not optimal. It often comes off as being an asshole, much to my detriment. I try to subdue it, but it has always been a part of my character and my success has been limited. My comments can be critical, but not intended in a mean-spirited way. I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them.

So I am working on it in general, but professionally it has often been beneficial to putting me into a position of authority and someone who everyone goes to with questions, help making decisions, when they need assistance, etc. etc. In a professional environment, it seems much less personal and my criticism is taken the way I intended it.

In my personal relationships, I know it's no longer my job to "improve" my friends and family. But it often slips out without even realizing. Those close enough to me know I do this and usually they can point it out and I can stop or backtrack before feelings get hurt.

It can also be trying for people who aren't being paid to work for me. I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them. Partially to understand their thought process and how they came to a decision and also I am afraid that I am not understanding something and what they are doing is actually more "correct" and pointing out a mistake that isn't a mistake makes it all come across much, much worse, and embarrassing.

My closest personal relationship is with my girlfriend of about five months. This is the best, healthiest, most awesome relationship I have ever experienced and I don't want this kind of defectiveness to mess anything up. I also don't want to have to pretend to be someone I'm not though. We are both a bit obsessive, so there is some level of mutual understanding, but I can tell it gets on her nerves when I question her about things when she thinks I should just know already or could reasonably figure it out or assume.

We have yet to have a real argument about anything serious. The only things we argue about really are communication issues, sometimes those revolving around this thing that I do. These arguments are rare; we've had three since getting together and otherwise things are wonderful.

At the end of these arguments, I feel disappointed and frustrated for "failing" to be a good partner and she feels disappointed and frustrated that I feel like I've "failed". She tells me that I shouldn't feel that way and that she just gets frustrated in the moment when I question her so much.

So I guess my question is how I can let her know things that she might not realize without seeming so critical or condescending?

I've tried telling her later on or the next day, rather than in the moment she is doing something "wrong" but I'm not sure that really helped. It kind of made it into more of a big deal because I held on to it and didn't just toss it out casually in the moment.

Or do I just simply need to stop doing this completely? I'm trying and would take suggestions on how to identify the behavior quicker or preempt it. But I also struggle with not being completely honest by holding things back because I might offend.
posted by doomtop to Human Relations (62 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tell her what you just told us. Let her know that (a) you're aware that you do this thing, and (b) it's absoultely fine to tell you when you're doing it, and to stop doing it. Changing your behaviour will be much, much easier if your girlfriend works with you.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:57 AM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


In my personal relationships, I know it's no longer my job to "improve" my friends and family. Exactly! It is not your job to improve your girlfriend. We all have faults and things we could improve on, and we don't need someone reminding us of that 24/7. Try dropping the questions & the critiques for awhile- you don't need to commit to doing it forever, try it out for a week or a month. Write everything down in a private place, even. Then at the end of the time period, look over the stuff you wrote down and assess: Are these things vital, or petty? Would it have been worth annoying her to let her know this information? You may find there's a lot on the list that was worth letting go.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:00 AM on November 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


if she doesn't know that you have this pattern tell her. i'd assume she already knows though. then, ask her if it's ok for you to do. if she says yes she knows it's coming from a good place and it's ok. if she says no, then you'll just have to bite your tongue, and take solace in that even though she's Doing It Wrong you're doing what she wants.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:00 AM on November 2, 2011


It might help to give a specific example or two; I'm not clear on exactly what kind of things you're correcting or questioning. But to answer your last question -- it's often easier to just stop doing something completely than to "cut down" or change it in some vague way. So I'd see if you can completely break the habit, then take it from there.
posted by pete_22 at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2011


Or do I just simply need to stop doing this completely?

Yes you need to stop doing this - even if you're right there's virtually zero way to do this (on a regular basis) on a non-professional level that doesn't come off as an ass. . As le morte said, have you girlfriend tell you when you're doing it and stop. I know its hard to change behaviors (I don't correct - I tease) but when my wife tells me to "stop it" Its actually been effective at changing the way I am with her.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


Just want to point out that telling her everything I just posted here is great advice and exactly what I have done so far. I'm just looking for a wider perspective. She is great and supportive and I just want to do the best that I can to be a good partner who doesn't make her feel the way I think I do when this happens.
posted by doomtop at 10:02 AM on November 2, 2011


You might also have a discussion on what sort of things she'd like feedback on. Perhaps she'd be interested to know when she mispronounces word and would not be interested to know when you think her outfit is unflattering, for example.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:03 AM on November 2, 2011


Or do I just simply need to stop doing this completely?

Yes you need to stop doing this


Agreed. And it is not hiding who you really are to change something about yourself that annoys people and especially your gf.
People change all the time, and this isn't even you, this is a habit of yours. Think of it like biting your nails.
Tell your gf you know you need to change this about yourself and ask her to help you with it and point out to you when you are doing it subconsciously.
posted by rmless at 10:03 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


You need to stop this. There is absolutely no upside to correcting her.
posted by amro at 10:04 AM on November 2, 2011


You realize that she's probably just trying to correct you? Exactly the way you correct other people, except she's trying to correct your correctiveness? And that makes you feel like a failure?

Yeah, that's why you need to talk with her about this - because you're not Trying to make her feel like a failure when you correct her. Except that you are.

Also, let go of a little of your perfectionism. I'm sure she'd agree that you're an Awesome partner, just flawed like every other human being.
posted by ldthomps at 10:04 AM on November 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


How or when is it okay to "correct" your SO?

Only when there is an imminent threat to human life.
posted by atrazine at 10:05 AM on November 2, 2011 [15 favorites]


I suspect that people are going to say that no one is ever "completely honest". How could we be? We're a constant mess of various thoughts and impulses, most of which have to be canalized so that we can function as a coherent self in the world. You don't actually tell your girlfriend everything you think - I promise you this. In fact, it's this canalization which brings "us" into being.

To change, you need to accept in your heart that you want to change. You need to let go of the belief that it's more "honest" to share all your critiques, or that you are somehow "censoring" yourself. If you don't, you'll constantly have a nagging sense of injustice or oppression that you will probably unconsciously blame on your girlfriend and that will get poisonous. Practice reminding yourself that you don't want to critique everything your girlfriend does, and that you are not entitled to do so.

Why not think through all the different reasons people have for doing things? For example, when I drive, I rarely take the 'best' or quickest route; I take the route that makes me feel safest and most confident as a driver, because I prioritize road safety and I don't drive very often. To someone who likes to drive on the freeway, this looks wrong. But why are they entitled to interrogate me? Why do I have to explain my actions to them?

I think a lot of guys are socialized to believe that they are entitled to get all the knowledge that they want by demanding it from others. Like, of course if you see someone doing something and you want to know more, you are absolutely within your rights to pester them and demand details - they must always be an open book, prepared to teach and explain to you just because you deserve it. It will come as no surprise that most other people do not share this view of their role in the world. They think of themselves as autonomous subjects who are entitled to make their own decisions and share information as they see fit, not as arms of your curiousity.

You say that you want to "confirm" that people are actually "more correct" if they differ from you. How about reminding yourself that you don't need to/have the right to confirm this? How about pre-emptively assuming that people are doing things the right way for them?

Then save all your corrections for when people are going to set something on fire by mistake, etc.
posted by Frowner at 10:06 AM on November 2, 2011 [31 favorites]


Your annoying little habit is going to go over a lot better if you quit forcing other people to be involved in it so much. How about instead of interrogating your victim about why they're doing what they're doing, which forces them to ultimately feel like an asshole when the five-minute analysis of their action which probably didn't need to involve you culminates in you telling them everything they just said is wrong, you could cram your whole criticism into one short comment so they can take it or leave it and get on with what they're doing?

"Hey, making cookies? Have you ever tried mixing the butter and sugar together before adding the other stuff? It makes it easier to stir that way."

"Nah, man, this recipe says to mix it all at once."

"Awesome, just checking. What kind of cookies are you making? Okay, now I'm going to go mind my own business."
posted by milk white peacock at 10:09 AM on November 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


(Oh, as to what to do - can you just ask your girlfriend to ask you to stop when you start? Maybe just have a phrase like "oh, you're doing it again!"

Then if she WANTS to share what she's doing - ie, she thinks she might set something on fire if she doesn't get some help or advice, she can talk further to you.)
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on November 2, 2011


So I guess my question is how I can let her know things that she might not realize without seeming so critical or condescending?

I'm sorry, but this sounds like code for "how can i be critical and condescending without seeming so critical and condescending."
posted by Billiken at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2011 [15 favorites]


Second le morte above. Just admit that it's a failing of yours and ask her help. It puts you on the same team toward a better relationship. And when she points it out to you, thank her for caring enough to say something. Friends who are willing to hurt your feelings for your sake are to be valued.

If the correction involves safety, yours, hers or others, you get a pass. If she's cross-contaminating food with raw chicken blood, don't let her continue doing it. Damn the torpedoes in that case.

One thing I do is let them struggle a bit and then ask permission to show them a way that might make their efforts easier. But if their way works for them, let it work for them.

If their way works but you think your way works better, then the best you can do is just do it your way for yourself and maybe they'll notice the better results and ask your about how you did that. Actions speak louder and all that stuff.

That's how I got my wife to change the way she did the family's laundry. I used my training on process engineering to set up a Kanban system so that I would not run out of socks and underwear as much. I started using a small trash can for my laundry basket instead of the huge hampers the family was using. After a few months, my wife went out and bought small trash cans for all the kids and abandoned the use of the huge communal hampers. Worked better and faster than any lecture about WIP and small batch efficiency would have, for sure.
posted by cross_impact at 10:11 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I find that this kind of behaviour is more annoying
- if it's on a subject I know more about than you
- if it's really a disagreement of taste
- if it's on a subject that doesn't matter much e.g. how best to load the dishwasher
- if it happens repeatedly on the same topic in a short space of time: there's only so much I can learn at once
- if you're never interested in hearing me explaining stuff to you when I know better than you
- if you sound negative ("what you're doing is wrong!") rather than positive ("I know a great trick for doing that quicker, would you like me to show you?")
- if you sound annoyed that I didn't know this thing already
- if you are telling me what to do ("Now twirl the fanglesnatcher!") rather than explaining alternative methods. ("I always find that if you twirl the fanglesnatcher first it goes much quicker!").

If the subject at hand is one where you clearly know more than me, and you are able to explain stuff to me in a pleasant fashion without sounding patronising, then often I'll be really happy to hear about it.

Your girlfriend's mileage may vary, but it might be worth talking about it.

Now I'm off to implement a Kanban system for my washing.
posted by emilyw at 10:16 AM on November 2, 2011 [30 favorites]


I'm not going to say that these people are wrong. But I have the exact same bad habit.

I've made infinite progress, but it's also important that my SO doesn't take this bad habit seriously. Because when life gets stressful, bad habits pop out like no one's business. Like smoking or comfort foods. We all have bad ways we handle stress, and fixing minor un-broken things is my piss-poor way of trying to get that control back. So when I freak out that the towels are not being folded in the exact right way, it's a good thing my SO doesn't respond by telling me he's allowed to do what he wants. (He still doesn't fold the towels correctly, but most days I can let that go, and he has other good habits like not taking my towel requirements personally)

Don't get me wrong. He would be right to get angry that I'm being a dick. But it would just mean that every small fight would turn into WWII. And that would destroy a good relationship quickly. Every time you fall off the wagon, you should apologize. You should strive to be a better person. But people are also not very good with change. Your partner should be someone who can accept your secretly terrible flaws.
posted by politikitty at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2011


I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them.

First of all it seems like from your overall question, you are not just talking about things that are "wrong" (i.e. completely unambiguously incorrect and harmful) but things that are "not optimal" (i.e. things that could in your opinion be done better). I doubt that anyone actually wants to be told any time they do something in a non-optimal way, because unless someone is an absolute perfectionist there are a lot of things in their lives that they do not care enough about to worry about being perfect with.

For example, if I'm driving with my brights on accidentally, I would appreciate if someone said "Hey your brights are on!" If I'm talking to someone and they give me some sort of non-obvious tip about driving, that can be fine. But if I am driving with someone and they constantly make comments about me not driving correctly in ways that don't actually matter, like waiting too long to turn or something, that is just annoying and unhelpful. There are whole classes of criticisms that fall into that category, such as pointing out grammatical errors. Unless someone is asking you to proof-read something, you don't have to act like an English teacher marking up an essay, because it's not helpful and the person you are correcting almost certainly doesn't care.

So when you think about bringing up some kind of criticism, think about why you are doing it. Is it because they are doing something that doesn't really matter but annoys you, and the only reason you are telling them is to try to nag them to stop doing it? Then work on trying to be less annoyed about things that don't matter rather than trying to "fix" them. You should only make critical comments if you think the person doesn't already know what you are trying to tell them and you think that they will actually appreciate and use the advice.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2011


So I guess my question is how I can let her know things that she might not realize without seeming so critical or condescending?

Something to think about: Do you have to let her know things you might not realize? She's gotta this far without you, she'll be fine. Yes, things may not be done how you know they should be done, but often there's more than one way to do something.

Otherwise, the problem, as I see it, is that you need verbalize your learning process, which can be distracting/annoying to someone. Have you ever tried just hanging back and watching to see to see if you pick it up? Or consider, do you really need to pick up that skill/ability/knowledge, especially if the search for it wrecks social relationships?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them.

The first thing to remember is not everyone is you and not everyone feels the same way that you do about things. Just because you would want something doesn't mean everyone else would want the same thing, nor should they. I think it would be good to remember that.


How or when is it okay to "correct" your SO?

When they have asked for your input or are in immediate physical danger. If they're in danger that's not immediate, you can say something ONCE and then if they express that your opinions aren't welcome, you have to drop it.

I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

I've known people who do this and to me, it's even worse than the rampant corrections, because it wastes a whole lot more of my time.

So I guess my question is how I can let her know things that she might not realize without seeming so critical or condescending?

WHY do you feel so compelled to tell people things you think they might not realize, even though you know for an absolute fact that many people find it completely unwelcome, irritating, and off-putting, and do not appreciate it at all as you say that you would?

Honestly, maybe the best thing to do here is work with a therapist around this.

If that's not feasible for some reason, my very best practical advice is this: get a large spiral notebook, and if you feel the compulsion to "correct" your GF, write your correction down in the notebook. Tell her you're doing this not to like keep some sort of record of all her "mistakes" but in order to deal with your compulsion without being irritating and destroying the relationship. Then, if she's interested in your opinions, she can look at the notebook. Don't prompt her to look at it.
posted by cairdeas at 10:20 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

Watch more, interrogate less. In other words, rather than jumping all over your girlfriend asking her questions about how and why she is doing what she is doing before you know what is going on, observe and try and figure it out yourself. My dad is a bit of a know-it-all about things he actually knows little about, but he's trained himself to do this. Instead of asking 10 questions about why I hang-dry lots of items and wouldn't it be better to dry everything, which would be annoying because he doesn't do laundry because he is a visiting guest, he critically observes for a while and asks questions like, "Oh so it's more efficient to wait until you do a few loads of laundry to run the dryer? Huh, never thought about it."
posted by *s at 10:21 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try having a sense of humor about this. I find that gently poking fun at stuff with a smile, in more of a joke-sy way, can generally get my message across to people when I'm trying to tell them something that's not all rainbows and sunshine. What kind of stuff are you criticizing? Can't tell from your question.

Also, realizing you don't know everything really helps. You don't necessarily know what's best for people, and you don't have all the information about the situation someone else has. Try thinking about that for a few minutes before blurting out whatever you feel is a legitimate criticism.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:21 AM on November 2, 2011


My tactic for years of marriage was always to agree with anything my wife said. Alas, one day, dressing for a rather formal evening, she came from the bathroom,turned to me and said
I"I look just awful." "Yes, dear," I said....trouble. Don't be critical on very small things...and most things are small.
posted by Postroad at 10:22 AM on November 2, 2011


I notice you aren't marking any of the people who are just telling you to stop. From that experience I'm guessing you aren't going to mark this answer either.

I dated a guy like you once, we broke up. This is SO FREAKING ANNOYING to anyone with a modicum of self-respect. I'll admit, there are women out there who want their husbands to tell them how to do everything but most women are not like that.

So to answer your question "when is it ok to correct a SO?":
- When they are doing something so wrong as to make them look foolish in front of others (pronouncing something wrong all the time, etc.)
- When your way is SIGNIFICANTLY better. I know significantly is a relative term but if my way takes an hour and your way take 5 minutes, go ahead and mention it. If your way takes off like 5 minutes on an hour long thing, keep your mouth shut.
- When the consequences of an error are high. Again, relative. I'd suggest you err on the side of caution on this one though.
- When she asks for your advice/help.

And in ALL of these circumstances, if she indicates she likes her way or she doesn't want help then you shut your mouth and keep it shut for ever and ever.
posted by magnetsphere at 10:25 AM on November 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm a big fan of not correcting adults unless and until they ask for my input - especially in personal relationships. Even though you mean well, the combination of helpful correction and extensive questioning can feel really condescending and paternalistic.

It sounds like you're doing a good job of working on this, but I'd err on the side of 'not letting her know things' for awhile. Not being offensive isn't the same thing as hiding the truth from your partner. Maybe back up on the helpfulness until you can find that balance.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:30 AM on November 2, 2011


I have a tendency in general to "correct" people when I see them doing something in a way I think is incorrect or not optimal. It often comes off as being an asshole, much to my detriment. I try to subdue it, but it has always been a part of my character and my success has been limited.

How would you feel if, every time you did this, the person you tried to "correct" stopped, turned, looked at you, and corrected you?

You've identified that this is something you know you should stop, and that is beneficial at work but not in your personal life. I can honestly say -- as someone who was in the same boat -- that if you manage to improve this in your personal life, your work life will also improve, because people might have to take your corrections at work, but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate tact and support.

For me, it was simply a matter of acknowledging that this was not desirable behavior, and so if I did it to someone I cared about, I stopped, briefly apologized, and moved on. Soon I was able to stop myself before I opened my mouth. I still have my moments, but the improvement is significant, and if you truly believe that other people should be able to change their behavior based on your correction, let you be the one who leads by example: knock it off.

And the short answer as to when it is appropriate: when your SO asks you for your opinion, or if they're about to do something dangerous. That's pretty much it, and that's not limited to your SO. Correct to protect, as you would with a child, from immediate danger, or if they ask.
posted by davejay at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


the above comment is in the spirit of "I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them."
posted by davejay at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them.

Dude. You have a thing that you are doing wrong, you ALREADY know about it, and you continue to make the same mistake in front of people. What makes you think that telling people that they are doing something "wrong" means that they will be able to stop doing it, if you yourself are completely unable to fix this about yourself?

If people want your advise, they'll ask.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:36 AM on November 2, 2011 [13 favorites]


oh, and at work: instead of telling them they're doing it wrong, ask them: is there any benefit that they can see towards doing it this alternative way? Trust them to find the value, and if they don't, don't sweat it.
posted by davejay at 10:38 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them.

But then this:

At the end of these arguments, I feel disappointed and frustrated for "failing" to be a good partner

You did something wrong, she let you know. It actually sounds like you don't like to be told when you're wrong or else you wouldn't have acted so dejected. Davejay makes a good point, why expect others to correct their mistakes when you can't correct yours?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:44 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Figure out WHY you're offering these corrections and criticisms.

Perfectionism: it's really about your own perfectionism, not their lack of it. This needs to be dealt with generally, not just in terms of your reaction to her. Why "should" she cook the eggs that way? Why "should" she want to be a perfect laundry folder. Isn't it good enough to be done with it? No?

Superiority: Make a list of all the things that she does WAY better than you. You have to believe them all, and they have to make sense to you. Make a list of all the things that you completely suck at - everything from being generous, to being a terrible runner, to having bad self-esteem, to being adventurous with foods, to feelings of superiority in inappropriate examples.

"Helping" or "sharing lessons": Sometimes it's hard to see loved ones making 'errors' that we learned to correct a long time ago, some of which make life easier, and some of which make no damn difference. Pouring the contents of a tin can without puncturing an air escape hole on the other side. Frying eggs on low heat. Painting a room in a streaky technique. Whatever. The key is to recognize what the outcome of their actions will be: they glug a can instead of pour it? Whatever. The next time you pour out a can of coconut milk, puncture the hole yourself and ask if she wants to learn a tip. It's actually been a useful phrase for me: "Can I offer any tips or are you good here?" It's not a perfect solution, but it's a useful phrase for the interim period before train yourself out of monitoring the actions of others. Or try a less aggressive phrase: "God, it's so annoying that cans don't remind you to open two holes on the lid, so it doesn't glug everywhere." or "I know you run for fun, and I'm a controlling fool, but lemme know if you ever think it would be fun to track your run with a pedometer."

On your own time, I'd actually try to respond to each of your own criticisms.

Make a list of things that she does that drive you nuts. Or even just normal things she does, that make you want to critique or offer "helpful" comments.

Now write down what you'd be saying to her in that situation. "Did you know that if you time yourself, you'll run faster? How can you put away the cheese in tin foil instead of a paper bag, don't you know that it won't breathe? Why are you folding the socks one at a time instead of pairing them off first? Why are you vacuuming instead of dusting first, it's better to go from the top of the room towards the floor!"

Now, write a response to each of those things. You might imagine her own response: "Running faster is your own goal, I do it for enjoyment." or "Tin foil is more airtight." Or imagine why it's ridiculous for you to make a comment in this situation: The house is getting cleaned. It will be cleaner than it was before. There is no way to get 100% of the dust out of a house in one cleaning. Ergo, is it more important to impose my restrictive procedure for cleaning instead of thanking her for getting us going on the cleaning itself? If being so picky makes her NOT want to clean, are we better off than before?

The point here is to practice a few techniques from Feeling Good. (1) You have to write these things down, on paper, not in your head. It makes them 'more real' and obvious and less like swirling-around-control-thoughts. (2) You have to imagine the responses, and possible outcomes of the scenario. Practice them over in your head. Imagine noticing something that you'd do differently, and say, "It's so much fun to cook with you and get out of my own insanity!" or "Have an awesome run, sweetie, here's a reflective leg band so you don't get hit."

Consider the overall meaning of your actions, taken as a whole: do you want each step of your life to be in perfect control and 100% efficient and 100% uniform? Or do you want to be open to new things, new ways of relating to ideas and HUMAN?
posted by barnone at 10:49 AM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


When it comes to my spouse or friends, I try not to make it seem like I want to correct them. I try not to present my opinion in a manner that screams, "My way is better!" The key words in your question that go against this are "I think is incorrect, or not optimal."

When it comes to personal relationships, this type of thinking tends to establish a hierarchy. Your opinion that it's not optimal indicates to others that you believe you know better and that everyone should listen to you. And most people don't appreciate when a friend or acquaintance tries to put themselves above everybody.

If you feel the strong need to ask questions for why your SO or friends are doing something in a particular way, instead of trying to find flaws in their plan, why not try to learn how to do it their way? "That's an interesting technique. Do you think it would help me to do X, too?" Altering your mindset for why you're asking would make the other person feel like you're on equal ground, that they have something to offer you and you're willing to accept it.

There are situations where it's best not to question procedures, of course. For example, if you and your SO are going to dinner, and your SO is driving and is taking a route that is slower with more lights, that's not the time to ask her why she's taking that road and she should have instead taken the other cut-off because it's faster and we'll get there earlier and find parking. All you'll end up with is a resentful partner and probably an uncomfortable dinner date.

Instead just lean back and enjoy the ride. Enjoy the time with her. In the grand scheme of things, a dinner date is not the absolutely-everything-must-be-optimal situation and does not require a person of authority looking over things to make sure they're done accordingly.

As others have said, save your "corrective-ness" for situations where it's absolutely critical. If she's going to try to rewire a light switch without having turned off the power, by all means stop her and show her the right way. But much like the boy who cried wolf, if you consistently correct people on even the most trivial of things, when there comes a time that it's really needed people may not want to listen to you.
posted by CancerMan at 10:53 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


You've identified that this is something you know you should stop, and that is beneficial at work but not in your personal life. I can honestly say -- as someone who was in the same boat -- that if you manage to improve this in your personal life, your work life will also improve, because people might have to take your corrections at work, but that doesn't mean they don't appreciate tact and support.

Totally agree with this. Even at work, people may be putting up with your interrogations because you are higher than they are on the ladder. That doesn't mean it's the best way to treat them.

I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

This may be wasting an incredible amount of time, and pissing people off too. If you are sure you know better than they do, maybe you should just correct them.
posted by BibiRose at 10:57 AM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


There have been a few posts from the perspective of the person being corrected. You might want to read through those threads (especially this one).
posted by headnsouth at 11:00 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that your "asking questions" method makes this worse, not better, unfortunately, even if you think you're being more open-minded. When I was growing up, my mom used to look at me critically when I sat down at the breakfast table, and say something like, "Did you do something new with your hair?" I knew (or thought I knew) that this really meant, "I don't like your hair," and it drove me up the wall.

Similarly, if you come up to someone and say, "That's an interesting way to use the schnozzle. Why are you using the schnozzle that way?" they will immediately recognize that the subtext is "That is the wrong way to use the schnozzle." This feels incredibly condescending and passive-aggressive. Please don't do this!

I'm not sure that there's a better way, other than to do the "Do you mind if I show you a trick with the schnozzle?" method -- but even that should be used with caution, since sometimes the person you're talking to will just want to get their stuff done without input.

tl; dr: try to avoid doing this at all, but if you must do it, straightforward is often better!
posted by cider at 11:02 AM on November 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you're finding it this difficult to stop this behavior, you're not doing it for other people; you're doing it for yourself. It isn't some accidental trait, and the ideas you have developed to put a rosy, virtuous spin on it are just rationalizations to allow you to continue helping yourself at others' expense, probably by easing some anxiety.

I just feel like if I were doing something wrong and didn't realize it, I would want someone to let me know, so that I could learn and not continue making the same mistake in front of them.

That 'in front of them' speaks volumes. The driving forces there are shame and the desire to avoid embarrassment. Correcting people with the object of preventing embarrassment carries the implicit message that what they are doing is embarrassing and a reason to be ashamed. Once in a while ("Uh, you might want to get that parsley out from between your teeth before you address the President") is fine, but a steady drumbeat of that sort of thing suggests that you don't really think much of the person you're "correcting."

Futhermore, though you haven't provided examples I doubt that your targets consistently define "correct" or "optimal" the way you do. Value systems are complicated, and what you see as incorrect or inefficient may simply be serving needs you are unaware of, and which are none of your business.
posted by jon1270 at 11:06 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree with BibiRose and others who say you should try to stop this overall and not just with your SO, although it's understandable that that's the heart of your question. The reason being is that if you're correcting people everywhere and then curtailing it for SO, it'll be more likely that the behavior will still surface around your SO, because you aren't making a real habit of breaking it. Plus, behavior like this annoys everybody.

It might help to think of the need to do this not as a part of your nature in which you want to help others ( and therefore "not yourself" if you're not doing it) and more as an obsessive thought process (Note: NOT internet-diagnosing over the internet). These impulses to correct sound more like obsessive thoughts to me that you've come to interpret as somewhat normal behavior (although now you're realizing differently of course).


You should work to curtail them overall -- I do think a therapist would help with this, because they would help find out better than we can what's driving these thoughts.
posted by sweetkid at 11:08 AM on November 2, 2011


I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

So the way you have written this says that even before you have formulated a question, you already intend to correct them. Your questions are not designed to actually gather information or learn anything, they are only designed to be a lead-in to your corrections. This means you are not being honest. Your girlfriend and other people know this.
posted by headnsouth at 11:09 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


"But I also struggle with not being completely honest by holding things back because I might offend."

One of the best pieces of advice I got before I got married, from a woman who'd been married a while, was that there's a point past which honesty is simply tactlessness or even cruelty. You do not need to share every thought that crosses your brain. It is possible to use "honest" thoughts as a bludgeon to hurt your partner. This has saved me from a lot of pointless arguments and petty cruelties that don't help anyone with anything. You don't have to lie, but you can always be tactful and you can always keep silent if speaking isn't going to help anything.

On your main question, my husband is a corrector -- and an interrogator-then-corrector. As someone said above, I tolerate a great deal of it, especially when he's under stress, because I understand it and I know why he's doing it. That said, it's annoying as shit, and I often sound impatient when explaining myself under his interrogations (which in turn hurts his feelings), largely because I don't really feel like I should have to explain myself to another adult about things that DO NOT MATTER. So here are a couple of stress points. The ones you and your girlfriend have will be different, but here are mine and how we (try to) cope with them:

He needs to STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY KITCHEN or I will not cook. He frequently says things like, "Why did you use dried oregano? There's fresh in the garden!" or "You should have told me you were making this thing with tomatoes, I could have picked you fresh tomatoes!" or "Why didn't you use the potatoes from our garden?" I know what's at work here: He's proud of our garden and thinks I may not be aware there was a "better" option available. Here's what I hear: "YOU COOKED THIS WRONG." Instead of, "Oh, thanks for dinner," I get "YOU COOKED THIS WRONG. YOU ARE BAD AT COOKING." There is frequently a reason -- I had half an hour to throw dinner together while the kids were napping so I used frozen pre-chopped onions because I didn't have time to chop. This recipe calls for dried herbs and tastes weird with fresh. The potatoes in the garden are roasters, not mashers. I didn't have time to go to the garden. I didn't know there were fresh tomatoes. Whatever. But I don't feel like I should have to constantly explain my dinner-making decisions night after night after night. Is there a point at which he will trust me to feed him properly? A healthy, nutritious, hot dinner miraculously appears on the table every night for him and me and two children. The proper thing to say is, "Thanks, this is delicious" not "I will now question every decision you made in putting together this meal." Although I realize it's no different than his corrector-ism in all other parts of his life, it really hurts my feelings. He is trying to do better about NOT doing this, and I told him if he's concerned I don't know what's ripe in the garden, he can put a list for me on the kitchen whiteboard and I can plan for it. He's improving, and I can see him mentally fighting with himself before the logorrhea of interrogation comes pouring out. So at least there's that. I literally throw him out of the kitchen when I'm cooking now. He always wants to hover to chat with me because we don't see each other enough during the week these days, but I cannot handle the commentating and it is guaranteed to wreck the evening by starting a fight.

He needs to let it go on things that don't matter, like whether the baby's pants match his onesie. It's what was clean and he's warm, which is the part that matters. When we go for family pictures, they will match. When we're drooling on ourselves on the floor, let it go.

Things that I manage completely. I manage the grocery shopping and bill paying, and yet he frequently feels the need to say, "Why did you buy X instead of Y? Y would be blah blah blah." Again, there's frequently a reason (10-lb. bags of flour are marginally cheaper, yes, but I have a tiny pantry with short shelves and only the 5-lb. bag will fit in it), but he doesn't shop and doesn't cook, so why am I being interrogated and corrected about how I run my kitchen? Similarly, I've paid the bills in this house for NINE YEARS without ever missing a single one. I don't think he even knows the names of our utilities. Yet a couple months ago he decided to "optimize" my bill-paying systems for me so they'd be "easier to use." I am still undoing all the corrections. My system may have seemed byzantine to him but it worked for me, and it doesn't HAVE to work for him. He apologized for this but I'm still a bit irate.

This sounds worse than it is because, Lo, an unexpected place to vent about this very aggravating behavior!

"a steady drumbeat of that sort of thing suggests that you don't really think much of the person you're "correcting.""

Yeah, this. Is there a point at which your girlfriend, or anyone else around you, will earn enough of your trust that you stop interrogating and correcting them? If yes, what is that point? And share that point with these people so they can achieve it. If no, either they are stupid, or (more likely) you have a problem and you really need to stop treating people in your life like they're stupid. It gets really wearing not to be trusted to DO THE LAUNDRY PROPERLY (or whatever) when I have yet to screw it up. I had to tell my husband this a lot of times but he's finally getting it. It's such a relief.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:24 AM on November 2, 2011 [39 favorites]


I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

"Questioning extensively" is difficult to differentiate from "arguing". You can understand how people can get upset when everyday things like driving and opening jars and making coffee get turned into arguments.

My girlfriend used to do this to me. She'd ask something like "Why do you want to use that ATM now?", and I'd get an opportunity to try to preemptively defend myself against unspecified charges. Was she wanting an explanation of why I'm using that ATM? Or why I'm doing it now? Or why I need cash? Or what ATM function I'm going to use? Or...

I started spitefully interpreting her questions in the most implausible way ("Why did *I* turn left here? Because I was closer to the steering wheel than you"), which was childish and didn't help. It took a while before I could verbalize why the "just asking questions" bit was so irritating and disingenuous. Now she just jumps straight to the criticism and everyone's happy. :)
posted by Soilcreep at 11:37 AM on November 2, 2011


I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

I know someone who does this and it is seriously infuriating. I find it to be pretty aggressive behavior. When I was in high school, I read a book called The Celestine Prophecy, and whenever the person I know does it, I think of that book. In it, they have these things called control dramas (it didn't sound so silly in high school!) and one of them is "The Interrogator". I hope that the questioning (both yours and by the person I know) isn't done out of malice, and is not a means to find something wrong, but it can feel like that to the person being questioned and then summarily criticized. It's also off-putting the first few times it happens, because it's so unexpected. I thought we were just chatting! It's having a conversation in bad faith.

For me, the worst part is knowing what's going to happen when the questions are asked and being put in the situation of having to either answer the questions (setting yourself up to be criticized is not fun) or deciding to not answer the questions (which is an equally stressful decision, because then you have to figure out some way to maneuver out of the conversation, which does not please the interrogator at all). The second worst part is also "knowing" what's going to happen, because there's always the chance that it's actually not, but you're still always on the defensive.

My solution has been to limit contact/conversation with the person I know who does this and to call them out on their behavior whenever it happens. I don't think you want you girlfriend to limit contact?

My suggestion is to bite your tongue until you figure out what motivates you to do this and then figure out some way to fix it so that you can stop biting your tongue.
posted by eunoia at 11:46 AM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, hey, you're my boyfriend on a bad day when he forgets his couples' counseling from a previous relationship. This behavior is annoying as hell, and the best answer is, as is stated above a thousand times, just to not correct unless absolutely necessary or unless asked for input. Period. You know that your instincts in re: this are off, and you need to make a gallant effort to cut it out entirely.

If you cannot bring yourself to stop, the first thing to do before you speak is question your motivation: WHY are you wanting to step in in this particular situation? Is your girlfriend doing something that is genuinely dangerous or wildly inefficient? Then *maybe* you get to continue to the next paragraph. Maybe. But first consider your definition of "wildly." Sub-optimal does not equal wildly. If you don't like the way she is doing the dishes but things end up basically clean, shut your mouth and thank her for doing the dishes- and if you can't handle it, do them yourself the next time. If you think that a more efficient mowing pattern would be X instead of Y, but you're not willing to mow the lawn yourself, then keep your suggestion to yourself. If you think that she handled a conflict at her work differently than you would have, but things are fine, let things be fine and don't nitpick her decisions. Being honest with someone and being your true self does not mean voicing your every thought.

If you absolutely feel you must step in (and hey! your instincts are wrong about this, remember? You probably do not need to step in, things are probably totally fine! Yay for things being fine!) the first thing out of your mouth needs to be, "May I make a suggestion?" If she says yes, great! Make your suggestion, feel free to briefly explain your reasoning but know that she may say, "thanks" and then completely ignore it because she just. does. not. care. about it as much as you do. That has to be fine. You do not get to keep making the suggestion or explaining your reasoning over and over again until she caves and does it Your Perfect Way. And if she says "Nope!" that's your cue to say "Okay!" and walk away and bite your tongue.

It is good that you realize this is a problem, and it is good that you are trying. Tell her that you are trying, tell her that you want to change, ask her for her suggestion in dealing with it, tell her that you want her to tell you when she sees you doing to her or anyone else. Maybe you can agree on a secret physical signal or code phrase for when you're doing it in public, and a direct, "Hey, that thing you are trying to fix? You are doing it right now and I would like you to stop." for when you are alone together.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:07 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh man. I wanted to type an epic comment, but I was feeling so overwhelmed and ragey (from thinking about my situation, not yours, OP), but then I read all the comments and lo and behold, Eyebrows McGee wrote it for me. Please read and absorb her comment.

My "corrector" was my dad; thank god my husband is not one, or he wouldn't be my husband. Try to put yourself in the place of someone who is being corrected. It's like being constantly reminded that you just can't do anything right. It's fucking horrible.
posted by peep at 12:22 PM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


I often question people's actions extensively in order to figure out why they are doing something the way they are doing it before I go ahead and "correct" them.

Does it ever happen that after your questioning you realize your way is wrong and you don't have to correct them? Just curious.

It's sort of a running joke where I grew up that there was no sense in doing your dishes because you would do them "wrong" and Dad would just unload the dishwasher and reload it the "right" way.

Now I have a dishwasher and a kid and guess what funny thing happened the other day...

Seriously, though, I have these same tendencies and "just stop" is more or less the right answer but exactly how you can do this can vary.

The right way is What works for me is changing they way I think about the situation entirely and if possible removing myself from the situation.

Before: Just look at that non-optimal plate arrangement. I could get all the dinner dishes in there, easy.
After: Oh good, someone else is doing the dishes. "Can I help with that? No?" EXIT STAGE LEFT

Before: At this time of day, taking the other streets would make this trip about three minutes shorter. Why would anyone choose THIS way?
After: Sure is nice not to have to always do the driving. FIDDLE WITH RADIO, ENJOY SCENERY.

Before: Yikes, just look at how this computer is organized. Instead of just looking something up on the web real quick, I'll just go ahead and clean off this desktop and organize the documents folder and hey, they're not even using ratings in iTunes right? Let me just...
After: LOOK UP SOMETHING QUICK, LEAVE, ENJOY MY OWN COMPUTER LATER.
posted by mikepop at 12:22 PM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


....and when my boyfriend does this and I want to wring his neck, I tell him directly, and he is generally a good sport about it, which is why I like him. Usually I do this by saying something like, "Hey, let's try that conversation again! First, I say, "Oh god, at work X happened, it was so frustrating!" and then you say 'Oh, that sucks! Can I make you some tea?' and not 'WHY DID YOU DO THAT NO THAT'S NOT A GOOD REASON HERE'S WHAT YOU DID WRONG DO IT DIFFERENTLY YOU ARE WRONG!' Ready?" And then we actually replay the conversation that way everyone gets tea and no one gets killed. YMMV.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


Eveybrows McGee and others have eloquently shown you what the other side of this feels like: it's never good, and if you want her to keep being your girlfriend, please take -our- advice!

Just. Stop. If you can. It might take a while, and some teamwork. And by "teamwork," I mean, some responses on her end that alert you to the offending ground while defusing her (probable) strangle-him impulse. Here are mine:
1. freeze into a really crazy Hispter Ariel face, and yell "OMG IMMA DOING IT WRONG!"
2. Squint derisively and sneer offhandedly, "I've been doing $X since I was twenty."
posted by mimi at 1:50 PM on November 2, 2011


Praise in public, criticize in private.

Never give someone negative feedback on more than one thing.
Only if they're interested in hearing it. (You can lead a horse to water, but can't make him drink.) Even if they beg you for five things, give them only one.
posted by filmgeek at 2:15 PM on November 2, 2011



I'm not going to say that these people are wrong. But I have the exact same bad habit.

I've made infinite progress, but it's also important that my SO doesn't take this bad habit seriously.


My partner will purposefully mispronounce words so that, if I take the bait and autocorrect, she can give me a look that lets both of us know that I'm the dumbass.
posted by Sparx at 2:42 PM on November 2, 2011


You could consider that your constant correcting is really, really infantilizing of the people around you, to the point where it will actually make you a destructive parent, and get some therapy.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:17 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


When my husband does this to me, I have a response: "Just because it's not the way you would do it, doesn't mean my way is wrong."

This works for us because it reminds him to back off and that I am capable of whatever task I'm undertaking. Since there are times when I take his suggestion, but when I don't want to I say that phrase.
posted by Hop123 at 3:34 PM on November 2, 2011


I'm sure you've gotten a lot of this but my SO does this and it really hurts my feelings. My honest reaction when he corrects me is yes I admit that I made a faux pas but why oh why did you have to correct me?? It is so hurtful. Please let your SO know that you are working on this and know that it is a problem. That admission will go miles. Yes I have learned to laugh these corrections off (though I have said that they are hurtful and everyone makes minor mistakes) but it is a terribly bad habit that you need to stop. Bite your tongue (literally if need be). Unless your advice is solicited or necessary to save your SOs life or career back off.
posted by boobjob at 4:26 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find it helpful to be meta about it--try this in a lighthearted way:

"I really want to correct you right now! Ack! I can't watch!"

She should, equally lightheartedly, shoo you away or say "too bad!"

If you can joke about it a little bit it will make you both much happier. Talking about the impulse helps keep you from criticizing while still feeling like you're doing something.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:24 PM on November 2, 2011


It's nicer to be loved than to be right.
posted by theora55 at 7:01 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unless she's trying to mend a live electrical device with her teeth, the correct answer to this is 'never'.
posted by joannemullen at 7:18 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

Having said that, my partner and I will ask each other, "Do you want me to show you how I do that?" The other party is allowed to say yes or no with no hard feelings. But notice the way it's phrased. It doesn't say, "Do you want me to show you the right way to do that?" No judgement. Your relationship might vary.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:52 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Did you stop to think that maybe you don't know things? And also there's not always a right and wrong answer?

Don't be afraid of not knowing everything, because you don't in fact know everything, no one does.
posted by citron at 8:11 PM on November 2, 2011


The direct answer to your question "How or when is it OK to correct your SO?" is however and whenever they want you to. It's going to vary for each person in your life and you will need to spend time feeling out the situation with each new person in your life.

Honestly I am surprised at how many people say that you should basically never correct your SO and I'm writing to provide a differing perspective. I find learning from my SO and friends a critically interesting part of living and I like passing on things I've learned to others who want to learn them too. I find correcting an interesting way to open a discourse and to analyze a problem from a new perspective. Both my SO and I are correctors and we are also both people who strongly want to be doing everything the best, most optimal way so we are both people who do appreciate correction when the time and mood is right.

How it works between us: Someone is doing something. The other approaches and says, "Oh, I do that differently. Is there a reason you do it that way?" The person performing the task can then just say "No, no reason in particular. Just in a rush and it needed doing." Then they both know it's not the time to correct, the other person isn't receptive. If the person performing the task is interested in the new way they can say, "No, how do you do it?" or "I do it like this because of X. How do you do it and why?"

Each person you know is going to be different and it will take time to work out everyone's comfort level. Never do I correct anyone in front of another person. Laughing and joking about it is good. Checking in a lot is good. I tend to ask friends outright if it bothers them or bores them to let me know and I'll spare us both. I am also careful to ease off the correcting with more insecure people as they tend to misunderstand my intentions or with familiar people in stressful or new situations. And when I have an excessive buildup of correcting frustration I come to AskMe and take advantage of a whole group of people actively seeking out corrections and direction.
posted by tinamonster at 12:06 AM on November 3, 2011


My husband and I both have a pretty low tolerance for correction at household tasks. That's led to a rule in our house; 'if you don't like the way I'm doing it, YOU can do it.' As a result, he folds all of the laundry (after one instance, early in our relationship, where he re-folded the laundry that I had already folded) and I cut most of the vegetables and sweep the floors.

Neither of us like to be controlled, and criticism can feel like very controlling behavior to the one receiving it. In fact, we both find ourselves acting out in very childish ways when we feel criticized. I refuse to spell 'lettuce' correctly on the grocery list because he has mentioned it one too many times.

Keep the correcting to a minimum. Give your girlfriend and the other adults around you the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have reasons for what they're doing.
posted by oryelle at 12:31 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


We have yet to have a real argument about anything serious. The only things we argue about really are communication issues, sometimes those revolving around this thing that I do. These arguments are rare; we've had three since getting together and otherwise things are wonderful.

I just wanted to point out that in a relationship, communication issues are serious (you know that of course), and much more important than any substantive differences (from "I prefer sushi, but she wants clam chowder" up to whether to have children). Communication is your relationship.
posted by pollex at 5:51 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try to remember how much life your girlfriend has lived before you (and probably successfully, making friends and holding down jobs and impressing people) without your help.

My father corrected my mom all the time and I think it had a very detrimental, long-term affect on her. I think it made her more nervous, more self-conscious, and less of a great person than if she hadn't been picked on for mispronouncing words, or whatever my father thought he was helping with.
posted by PersonAndSalt at 7:30 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to add to the chorus, the "questioning" is often more patronizing and infuriating than the correcting. Doing the dishes is not defending a dissertation. I often do housework in a less than "optimal" fashion because I just find that more pleasant. There is also nothing worse than having to justify or defend your random preferences. I realize that if I hung all my clothes up right away they wouldn't get wrinkled, but sometimes I can't be bothered so I have to do more ironing. I'm not an idiot. I realize there's a direct connection between not hanging up my clothes and then having to iron them and that I waste time having to do unnecessary ironing. But there are times I'm will to accept that consequence because I'm tired and feel like kicking the work down the road a little.

I really do understand the impulse to be efficient and logical, but you have to realize those things are not everyone's highest priority all of the time.
posted by whoaali at 5:13 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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