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Dating at Midlife/When is it okay in a relationship to criticize someone, if ever, and when does it border on verbal abuse?


Hi Dr. Belove,

I have a general question about verbal abuse and criticism. When is it okay in a relationship to criticize someone, if ever, and when does it border on verbal abuse?

Just one example, my boyfriend came downstairs this morning, saw I had made him a hot breakfast and complained I had made waffles. He never said he didn't want waffles.

Then when I was dishing his eggs on his plate I accidentally spattered some egg and he started to lecture me on moving more slowly and said that it was okay because I am naturally a "klutz".

I asked him to come home this afternoon in order to go together to a friends. A date he had made. I reminded him of the time and asked him to meet me here at home. We live 7 minutes from his work. He started getting mad and asked me why I can't meet him at his work. I don't see the point in having 2 cars and we would have to go back to his work to pick up his car later anyway. It makes no sense to me. The place we are going is not close to his work so there is no benefit to doing it that way. Plus I would like to drive together. This caused a big fight with him yelling at me. Why can't I be more flexible. etc, etc.

When his grown daughters need anything from him, he gives it no problem. He has even cancelled our plans to give them rides. But when I ask him to come home, which he would have to do anyway, he picks a big fight with me. I actually went upstairs without kissing him goodbye, I was so upset.

He criticizes me regularly and when I get upset he accuses me of having no sense of humor or being stubborn. I just want to get your opinion on this issue. I like to be as playful as the next person but this does not feel funny or cute to me.

Thanks Kim. Good question.

There are a few really good rules of thumb.

First.  There is a difference between intention and impact.
My dad used to kiss the kids, his grandkids, and one time they yelped because he had not shaved and his beard was sharp.  He apologized saying,  “I’m sorry.  I had no idea. When it comes to my beard, I’m on the soft end of all those sharp little hairs.”  
Another story.  Very short.  The boys threw rocks at the frogs because it was just a joke. But the frogs took the rocks seriously and died.
Every word you say has an intention behind it. It also has an impact. You have to think about both.  At least you do if you care about the relationship.

Second, there are five kinds of statements that will destroy a relationship
Remember them by this word:  PABAS
P is for Put-down; A is for Attack; B is for blame; A is for accuse; S is for sarcasm.
You can argue, you can get upset, you can even get angry.  But you have to stick to talking about the impact of stuff on you.
“When I make pancakes for you and then you get upset with me and don’t thank me, even if you want something different, I feel disrespected.

Third. Say want you do want.
Sometimes this is the most difficult. “If you don’t like what I did for you, at least say thank you and then tell me what you would rather I do.”
When I tell you that something hurts me and you say you are just joking, I still don’t want you to do it again, joke or not joke. And if I tell you that something you did  hurts me, then I want you to think about that and tell me you won’t do it again.”

I hope all that helps.

Feel free to follow up or ask for your free initial consultation over the phone

Philip Belove, Ed.D.

Dating at Midlife

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Philip Belove, Ed.D.


Hi. I`m Philip Belove (that is my name, really). I`m 71 and I`ve been a psychologist all my midlife, the past 35 years. My specialty has been counseling and coaching other midlife adults.  I think we all figure things out as we go along, but even more so at midlife. Being between 40-ish and 60-ish and single is like being a stranger in a strange land. I`ve learned which questions help people find their own way. I created this category, I publish a blog at and I write articles for various web sites. My commitment is to help people 1) understand and improve how they deal with others, 2) understand the forces that rule the relationships they are in, and 3) make the decisions which will shape, or create, or end those relationships  so they achieve the goal of midlife development  to finally live with personal satisfaction. I`ve been divorced twice myself. I`m in a satisfying relationship with a fine person. I`m very interested in learning about your challenges and in offering what I can.


Professionally: Licensed Psychologist. Marriage and Family Therapist. Coach.Author. University Lecturer. Personally: I'm 71. I've probably made all the big mistakes, er, learned the big lessons.I've forgiven myself and made many apologies and I've made it into a good, stable, sweet relationship. I now have a perspective on midlife.

Please check out my book, Rabbis in Love, at Also my blog at The Rabbi book was done as part of a research project. My collaborator, Marilyn Bronstein, and I wanted to interview couples with very successful marriage and also we wanted to talk to people who cared as much about their spirituality as love. Maybe being able to love and be spiritual were one and same, we thought. So we found a rabbi couple and the interview was so astounding that we interviewed nine more rabbi couples. One dropped. They'd revealed too much. It's a fascinating book and, Jewish or not, religious or not, these couples do a lot of things right and there is a lot to learn from them.

Masters in Counseling Psychology, Alfred Adler Institute Doctorate in Consulting Psychology, focus on family therapy, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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