The Benefits of Nitpicking in a Relationship

Costa Rica

The other day, as my wife Linda was giving me a haircut, she said, “It’s important for couples to groom one another; it’s a form of connection and sensuality.” She also expressed appreciation for how I was not “pulling away” from her attempts to groom my hair. I told her, “As I grow older, I intend to become more open.” I then thought about the process of “nitpicking” in a relationship, and how it can be a destructive pattern that leaves people feeling hurt, misunderstood, and unappreciated. I mused about how nitpicking could be reframed in a new light.

The origins of nitpicking

The original literal meaning of nitpicking referred to, “…the task of removing the tiny eggs of lice (nits) from someone’s hair and clothing, a tedious activity that required close attention and care (”. Indeed, it’s related to hygiene and grooming. On the other hand, the figurative meaning of nitpicking has to do with trivial fault finding and criticism over inconsequential matters. That could be grounds for couples therapy, not lice removal.

A new light on nitpicking

I propose that couples practice nitpicking on a regular basis, although with leaving the lice eggs out of the process, unless of course…oh never mind. Reframing nitpicking as contactful grooming that expresses care for the physical wellbeing and ease of another can give couples permission to nitpick without the baggage of criticism. So remember, the next time you seem to incline towards the old figurative expression of nitpicking in your relationship, take a breath, and with their permission, start grooming your partner or otherwise slowly and attentively stroke their hair and skin. This action will strengthen your bond while adding another option that replaces the old dysfunctional style of nitpicking that destroys intimacy.

Nitpicking is touching 

Nitpicking, whether literal, figurative, or reframed as a functional form of intimacy, involves a process of touching and being touched with words and/or actions. Knowing your intentions, and also knowing how you would like to convey your intentions through your sense of touch in relationship to your partner, is a practice of mindfulness.


© 2018 Larry Cammarata, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist and Mindfulness Educator

Mindfulness Travels provides continuing education retreats to inspiring places throughout the world with leaders in the field of mindfulness-based psychology and mindful movement.

      © L. Cammarata 2023