Relationship Tips

Is Your Partner Rude to Strangers? Here’s What That Might Mean for Your Relationship 

Photo: Getty Images/PixelsEffect
We've all witnessed folks being rude to strangers for seemingly no reason, whether by acting impatient with a waiter at a restaurant, talking over a customer-service representative on the phone, or ignoring a passerby on the street. Even if the rudeness in question isn't directed at you, you've likely clocked it and made a mental note of how the rude person so casually treats others badly. As it turns out, when you're in a romantic relationship with a partner who is rude to strangers, noticing this behavior is especially key. That's because, despite it not being directed at you in the moment, it can signal a serious red flag about how you may be treated moving forward. (Hint: It doesn't signal that you'll be treated great.)

“When it happens to a complete stranger, being rude can be viewed as completely uncalled for and disrespectful,” says Omar Ruiz, LMFT. “If they can treat [another] person without regard, what will stop them from treating you the same way?” Ruiz specifically categorizes rudeness to a stranger as a relationship deal-breaker if your partner is guilty of doing it regularly. While it's never acceptable to treat others with a lack of respect, a slip-up on a particularly awful day isn't necessarily the same situation as being rude constantly; that describes the difference between coping skills that could use work and a not-great engrained trait of lacking empathy and kindness.

“If they can treat that person without regard, what will stop them from treating you the same way?” —Omar Ruiz, LMFT

In addition to being mindful of your partner's rudeness to others, you'd be wise to also consider when they’re rude about others, says clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon, PhD. “When I think about [someone being] rude, I think about [them] framing the world in terms of hierarchies and saying things that are condescending to [put] themselves above other people,” says Dr. Solomon. Comments degrading someone's appearance, style, intelligence, or otherwise reflect badly on whomever is saying them, no matter if the subject of the comments is in earshot.

And even if you can put up with this rudeness personally, Dr. Solomon warns that if your disrespectful partner is someone with whom you plan to raise children, you might be wary. “Kids absorb everything that their parents do and say," she says. "For somebody who runs rude to be married to somebody who runs kind and raise a family together, it's going to be pretty exhausting for the kind person to be constantly trying to override the other parent.”

When not to worry that your partner is rude to strangers

Even though rudeness to strangers can serve as a sign that someone might be rude to you down the line (which is why it’s a red flag and potential deal-breaker in the first place), there are caveats, says relationship therapist Jaqueline Mendez, LMFT. The exceptions have to do with whether or not the person has remorse, and whether or not there’s a reason for the rudeness.

After someone is rude, for instance, if they can acknowledge it and correct the behavior, there may be room for recourse. “It's different when someone says, ‘I can't believe I let that guy get to me,’ than when someone says something like, ‘That guy deserved it,’” says Mendez.

When the rude person's beliefs are more so in line with the latter statement, it reflects that they are absolving themself from any responsibility. But, someone who is more so aligned with the former statement reflects a sense of self-awareness and a desire to be kinder. This could indicate that the incident might not be a deal-breaker, because they (hopefully) won’t let someone get the best of them next time. Ruiz adds that occasional rudeness could also be attributed to someone being “overwhelmed, overworked, [or] overtired,” in which case it’s not a deal-breaker, but, again, a signal that coping skills could use improvement.

Also, sometimes being rude to strangers isn't blatant and is perhaps even understandable, says Mendez: "There is that gray area where we can say, ‘Okay. Perhaps in the heat of the moment, the protector energy got ahold of them.’” For instance, your partner being rude to strangers isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker if, say, someone said something inappropriate to you and they were defending you. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all measure of what's appropriate and understandable, so it's important to gauge each instance in its own right.

Is a healthy relationship possible if your partner is rude to others?

The short answer is yes, but only if you communicate. “It is important to note that people are still human and make mistakes,” says Ruiz. “Because of this, it is best to immediately share your observations with the person, instead of making a final decision…to eliminate them from your life.” If you decide that your partner's rudeness isn't rampant and perhaps there is room for improvement, it may not be a deal-breaker—so long as you clue them in to how you feel. If you do so, they might respond with remorse and understanding and be more mindful of their behavior in the future.

Let’s say, though, that you bring up the topic and your partner doesn’t acknowledge they did anything wrong. That could indicate an unwillingness to make any adjustments to their rudeness. In this case, “It is best to decide to let them go. Create a healthy distance from them to avoid adding additional stress in your life,” says Ruiz.

This part is especially true if someone starts gaslighting you to make you feel like you’re in the wrong for pointing out their rudeness. “The deal-breaker is if you raise it as a [thoughtful] concern and you're met with an eye roll or a, ‘You're being crazy.’ [Who wants] to be in relationships where their concerns are routinely dismissed?” says Dr. Solomon.

Ultimately, because values are highly subjective, only you can decide whether or not your partner being rude to strangers is a deal-breaker. For good measure, Dr. Solomon suggests doing some soul searching: “Whether you identify as kind or you value kindness in a partner, a partner being rude can be a deal-breaker [if you] feel contemptuous about how someone is acting.” So, if you feel that contempt, perhaps your partner’s rudeness to strangers is a deal-breaker after all.

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