A relational version of Chinese water torture …

If you consider all the terrible methods of torture used by evil men across the centuries, the idea of drops of water doesn’t sound so bad.

But it’s effects are highly destructive.

In what is often referred to as “Chinese water torture,” a person is tied down so they cannot move, then ever so painstakingly slowly drops of water are dripped, one by one, onto the person’s forehead.

Initially, it’s a breeze to contend with. But over time, it has been said to result in insanity. That’s because the anticipation of the next drop onto the forehead becomes overwhelming.

There’s a relational version of the Chinese water torture that can slowly, but brutally, destroy relationships. What is this relationship destroyer?


“You’re late again …”

“Why can’t you pick up after yourself?”

“Why do you always cook the same thing?”

“Why do you always leave your socks on the floor?”

“Why don’t you ever remember anything I tell you?”

“Why do you have to chew your food like that?”

“Why do you always watch sports?”

“Why are you always …”

Nitpicking can wear down a courtship or a marriage, the closest of friendships, a professional relationship, and it often tears apart children from their parents …

“Do I have to tell you everything?”

“Why does your room always look like a pigsty?”

“Can’t you do anything without my telling you?”

“When I was your age …”

And on it goes.

An incessant drip of complaining, questioning, and otherwise negative comments from …

… wives who think they need to train their husbands, or husbands who think they need to teach their wives …

… friends who think they need to fix their friends …

… a boss who is never satisfied …

… or parents who also are never satisfied …

… can slowly, but surely, destroy almost any relationship.

The result of nitpicking is usually not positive change in the one picked on, but sorrow for the nitpicker. The Pharisees were masters at nitpicking, but Jesus said the outcome for such behavior on their part would not be something good …

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:23-24.

Spending an inordinate amount of time nitpicking the unimportant can ruin your relationships as it slowly sucks out love and mercy and infuses judgment and criticism. On many occasions as a counselor, I’ve sat across from couples and listened to the stories of a spouse who felt the life — and love — had been drained out of them by the persistent nitpicking by their spouse. I’ve talked with children and teens who felt emotionally beaten down by the onslaught of years of nitpicking by parents. I’ve seen the depression and frustration of men and women who spent long days and years working for a boss who always had something to nitpick about.

Nitpicking may not drive a person crazy, but it often drives people away. Such behavior is radically different than how the Apostle Paul exhorts us to treat one another …

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them … Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you,” Ephesians 4:29, 31-32.

What’s the application of this?

Don’t be a drip!