How many of these thoughts on complaining have you heard?
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Phil. 2:14)
“Don’t complain, just work harder.”
All of these sayings are helpful….in the right context.
So how can complaining save your relationship?
Complaining can save your relationship when:
- It is the alternative to criticizing.
- It is done in a productive, “I feel…what can WE do about this?” way.
- It prevents shutting down, stuffing emotion, and distancing from your partner.
So what kind of complaining am I talking about?
Pointing out a problem or difficulty in a way that…
- Takes responsibility for your feelings about it.
- Takes responsibility for your contributions to it.
- Heads toward collaboration to improve the situation.
Here’s an example to illustrate my point:
Husband and wife have planned to go to the movies. They mention it to some friends, and husband invites them to come along. Wife feels disappointed; she was looking forward to some one-on-one time with her guy.
She thinks: “I’m not sure that my feelings are justified. I don’t want to be negative or one of those nitpicking wives. I’ll stay quiet.”
He thinks: “Uh-oh. She’s gotten quiet. I feel uneasy. I know she’s probably upset about something, but I don’t know what it is. I know she won’t tell me if I ask. This is maddening.”
She feels: A little bit ashamed, depressed, angry. She makes a deposit into the “I’m not loved” bucket.
He feels: A little bit frustrated, scared, sad. He makes a deposit into the “I’m not respected” bucket.
Result: They miss out on an opportunity to affirm their love and respect for one another by confronting a problem together.
What if she were willing to complain? How might that sound?
She says: “I’m disappointed that so-and-so is coming to the movie with us. I’m sad we won’t have that alone time together; I was really looking forward to it.”
(Takes responsibility for her feelings about it.)
He says: “Oh shoot. I didn’t realize that part was important to you tonight. I’m sorry.”
She says: “I know you weren’t trying to be inconsiderate. I didn’t make it clear to you that I’ve been craving one-on-one time.”
(Takes responsibility for her contributions to it.)
He says: “I love being with you. How can we make this better?”
She says: “Can we go out to dinner beforehand, just the two of us?”
(Heads toward collaboration to improve the situation.)
He says: Name the place!
She feels: Relieved, empowered, loved.
He feels: Affirmed, empowered, respected.
A note to the person-being-complained-to. Remember:
- Your partner feeling bad isn’t the same as you being bad.
- What you did or said, or did or didn’t do, wasn’t necessarily wrong.
- Your role is not to defend your worth, or your actions.
- Your role is to respond to her feelings.
- The same is true when the roles are reversed.
In summary, there is a way to complain PRODUCTIVELY.
STUFFING distances you from your partner.
STIFLING depletes your “I’m loved” bucket.
SHARING your emotions around a problem:
EMPOWERS you and your partner to address the problem.
AFFIRMS your love for one another.
What is an issue where you’ve been stuffing or stifling your feelings? How can you complain in a way that avoids criticism, takes responsibility for your feelings and contributions, and heads toward collaboration?
Click here to learn about one-on-one couple’s coaching for you and your partner.
Here’s a Pinterest link to a helpful image and article about the difference between complaining and criticizing.