A Practical Guide to Couple Complaining
Updated: Feb 20, 2019
No matter how amazing our relationships are, we will have complaints. There is no relationship that’s an exception.
Fathers. Mothers. Sisters. Brothers. Managers. Coworkers. Friends. Strangers.
The problem isn’t the existence of complaining.
It’s how we handle them.
It’s a delicate dance, especially when you begin sharing a new life with someone.
Complaints are an expression of dissatisfaction or annoyance about something. But unfortunately, it is often expressed in the form of criticism, blame, or projection all wrapped up in frustration.
As much as I’m aware of this, I often struggled with it. It’s easy to allow your frustrations and ego to get ahead of yourself and slip into the “I’m right, you’re wrong” cycle.
The goal isn’t to be a perfect partner clear of frustrations and complaints. The goal is to know how to effectively communicate when there is.
Most importantly, we want our partners to hear us without feeling criticised, inadequate or unappreciated.
Just like how it’s perfectly normal to have ups in a relationship, it’s the same with downs. With that said, the more we understand how our complaints affect our partners, the better we know how and what to communicate when we have a disconnect in the relationship.
How the Sexes Interpret Complaints Differently
Women and men interpret complaints differently - John Gray explains the difference in his latest book, "Beyond Mars and Venus”.
How Women Hear Complaints:
John Gray explains:
“When a man complains to a woman, it often makes the woman more overwhelmed. If he says to his partner, “You are not home enough,” what a woman hears is that she is not being a “nurturing,” “cooperative,” or “loving” partner.
Her reaction is to feel that he doesn’t understand all that she tries to do. What she hears is she has to do more to make him happy. She is also turned off because she feels he is being needy, and to be nurturing, cooperative, and loving she has to give more. In most cases she feels that she is already giving as much as she can, so to give more makes her feel overwhelmed.”
He suggests that when a man has complaints, he should wait until he is no longer upset and only when he is in an appreciative mode again, make a brief, simple request in the fewest number of words.
What Men Should Do Instead:
Instead of saying, “You are not home enough.”
Remove the emotion from your request and keep it simple with positive support. Recognise her situation, so that she knows you understand where she’s coming from.
"Let’s plan to spend more time together, so let me know when we can go over our calendars.”
Or as a simple FYI:
“We’ve both been busy lately. I want to schedule something fun for us to do together sometime soon.”
How Men Hear Complaints:
On the other side, when a woman says to her man, “you are not home enough” it impacts him differently.
What she’s really saying is that she misses him and wants him around more. But this gets lost in translation because a man hears that he isn’t good enough and has failed to make her happy, once again.
Men are led with the goal of success in everything they do. Their identity is heavily tied to this. For each action that is not a success, it is a failure to them and their sense of value.
In relationships, he is driven to make his partner happy. When he receives a complaint backed with negative emotions, it is perceived as an attack to his competence which is a core masculine quality.
This is when men begin to feel inadequate and often become defensive, where they may unintentionally invalidate her messages, complain back or push her away by shutting down.
What Women Should Do Instead:
Instead of saying, “You are not home enough.”
Make requests centered on what exactly you want from him backed with support or positive affirmation. Allow him the opportunity to work your request:
“I love spending time with you - let’s spend more time together soon.”
“You’ve been busy - I miss you! Would you think of ways for us to spend time together this week? I would love that.”
This will give the man the freedom to decide on his own, activating his assertive and decision-making masculinity all while increasing his testosterone levels. This is why a request backed with a positive or loving feeling INSPIRES a man to want to cater to their women’s needs.
What if after making adjustments, nothing changes?
Sometimes, such changes to your requests may not sink in our partner. This is not a reflection about they feel about you nor their lack of interest in what you have to say.
They haven’t quite grasped the level of importance this specific request is to you.
Try again with the emphasis on HOW and WHY something is important to you.
Follow these steps:
Express Your Feelings
Share your observation on a specific situation
Ask for a positive request
Explain why this is important for you backed with loving feelings WHILE taking responsibility
*TIP: Always acknowledge what you heard from your partner whenever possible.*
For example - a former client of mine, Tessa, implemented these changes and experienced positive changes:
"I feel sad (how I feel) that we’ve recently been very busy and haven’t spent time like we used to before (about a situation).
Do you think we can spend some time before dinner? (express a positive request). I know that I also haven’t put the effort to make this happen either (taking responsibility). I love our time together - it makes me feel connected and closer to you. I miss you. (loving feelings on why it’s important to me)"
Let me share with you a client’s transformation after implementing these changes.
When Tessa first came to me, she was frustrated with her partner of 3 years. She had been feeling a lot of angst as there seems to be a growing distance between the two. Not knowing what it was or when it started, she would talk to her partner but often left the conversation feeling even more confused and upset.
“I love him but I began wondering if we were compatible for each other. I even started thinking about this “3-year itch”.
After some probing, we learned they were having repeated arguments. Anytime she would ask something of him, he seemed to check out. He wasn’t responsive and it frustrated her even more which would escalate into another fight.
We dug a bit more and learned that there was a disconnect in her communication pattern.
When she had a need that seemed obvious to her, she assumed it was obvious to him. In her eyes, it didn’t warrant an explicit request.
But what was more interesting is that even when things didn’t seem obvious, she preferred not to bother him with what she needed. It either seemed too complicated to explain or he seemed like he was in a rush, and she didn’t want to bother him.
She was creating excuses to avoid sharing her needs.
What she didn’t realise is that her inability to communicate any requests, was affecting HER.
Thus, creating frustration and confusion which was coming to a boiling point.
Here is our biggest discovery yet -
It wasn’t an incompatibility issue. She had been suppressing her needs and emotions because she was afraid to come across as needy and push her partner away.
She didn’t want to be a nagging girlfriend.
She wanted to be the perfect girlfriend.
After getting her to a place where she realised the health AND value of communicating her requests, we discussed tools and tactics to openly and lovingly express her true emotions and how to request for what she wanted.
She shifted from feeling frustrated, and sad to feeling heard, supported and loved by her partner.
The more she focused on being open and communicating in a way that no longer left her partner feeling criticised and unappreciated, the more willing and loving he became in response.
The confusing arguments began diminishing and they began to feel more intimately connected with each other.
There can be many factors that can complicate your results. Is the subject matter already contentious between the two of you? Is it a sore spot? Are you far down the path of negative talk? Are these patterns showing in other conversations or other parts of your relationship?
While a positive resolution isn’t always guaranteed, the effort to adjust your message by using the four steps above, it will bring you positive results to your conversations.
As I wrap up, I remember an image that went straight to my heart from Pinterest the other day.
It said this:
I am reminded that love is a choice.
I am reminded that in today's world, love is often treated like a game app - once we get the fun we wanted and find ourselves bored or find it too difficult to win, we simply hit uninstall and move on to the next option.
Love is more than a feeling.
Love is action.
Love is a choice.
It is the decision to make the most loving decision that you can for yourself and your loved ones in each given moment.
It is the decision to remember what we already appreciate about our partners, during the most frustrating and tough times.
And I leave you with an image that I saw alongside this quote that captures what it means to experience eternal love: