We all have something to complain about: Too short, too big, inconsiderate, self-centered, you never cook, not enough money, never home, workaholic, drinks too much, plays video games too much, she spends too much money, he doesn’t have a job, not enough sex, talks too much, doesn’t communicate…
I have found that having something to complain about is the easy part. Resisting the urge to complain to and about our spouse is the challenging part. Complaining is a funny thing, because ultimately it does the opposite of what we want it to do. Typically we complain because we want something to change, instead what we get is distance and if we are not careful a big argument.
What’s The Point?
I don’t watch sports like I used to, but when I get the rare chance to sit down and check out a game, regardless of the sport, I always find it amusing to watch a coach fly off the handle and “lose it” with the game official. Especially in baseball, the managers (coach) throw the bases, throw their hat across the field, and kick dirt on the umpire – it can be quite animated and amusing. But…I have never seen these antics lead to the umpire changing the call, in fact the inevitable effect of their complaining is to be ejected from the game and perhaps face further fines and suspensions. So, I always wonder, what’s the point? There may have been a legitimate reason to complain but the way they went about it only led to their removal and now the team has to try to win the game without them.
I recently finished former NFL and the first black head coach to win the Super Bowl, Coach Tony Dungy’s book Quiet Strength. There is a section in the book that he talks about how his father would tease him about the futility of his complaining to referees. Eventually, Dungy adopted the approach of not complaining when calls did not go his way. Instead, he would draw on that quiet inner strength to remain clear headed and remain focussed on the task at hand.
Likewise in marriage, complaining to or about our spouse rarely produces the result that we are looking for and is pretty much futile. It does not typically lead our spouse to change; it only results in further distance. What we want is for them to respond positively to what we are requesting, but it typically does not have that effect.
So if complaining is counterproductive, how can we find more constructive ways to get the point across effectively:
1. Just talk.
One of the best ways to positively communicate what is bothering me is to just say it. No jab, no sarcasm, just “I would really like it if you would stop leaving dishes in the sink – please.” I know all my fellow husbands resonate with me on that one – okay maybe, maybe not (LOL.) But, the point is that often by just saying what is bothering us in forthright, plain terms, we gain the ear of our spouse much more effectively than the tone that can sometimes accompany our complaints.
2. X (+) Y= Z.
Rather than complaining about always being late, it may be more effective to let them know how their behavior or quirk makes you feel. When you do “x” and “y” it makes me feel like “z”. For example, “when you are late” + “don’t call” it makes me feel = “that you don’t care.” This is really a neat way of letting your spouse know what is bothering you and allowing them to know how you feel…but much more effective than just, “You are always late.”
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3. Stay on the same side.
Whether intentional or not, complaints separate the couple into the categories of the accused and the accuser. It places one one spouse lower than the other. So when complaining is removed from our relationship, we gain the ability to walk side by side rather than assigning rank.
It is always easier to bring up an issue when you are willing to walk beside the person to find a solution. For the reality is, the very person that becomes alienated when they find them self on the critical end of a complaint is the same person that will need to be a part of solving the issue.
Recent studies show that couples argue less and resolve conflicts quicker when they use inclusive “us” and “we” language as opposed to drawing battle lines with “you” and “I.” So stay on the same page – work through it together – side by side.
So there are my opinions of constructive ways to express what is bothering you. So how about you? In the off chance that you and your spouse would be at odds with each other, how do you go about expressing it, and how does it typically work out?