Complaining about your spouse or your marriage is easy. Taking action is hard. You see, when you are part of a couple, you have a built-in scapegoat. It is much easier to look at what your partner is doing wrong, than to look in a mirror and see your part in creating the situation you find so challenging.
I remember when I was working to become a therapist. I had several friends who said, “I can’t wait for you to get licensed.” My loving response back to them was, “I can be your friend or your therapist, but I can’t be both.” This wasn’t so much about ethics as it was about their expectations. You go to friends for validation. You go to therapists (or coaches) for help.
Think about the last time you got together with a group of same-sex friends. How long was it before someone started to rag on their significant other? How soon did everyone else start to pile on? It might have felt good to vent, but did it actually solve anything? Did you feel better about your relationship? Or did you feel worse?
I don’t think I have to go very far out on a limb to say that just about everyone who was part of that conversation felt worse about their relationship at the end of the evening than they did when they first got there. Why? Because negativity breeds negativity. And that is the cost of complaining. Yes, it may feel good in the moment—like having that last drink—but the resulting hangover isn’t very pleasant.
One reason complaining is so common is that, when done with the right audience, it validates us. It feeds our sense of indignation and justice. It’s the reason my friends were waiting for my licensure with such anticipation. As a friend, I would commiserate and not just acknowledge but vindicate their hurt and frustration. As a therapist or coach, my job is to ask them about them what their part in the problem might be.
Not being happy about a particular circumstance in your relationship is neither uncommon nor unreasonable. The problem comes in how it is addressed. Complaining is both negative and based in the past. In addition, it is almost always a source of conflict; something that many of us avoid like the plague. It also can be passive and non-specific. It is an acknowledgment of something you don’t like.
A better, and more active, alternative is to state your complaint in the form of a request. Asking for what you want, instead of just complaining, is a much more effective way to proceed. It requires you to be specific about what you really want. It’s positive and future based. As a result, your partner is more likely to be open to making the adjustments that will give you what you want.
In my business, that’s known as a win for you, a win for your partner, and a win for your relationship.
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A version of this post was previously published on TheHeroHusbandProject and is republished here with permission from the author.
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