Complaining Constructively


Communicating needs and complaints with you partner early, can help protect against resentment. However, many of my clients struggle to bring up complaints in a way that their partner can hear and understand. Some “pick their battles” too carefully, because they are afraid that bringing up complaints will lead to conflict. Others are afraid to follow up with their partner about their complaints because they do not want to be a “nag”. These concerns are valid! While you cannot control how your partner will respond to your complaint, it is possible to communicate in a respectful way that can help improve your relationship. Here are some things to consider when you are bringing up a complaint to your partner.

State one complaint at a time

Bringing up a laundry list of complaints all at once can make your partner feel attacked and hopeless. Think about it! If your partner told you fifteen things you were “doing wrong”, wouldn’t you feel overwhelmed and defeated? To help prevent your partner from getting defensive or shutting down, you can focus on one complaint at a time. Want to take this a step further? Try focusing only on present complaints. Telling your partner that they have been doing the thing that is bothering you “for years” can elicit the same hopeless feeling.

Check in with yourself

It is helpful to check in with your own emotional state, before bringing up a complaint to your partner. You may be feeling frustrated, angry, or hurt by them. Allowing yourself to experience and move through these emotions before entering into a conversation will ensure that you are communicating from a centered place. Remember, you are bringing up a complaint to your partner because you want to improve your relationship, not to judge them or make them feel bad.

Communicate a positive need

Most of my clients do a great job stating complaints, but are unclear about what they need from their partner to make things better. Let me give you an example. Let’s say that you are complaining to your partner because they do not help out enough with the housework, but you aren’t clear that you really want them to do the dishes and vacuum. Maybe your partner responds to your complaint by taking out the trash. It is likely that you will miss their attempt to be more helpful because you are still focused on the fact that the dishes aren’t done and the floor isn’t vacuumed. Instead of just focusing on what is not happening, try focusing on what would make things better for you moving forward!

Help your partner follow through

In my experience, bringing up a complaint is rarely a one time conversation. Changing our behavior is hard! It takes time as well as trial-and-error. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate your partner’s small steps towards resolving your complaint as opposed to focusing on the times they do not follow through or only partly follow through. This is the best way to get more of what you want from your partner!


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