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Relationship Rescue: Turn Complaints into Closeness

Complaining is one way the brain lets off steam, but when done too frequently as a couple, it is disheartening and can become a pattern that diminishes the vitality of a relationship. A couple’s complaints can eclipse their love, corrode joy, and make married couples begin to doubt why they even married each other. If that's you, you're likely feeling unfulfilled in marriage or in a relationship, so keep reading.

A frustrated black couple arguing and complaining.What Do Couples Complain About?

In my initial relationship coaching session with struggling couples, they often deluge me with complaints about their marriage or relationship, listing all the ways their partner isn't meeting their needs. It's typical to blame each other in a relationship when we're feeling hurt, or our needs aren't met. However, when I ask them what they want instead, they usually come up blank and say, "I don't know."

So what do couples complain about and is it different for men and women? Let's look at some of the common complaints.

Common complaints from men:

  • “Our relationship doesn’t seem to be a priority for her.”
  • “If she doesn’t like me, why is she married to me?”
  • “She expects me to be a mind reader.”
  • “If she could just ask for what she wants instead of criticizing me...”
  • “Arguing at night is exhausting.”
  • “We can’t even have a conversation without getting into a fight.”
  • “My partner doesn’t appreciate me.”
  • "I'm not allowed to have separate interests; she wants to spend every minute together."
  • "I'm tired of the guilting for working out at the gym even though I tell her I'll watch the kids whenever she wants to exercise."
  • “I don’t feel supported.”
  • “She doesn’t back me in front of the kids.”
  • “There’s rarely any interest in sex.” Or “I’m always the one initiating sex.”

Common complaints from women:

  • “I'm not allowed to have feelings.” Or “He doesn’t support me emotionally.”
  • “He won’t make time for me or the children.”
  • “He'll go hunting for a week (or play a day of golf) but won't take time off work for date night."
  • “He doesn't appreciate how much I do for the family.” or "He doesn't have a clue how hard I work."
  • “His work/career always take precedence over my priorities.”
  • “He wants sex but there’s no emotional connection.”
  • “He doesn’t ever compliment me.”
  • “Our relationship feels like a business arrangement.”
  • “I try to talk to him, but he gets defensive.”
  • “He’s not affectionate and my love language is touch!”

As you can see from the list above, many of the complaints mirror what the other is saying and feeling. We often want what we are not giving in a relationship. Hmm... your complaints about your partner could be breadcrumbs back to connection and love.

Let’s face it! It’s easy to love someone when the feel-good drugs flood our system in the honeymoon phase. Couple in love lounging together on a bed.However, when life becomes monotonous—or difficult—complaining can become a way of life.

Related reading: "Top Challenges in Relationships and How to Keep the Love Alive!" 

Aside from complaining being detrimental to your relationship, you may not know that the habit of complaining makes our brains smaller and is bad for your health. Plus, no one in a relationship has ever uttered, "Oh yes, I really enjoy listening to my partner complain" have they!?

According to Psychologist Guy Winch in his book The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way, it’s how we approach our complaints that matters. He recommends several things: considering your listener (in this case, your partner), having a specific purpose of keeping your complaint lean, and beginning and ending the discussion with a positive statement, often called the sandwich approach. Easier said than done, but there’s wisdom in his approach for sure.

And to Winch's point, when complaints start taking over, it’s time to retrain your brain to practice gratitude, or at least to see the positive and overcome the negative bias the brain is wired for.

Replace Blame and Complaining with Love and Understanding

To create what we want—whether in relationships or in our lives—we have to know WHAT we want. It's easy to slip into negative thinking patterns because the brain is always alert to spot what's wrong. But complaining and blaming only lead to misery and the deterioration of even the best relationships.

Therefore, it's an extremely worthwhile practice to retrain yourself to convert complaints to actionable steps.

Instead of blaming your partner, take responsibility for improving your relationship.

Stop the blame game, figure out what you want, and ask for it!

The step-by-step process below is a great conflict resolution skill for couples. Practice the steps until they are second nature. Your partner will thank you, and you'll discover new opportunities for love and closeness.

Deep Dive: "How to Stop Complaining: An Action Plan to Happiness"
Trust in a relationship is vital... trust one more time.

Steps to Turn Your Complaints about Your Partner to Closeness!

STEP 1 - Acknowledge your complaint without lashing out at your partner.

STEP 2 - Self-calm if you're upset. It may help to think of three things you love about your partner or three ways your partner showed their love for you recently.

STEP 3 - Choose to take full responsibility for your discontent.
Unplug from blaming your partner and commit to being constructive.

STEP 4 - Ask yourself, "What is the opposite of my complaint?"
Your complaint might be, "Our relationship is boring. All he/she ever wants to do is...!" The opposite might be spending quality time together away from the television. Or your complaint might be, "He/she never appreciates all I do." Maybe it's time to both focus on appreciating and validating each other.

STEP 5 - Decide what you want. The more specific you can be, the more successful your partner can be. (For example, to shake up the monotony, you might set up a weekly date night or plan a special weekend together.)

STEP 6 - Ask for what you want in a calm, loving tone at a time when your partner is receptive. (HINT: This is not when your partner is exhausted or upset or needs some time alone.) For instance, when you're both relaxed, ask: "We haven't had any getaways for a long time. How 'bout taking a long weekend to go camping or to the lake?"

A loving couple sitting on bench at the edge of a lake.If you're asking how to save your marriage, work at converting complaints to requests. With more helpful communication, your relationship will shift. Practice these steps to help shift your relationship and begin to transform the little annoyances into opportunities for love and greater closeness.

Related reading: "Love Is a Choice—the Best Marriage Advice!"

If you and your partner are looking for a relationship coach near you and desire personalized support tailored to your relationship, contact us at support@heartmanity.com.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity FounderJennifer A. Williams / Heartmanity Founder
Jennifer, as the Heartmanity Founder, has coached couples for over two decades. With her extensive experience and vast knowledge of emotional intelligence and brain science, Jennifer provides profound insights. She specializes in communication and teaches EQ skills needed to create healthy relationships. Jennifer is happily married and the mother of three grown children who are incredible human beings.

Posted in Love, Marriage, and Relationships

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