Complaining, is it a bad thing? What purpose does it serve? And who does it more?
Not all complaints are equal, I’m going to go through how to make a constructive complaint to your partner and why it’s important to do it. Firstly though, who complains more?
Complaining is very much considered linked to gender. According to John Gottman, women account for 85% of complaints in a relationship, while men contribute 15% in heterosexual unions. When done well, complaining serves as the key to fostering enhanced emotional connections, an idea I'll delve into below. If your partner brings to you complaints, it’s because they care about the relationship, want to work to make things better, are communicating their needs and expressing their boundaries. Avoiding expressing complaints merely leads to resentment when we feel our partner is just expected to know what we want.
Gottman defines "complaining" as expressing concerns constructively. When executed effectively, it enhances relationships.
So let’s say your partner takes the bins out but doesn’t put a new bin liner in.
Here are six steps I have come across which effectively communicate a ‘complaint’:
Initiate Softly: Begin with a softened startup, ensuring your partner understands this isn't an argument. Offer a compliment before expressing your concern. “I really appreciate the fact that you take the bins out. I find that job stinky and dislike doing it.”
Identify Feelings: State your feelings clearly, as in, "I feel frustrated when…” addressing the specific situation causing concern.
Specify Complaint: Clearly articulate the particular issue, avoiding global statements. “You forgot to replace the bin liner when you took the old one out”
Specify Action: Clearly state what you want your partner to do to address the complaint. “When you take the bin out, can you please replace the bin liner immediately?'
Express Purpose: Clarify that your complaint aims to improve your life, not merely venting. “That would make me happy”
Engage in Conversation: Conclude with an invitation for input, using the four magic words, "What do you think?"
In practice, an effective complaint is concise and to the point, as demonstrated…
“I really appreciate you taking the bins out. I find that job stinky and and dislike doing it. I feel frustrated when I go to throw something away and there isn’t a new bin liner in there. You forgot t replace the bin liner when you took the old one out. When you take the bin out, can you please replace it immediately? That would make me happy. What do you think?”
Addressing concerns through effective complaining helps keep emotional connections strong. Gottman likens unresolved issues to accumulating ‘poo’ in relationship pipes, causing distancing. Complaints act as a way to flush out these issues, maintaining relational clarity.
Following these steps increases the likelihood of a positive response. Initiating conversations with a softened approach sets a positive tone, reducing defensiveness and enhancing problem-solving.
However, effective complaining is just the initial step. How partners respond is crucial. A non-defensive response validates the other's perspective, fostering understanding. Criticism, on the other hand, places blame and hinders effective communication. A good response might sound like:
“Oh sorry! That sounds very frustrating. I’ll make sure to remember to do it immediately in the future.”
It’s important to note that criticism and complaining are two different things.
Criticism looks like:
“You don’t think when you do the bins and do half a job”
Now the issue is that the partner isn’t doing the ‘job properly’ which will likely lead to a defensive reply:
“I was going to do it but I got distracted. You always expect me to do things immediately without giving me a chance. You can do the bins from now on”.
The key to a happy relationship involves offering complaints to improve the relationship. For this reason, men are encouraged to voice their needs constructively. Withholding complaints fosters hidden resentments, leading to perceived unfairness.
Addressing concerns constructively is essential for both men and women. Complaints play a pivotal role in creating an environment where both partners feel heard, respected, and understood, contributing to the health of the relationship.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources which are supportive around this topic are: