Learning to Make a Complaint

Although communication is not everything in a relationship, it certainly has an impact. One of the reasons that I wrote the ‘Pithy Little Rule Book to Satisfying Marital Conversations’ is because of the habits people have in their couple conversation that stops their connection repeatedly. And they are often simple things. One thing I notice that is not in the book is when one member of the couple, when noticing their own challenge immediately says, “we both do that”. Their mate, of course, not sharing that exact perspective, wants to correct them and immediately they are in a cross town bus conversation going nowhere. “I do that” rather then “we both do that” or “you do that too” takes responsibility for yourself. It really is up to you to make your own changes and not to try to neutralize the issue by trying to share the responsibility (even if it is true from your experience!).

Another challenge is when couples have created a culture of sarcasm between them. Some people even convince themselves they are being witty but it is another way of not taking responsibility for what you really mean and for the change you would like to see. Although it may begin in fun, it eventually creates a culture where as a couple you become the “Bickerson’s”. Criticism, even contempt is hidden (or barely hidden) inside your sarcastic remark. When you become the Bickerson’s, it is very difficult to keep up the five positive transactions to every one negative transaction that is necessary for a healthy relationship (John Gottman’s research).

Some people will tell me that they tell their partner everything and that when they have a thought, they just let it out (they call this having an honest relationship). Although they may feel relief when this occurs, this method does not take into account the other. It does not take into account your responsibility for the health and climate of your relationship or whether your partner is able to hear you just now. Letting your thoughts out ‘willy nilly’ does not get you listened to. When the timing is right and you have taken responsibility in creating a positive climate between you, phrasing your thoughts into a complaint works well. Try these suggestions for better communication. Go forth and be wonderful!

Making a complaint is a healthier way to manage and take responsibility for what you want to say. Most often criticism or contempt begins with “You”. When you are being honest and responsible for what you want in your relationship, your sentence will begin with I. I would like it if… (then give your suggestion), I don’t like it when… (could we do that differently?) or I wish that… (give your wish). The presentation of your complaint needs to take into consideration timing, tone of voice, your mindset and your partners vulnerabilities.