Dr. John Gottman, my marriage and relationship hero, has refined the skill of effective complaining down to a three-part formula.
The goal is to explain your complaint with criticizing.
As with all formulas, it sounds a bit stilted when you first try it.
But as you practice this formula, you can incorporate this skill into your repertoire.
Before you know it, you’ll find your natural voice and it will be easier to express your complaint.
1. Express how you’re feeling.
When something is bothering you, take some time to engage your prefrontal cortex by thinking intentionally about what’s on your mind. Try to identify the overriding feeling and stick to one complaint at a time.
- Start the conversation with a brief description of your feelings about the issue.
- Keep the focus on yourself.
- Avoid direct accusations or attacks on your husband that begin with assertions like “you always” or “you never.”
It’s important to steer clear of making any global accusations that attack your husband’s character or personality. This approach causes emotional overwhelm and shutdown.
2. Talk about a very specific situation
After describing your feeling, explain the situation or behavior that caused that feeling. Keep it short and sweet.
3. State a positive need.
Finally, ask your husband to take a positive action to address your specific complaint.
Using this formula doesn’t guarantee complaints will be resolved. It does give you a tool to express your complaints while minimizing the risk of your husband’s need to defend against criticism.
Here’s a real life example from a recent complaint I expressed to my husband.
Me: I feel frustrated (how I feel) when I see weeks of unread newspapers piling up on the floor the garage (about a very specific situation). I’d appreciate it if you’d put them out in the trash for recycling (expressing my positive need).
Husband: I feel annoyed (how he feels) when you rush me to throw out the newspapers because I want to read them, especially the Barrons (about a very specific situation). How about if I save the Barrons and promise I’ll bag the rest of them and take them out for the next recycling pick-up. Give me some time. I just need more time. (express a positive need).
Me: I’m afraid you’ll forget if you don’t do it now (how I feel). It’s hard to park the car in the garage with all the newspapers piling up (about a very specific situation). I understand that you’re working on a big case right now. But, if you forget, I’m going remind you so this little project gets done within the next few days (express a positive need).
Husband: Okay. Give me a week. You can remind me if you think I’ve forgotten and I won’t complain that you’re nagging me. I get it!
What really happened after the discussion:
- I reminded my husband to bag the papers and take them out to the trash.
- He promised he would.
- He didn’t.
- Another week went by.
- I met my own need by bagging all the papers.
- I saved the Barrons for him.
- He took the bags out to the trash on the next recycling day.
Effective complaining enables you to voice complaints and work towards resolutions.
But, as you can see by my real life example, there are no guarantees.
It’s always your job to meet your own needs whenever humanly possible.
You’re always entitled to make requests. But it is a fool hardy to tie your happiness to his compliance. Or your thoughts about whether your husband truly loves and appreciates you if he doesn’t follow through.
Conflict and complaints are an inevitable part of every aspect of life.
Your ability to manage complaints and conflict greatly influences your level of satisfaction in your marriage.
What complaints are are you ready to express in your marriage?
Help is as close as a click away. Let’s see how I might be able to help you navigate the choppy waters of criticism right here.