Relationship Help: The Message Behind Your Partner’s Complaints

Relationship Help Quick Tip

We all complain from time to time…it’s a part of being human. But sometimes couples find themselves in a complaint-quandary unique to relationships: they start to complain about the complaints in their relationship—the complaining seems to take on a life of its own and becomes the central marriage/relationship problem.

However, before you write the complaint-cycle off as circuitous or empty, consider this: your spouse/partner might not just be complaining for the sake of complaining. It’s possible that there’s a message behind the complaint—an important communication that’s often lost in the frustration and anger and defensiveness that surrounds complaints.

Perhaps when your spouse/partner complains, what s/he is really saying is:

~I believe in you and expect more from you because I know you can do better. Please don’t become complacent…I depend on you;

~You have the power to make me feel secure and happy or to make me feel reduced by the decisions you make…please choose my security/happiness;

~I need to feel important in our marriage/relationship, and when you listen and follow through on what I ask (and on what you say you’re going to do), I feel you care—it feels like I matter to you. I really need to matter to you;

~We’re in this together—I can’t do it alone and I don’t want to feel alone. Show me I’m not alone;

In all fairness, it’s hard to hear these behind-the-complaint messages when you’re face-to-face with a complaint. Usually what you hear is that you’ve messed up in some way and that no matter how much you try, it’s never enough. So you resist, defend, rail, counter-complain, avoid, retreat, numb yourself…you do anything it takes not to feel like a failure. And as a result, you miss the message behind the complaint.

Relationship Help Action Step: 

Will you allow defensiveness to take over and thereby lose sight of potentially important behind-the-complaint messages? 

Or will you take a deep breath, stay calm and really (really!) listen to the yearning and longing behind your spouse’s/partner’s complaint?

It’s quite easy to hear how much you’ve messed up when you’re on the receiving end of a complaint. It takes great resolve, understanding, empathy and perspective to hear that your spouse/partner actually needs you in these moments (and then rise to the challenge). But remember this: with each new step in the direction of awareness and understanding, you’re that much closer to becoming the partner you truly want to be, the partner you know you can be.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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