While a resolution isn’t guaranteed, effective complaining enables spouses to engage in conflict and achieve resolutions that criticism puts out of reach.
When resolutions are out of reach, it doesn’t have to end the relationship or suck the happiness out of it.
The secret ingredient
Many couples have built thriving relationships in spite of enduring, unresolved conflicts. Many of these couples have learned to tolerate these conflicts by complaining instead of criticizing.
But they also have a powerful, secret ingredient: they use repairs to diffuse the tension that builds up when discussing these issues.
This keeps those problems from overwhelming their relationship.
One perpetual conflict in my marriage has been my wife’s tendency to get rid of things that we haven’t used for a while. I’m a saver. After all, you never know when you might need something.
At least once a year, Tami decides to go through the clothes in our closet to get rid of the garments we don’t wear anymore. I’d never do this.
She takes clothes from my side of the closet that she doesn’t think I need and piles them on my side of the bed. “Go through these and decide which ones you don’t need,” she’ll say. “We’re getting rid of anything you don’t wear.”
I used to get angry. Now, I laugh. For me, her behavior has become predictable. For her, my behavior has become predictable.
She laughs at me as I sort through the stack of clothes, take out one shirt to get rid of and hang the other clothes back in the closet.
Couples who are satisfied with their relationships don’t lack things to complain about.
They’ve discovered how to complain without criticizing, keep the issues they have with each other in perspective, and use humor to break up tension that can lead to gridlock.
If this doesn’t describe your relationship, try using Dr. Gottman’s formula for complaining, add a dose of humor, and see where it leads.
By Jon Beaty
A Couple’s Guide to Complaining