The Dos and Don'ts of Dealing With Marital Complaints

Even in the healthiest of marriages spouses have complaints to make about one another.

It’s true. It’s not the complaints themselves that cause trouble in a marriage, it is the way that spouses HANDLE complaints.

This blog post is written as a bit of a ‘question-and-answer’ session about the dos and don’ts of dealing with any complaints in your marriage.

Because the way that complaints are communicated and responded to in your marriage can have a massive impact on the love and connection between you and your spouse.

If you have any more questions on this topic that have not been answered during the post, please feel free to ask these in the comments box at the end.

First of all, what is a marital complaint usually about?
A marital complaint usually comes up when one spouse is feeling upset by the behavior of the other, or is feeling that one of their emotional needs is not being met.

Whether it is due to an inconsiderate behavior or unmet need, complaints are reflections that something is in the way of a person feeling completely loved by their spouse.

Why do couples often avoid bringing up or addressing complaints?
Spouses usually avoid resolving complaints for the following reasons:

• They are scared of conflict.
• They don’t know how to communicate the problem to their spouse.
• They don’t expect that their spouse will do anything about their complaint.
• They don’t think that their complaint is worthwhile enough to bring up (i.e. they think they should just ‘live with it’).
• They don’t want to hurt their spouse.
• They are worried that their spouse will leave them if they bring up their marital problems.

But the thing is, once a couple has a safe, respectful and clear procedure for going about making complaints to one another in their marriage, it doesn’t feel like something big and scary at all.

Because each spouse can expect their complaints to be listened to, discussed and resolved with the other, without feeling any threat to their relationship.

How do you make a complaint to your spouse, without causing a fight?
Below are the steps to making a loving complaint to your spouse, which reduce the likelihood of your spouse reacting in a defensive and hurtful way.

• Make a thoughtful request, rather than a demand.
A thoughtful request is considerate of your spouse’s feelings, while a demand is not.

Even though your complaint may be about an aspect of your spouse’s behavior that is upsetting you, avoid framing your complaint in a blaming or criticizing way.

Make the problem about you (rather than your spouse), by framing it in a way that focuses on how YOU are feeling as a RESULT of something your spouse has or has not been doing.

Thoughtfully request the way in which you would like your spouse’s behavior to change to meet your needs, and how this change in behavior would make you feel loved, respected and cared for.

For instance, “Babe, I know you are probably just trying to help when you remind me about the housework that needs doing, but to be honest it actually makes me feel a little offended and unappreciated when you do this.

It makes me feel like you have no faith in my ability to take care of what needs doing without being reminded.

It would make me feel really loved and appreciated if, instead of reminding me about the housework, you trusted that I would do this myself and made an effort to show appreciation for the housework that I do.

In return, I will do my best to keep on top of what needs doing each day and fit in what I can after work, and to always show appreciation for the housework that you do”.

This type of request is a lot more reasonable and considerate than a DEMAND, such as; “You need to stop telling me to do the housework all the time. I hate hearing it and it makes me feel really angry.”

• Communicate your complaint clearly and calmly.
Make sure that when you make your complaint to your spouse, you are feeling calm and in control – NOT on the verge of an angry outburst.

Bombarding your spouse with negative emotion will only make them get emotional and defensive in return.

If your SPOUSE does not respond positively to what you have to say, resist your urge to ‘fight back’ and instead simply end the discussion for now.

You can bring up the problem again later (again in a calm and respectful way), in the hope that your spouse will have cooled down and will be ready to address the issue in a calmer manner.

• Respect your spouse’s perspective.
Once you have stated your complaint, ask your spouse for their perspective on the problem and listen respectfully to what they have to say.

Listen to how your spouse is viewing the situation and identify how their views may be different to your own – neither of you has to be ‘right’.

Also identify whether there is anything that is making it difficult for your spouse to meet your needs in this particular area.

• Come up with a mutually beneficial solution.
Even if the problem may be about something your spouse has done to upset you, you both need to take an active part in coming to a solution.

Discuss the problem with your spouse and come up with a solution together that works for both of you and fully solves the problem.

Make sure you do keep discussing the issue until you have come to a solution - leaving it in the ‘too-hard’ basket won’t help.

Bear in mind that the outcome should always be mutually beneficial. It should not be something which helps one spouse but hurts the other (i.e. neither spouse should have to make a significant sacrifice).

Remember, if nothing is resolved, the problem is likely to continue and it will only lead to feelings of resentment.

• Reconnect with your spouse.
Show appreciation for the fact that your spouse listened to your complaint and worked with you to come to a solution.

Recognize that they may be feeling a little low after realizing that they have been letting you down in some way, so show them love, care, forgiveness and affection.

Why should you take your spouse’s complaints seriously?
There’s no denying that it can hurt when your spouse makes a complaint, as we don’t always like to be confronted with our behavior.

But disregarding your spouse’s complaints will only turn their complaints into resentment, which will start to eat away at the love between you.

And when you do not take their complaints on board, they only become less likely to take YOUR complaints on board.

Even if a complaint sounds unreasonable, bear in mind that there is something within your spouse that has made them upset and driven that complaint.

Sometimes, it is up to us to decipher what the need is that our spouse is trying to express to us, behind any pain or anger.

Why is it essential to respond to your spouse’s complaints immediately?
Your spouse’s complaints need to be addressed as quickly as possible, and action needs to be taken to solve the problem.

If problems are not talked about and addressed as soon as they come up, this can have many undesirable outcomes for your marital relationship.

Unresolved issues can build up over time, leading to demands, criticisms, angry outbursts and resentment.

When issues are addressed immediately, however, marriages only become stronger and the bond between spouses is strengthened rather than dissolved.

This means being prepared to change your behavior to meet your spouse’s needs.

Why is being prepared to change for each other essential for keeping your love alive?
By each adapting your behavior to resolve one another’s complaints, you and your spouse are ensuring that each of your emotional needs will continue to be met.

When we take on the attitude of “I am what I am, and if my spouse can’t handle it, that’s their problem”, we are not thinking with the best interests of our marriage at heart.

We don’t change to meet our spouse’s needs, our spouse doesn’t change to meet our needs, and the love between us gradually declines.

Marriage is about give-and-take, and that means being able to constantly respond and adapt to one another’s needs.

By maintaining high expectations of one another rather than ‘living with’ dissatisfaction, you and your spouse are communicating that you hold one another in high regard and expect only the best from each other.

Rather than getting complacent, you are constantly working to improve your marriage and are not letting problems dissolve your love.

Each of you recognizes that in order to maintain a happy, loving marriage, each spouse has to feel that their emotional needs are being met by the other.

What if you feel your spouse’s requests are unreasonable?
At times, you may feel that something your spouse asks of you is unreasonable; such as asking for more than you can practically give, or asking you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable.

In this situation, let your spouse know that what they are asking is not possible and explain why.

However, let them know that you are willing to negotiate with them to try to come up with an agreement of a more reasonable way in which you could adapt your behavior to satisfy their needs.

It may be that there is a way in which your spouse can also make some compromises in order to help you to meet their need.

For instance, say that your spouse’s complaint is that they would like to have more sex than you are currently having.

Although you would also like to be able to have more sex, the problems for you in meeting this request are that often by the time your spouse gets home at night, you’re already feeling exhausted after going to work, doing all of the dishes and laundry that needs doing and putting the kids to bed.

At this point, sex is that last thing you feel in the mood for.

However, if you could communicate to your spouse that being too exhausted from these tasks is the reason you do not feel in the mood for sex as often as you’d like to, they may be prepared to try to lighten your load.

For instance, perhaps they could change their hours at work so that they are home earlier to help with the housework and childcare.

Or perhaps they could get the kids ready and do a bit of housework before they leave in the morning, to take the pressure off you.

Whatever the complaint is, negotiate with your spouse until you both feel that you have resolved the issue in a positive way.

I hope that you have learned from this post just how ESSENTIAL it is to address complaints as soon as they arise, in order to keep feelings of love and affection alive in your marriage.

All the best,

Brooke Ryan

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