Getting your spouse to finally hear your complaints – part 2

Tune into what is under the complaint. There’s a value of yours that is not being addressed.

People complain because something that matters to us isn’t going as we expected. Instead of owning that unmet expectation and sharing how much it matters to us, we complain. Complaints indicate what people care about most – about what we value and need.

  • A complaint about the garbage might really be about not feeling like a team in taking care of household responsibilities.
  • A complaint about spending habits might really be about feeling insecure about financial future.
  • A complaint about in-laws showing up might really be about a need for privacy.
  • A complaint about working too much might really be about wanting to spend more time together.

When we complain, we should ask ourselves: “What is it that I really care about that is not happening here?” Often it is helpful to listen to the words of the complaint. Words like “should”, “ought”, and other assumption language can help us recognize our expectation/ disappointment. “A husband/ wife ought to…” “In a marriage, there should be …”. It might be things like connection, fairness, appreciation, being considered when decisions are made, etc.

Once we have identified what is under the complaint, we can better formulate what is going on for us and express it better to our spouse. We can talk to our emotions about not getting what we so value or want. You might use Howard Markman’s XYZ formula “When you do X, in situation Y, I feel Z.”
💬“When you look at your phone when we are talking, I feel lonely. I want to connect with you at the end of a long day.”
💬“When we are talking about an issue, and you interrupt me or cut me off mid-sentence, I feel invalidated and put down.”

When you express your complaint in this way – by sharing your feelings about what is going on and what really want – you are giving your partner usable information that they can act on.

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