How to complain without hurting your partner This is a simple & effective way to talk about difficult issues:
1) Choose your time carefully- ideally when you are both relaxed & getting on. How we start a conversation predicts how it ends, so if you are stressed, it would be better to spend sometime calming yourself down first- so that you have access to your whole brain & have a better chance of starting gently- which increases the chances of the conversation going well.
2) Most of what we communicate is not through our words but through our tone & body language- so make sure that you are in the right frame of mind by reminding yourself, before you start, of all the things you like about your partner-& the things that they are doing right.( It can also be useful to reflect on ways in which you are not perfect yourself- there are few perfect human beings!)
3) Start with”I” + emotion, for instance, ” I am upset”, “I am hurt” , ” I am scared”.( Most people use a lot of “you” statements during difficult conversations which unfortunately makes the person you are speaking to feel criticized & become defensive. It makes it harder for them to listen).
4) Now name your complaint & make it SPECIFIC, for instance, ” I was upset that the kitchen was a mess this morning”, or ” I get scared when I look at our bank balance”.
5) Ask for what you need, for instance, ” we need to find better ways of managing our money”.
Research shows that the beginning of a conversation predicts how it will end. In the best relationships, people are gentle with each other. Start in the way you mean to go on.
Some people, however gently you start a difficult discussion, have had so many experiences of feeling attacked & criticized in the past that they will feel attacked and get defensive no matter how you begin.
In this case, the best thing to do is to clearly state that you don’t mean to attack or criticize them but rather want to let them know how this specific thing has made you feel, eg. “ I am not intending to criticize you, I just want to let you know how I feel”.
Sometimes it can be very effective just to raise an issue and put it out there and then go and do some thing else. Don’t make it into a big issue & an argument if it doesn’t have to be (pick your battles!) No one likes to feel controlled. Instead consider raising an issue gently- putting it out there- & letting them think about it.
For instance, in an example from my own life, I once said to my husband “I don’t really like this bench here. I would sit on it a lot more if it were somewhere else”. I gave a couple of reasons why & left it at that. I then went away & did something else. I didn’t mention it again.
A few weeks later, I noticed that it had been moved, to a place I like much better!:)
It is important to remember to stick to just the one thing. If you bring up more than one issue at once it will feel to your partner like you are criticizing them. What you are aiming to do is to keep it limited to one thing-to complain not to criticize.
I hope this helps- it may feel unnatural to speak in this way at first but like many things, it gets easier with practice!
If you have found this article helpful, there is also a video on this topic here:
About the Author
Brainheart Coaching: Improving relationships one step at a time!:)
Ann Marie Taylor is a Human Givens Psychotherapist specializing in relationships & the author of 5 Steps to Lasting Love: an evidence-based guide. She has a background in psychology & is based just outside Greystones, in County Wicklow, Ireland (sessions now available online & by phone). To book an appointment you can text or call me on: 0863549969 or, if you prefer, email me through the contact form on my website here.