Do you find yourself complaining to your spouse a lot? Fantastic! It’s actually good for your marriage! Yes, you read that correctly.
Studies done by the University of Washington show that couples who complain in a moderate amount have healthier marriages than those who don’t. Complaining helps keep resentment from building and helps each individual improve in their abilities as a husband/wife because they’re being brought to the individual’s attention.
The catch? It must be complaining and not criticizing. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked!
Complaining addresses the behavior of a person. Criticizing attacks the person as a whole.
Complaints sound like “I felt really disrespected by the tone you used this morning when we were working on the budget.”
Criticism sounds like “You are so disrespectful when we discuss the bills!”
Notice that the complaint started with I while the criticism started with you. As you read on, notice that the complaint clearly addressed the behavior as it said “you used” while the criticism said “you are”. While the words don’t seem that different, the message behind the words is received completely different. Additionally, complaining communicates an emotion. Your partner can’t get mad when you’re communicating an emotion because it’s your feeling, your experience.
Think of communication like a gate. When you start your complaint with an I message, “I feel/want/would appreciate/like/don’t care for…” your partner is much more apt to listen and hear you out. The communication gate stays open. When the message starts with “you are/do/always/never/have/…” the receiver of the message immediately feels threatened and attacked. The gate is slammed shut, the wall goes up and the listener is now listening only to respond to the threat versus truly hearing what the speaker is saying.
In addition to complaining versus criticizing, using “we” instead of you, I or me can also lead to more solutions and less arguments.
Example: “We” forgot to take out the trash before we left for vacation. We didn’t shut the garage door last night before bed. We need to remember to pay the phone bill. We have to send a gift to my mom.
Understandably, it doesn’t take two people to mail a letter or take out the trash. But if one person who usually takes that role on forgets or doesn’t have time, is it possible for the other to step in and do it out of an act of generosity? Absolutely!
Using we the most in a conversation says “Hey partner, I’m not blaming you. I’m in this as a team so I want to come to a solution as a team.” Doing things with an attitude of generosity rather than irritation and resentment says the same thing.
The catch there is that one person can’t always be picking up the slack. Obviously that’s not going to work well in the team atmosphere and definitely will lead to breakdown and exhaustion in the partner doing the majority of the work which will cause resentment and anger.
What are you communicating to your partner? Are you coming at things as a team or as if they’re your enemy? Are you complaining or criticizing? Where could you improve?
Communicate well and as always, if this is an area you need help with, reach out for a pop-up session or for more information on 1:1 coaching!