Look, apart from Mother Theresa or something (though I refuse to believe she never once complained about period cramps), everyone complains from time to time.
Whether it’s because your boss won’t get off your back, you and your partner have been arguing, or because you accidentally put those perfectly fitting jean shorts in the drier and they shrunk a tiny bit too much — there are certain things that inevitably warrant some complaints.
That said, there is a difference between someone who is complaining about justified frustrations (it’s really hard to find good jean shorts. okay!?) and someone who is constantly complaining about everything under the sun.
Sometimes, it seems, just for the sake of complaining.
Dealing with a partner who is always complaining is a difficult situation to handle for many reasons. Not only is it difficult to see the person you love being plagued with pessimism but it can affect your ability to maintain a positive outlook, as well as put a strain on your relationship.
Addressing the complaining can feel like balancing on a tightrope, trying not to sway too far to the side of being an enabler or to the side of being unsympathetic and unsupportive.
Read on for tips on how to support your partner in a productive way and point out the complaining with compassion and patience while encouraging growth and change.
1) Be curious about the root issue
If it feels like your partner is complaining about seemingly trivial things, just for the sake of complaining, there may be a serious internal struggle going on.
It’s unrealistic for everyone to be positive and upbeat all the time, but perpetual negativity could be a sign of deep-rooted insecurities, unhappiness with their lives, relationship frustrations, or even depression.
While it may be a natural response to zero in on the details of their complaints in an effort to understand their perspective, it’s more enlightening to take a step back to look at the bigger picture of their mental well-being.
For example, if they’re always lamenting about their friends, co-workers, or bosses, it could mean they are feeling excluded or struggling with feeling inferior.
If they go on and on about dishes in the sink or if you make a wrong turn while driving, that’s a sign there could be relationship resentment that is bubbling to the surface.
If they’re struggling with feelings of depression and don’t know how to express it, that can cause feelings of frustrated confusion or that they’re misunderstood — which, in turn, can result in them lashing out about minor inconveniences.
Let them know you’ve noticed that they’ve been feeling unhappy lately.
That you love them and want to be there for them but, in order to do so, you need to understand where those emotions are stemming from.
2) Don’t take it personally
It can be hard to not internalize someone’s negativity.
It can be especially hard if that person is the person who you spend the most time with, love the most, and are closer to than most people in this world.
But remember, their complaining has nothing to do with you.
It is not your fault.
It is a reflection of what is going on inside of them.
As mentioned above, sometimes there are underlying relationship struggles that can contribute to someone’s negative outlook, but it still isn’t your fault that they are struggling with figuring out how to address the issue directly.
3) Try to understand the unmet need behind the complaint
As psychologist Marshall Rosenberg said,
“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”
If your husband is complaining about you spending time on your phone, the kids being too loud, or your friends coming over, this suggests that he may be feeling that quality time and/or attention from you is lacking.
Once you are able to identify the unmet need behind the complaints, you can begin to address it.
Instead of viewing it as criticism about you, the kids, or your friends, viewing it as the unmet need of feeling wanted, feeling prioritized, or feeling secure in their relationship allows you to approach it from a place of compassion and productivity.
4) Avoid Arguing
It’s a normal knee-jerk reaction to get defensive when someone is complaining, especially if the complaint has anything to do with you.
While it may feel good to snap back to a complaint at the moment, arguing is only going to promote the disconnect between the two of you.
Especially if the complainer’s core struggle has nothing to do with the actual complaint. It will just result in more energy being wasted on unrelated issues.
5) Be solution-oriented
If you hear your husband complaining about how messy the kitchen is, it’s tempting (and, let’s be honest, sometimes deserved) to respond with something along the lines of “kitchens get messy sometimes, so either deal with it or get up and do something about it!”.
As tempting and temporarily satisfying as that response may be, it will probably result in more complaints from both of you instead of moving towards solving the issue.
A better answer would be: “I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you’re the only one who cares about messes at home, let’s work together to create a system to make sure everyone in this household is accountable for keeping certain things clean. Does that sound good to you?”.
Using connecting language like this helps them feel more supported and validated.
If they are just complaining for the sake of complaining, this tactic can also help ground them and encourage reflection on what’s triggering these moods.
6) Be an active listener
No one likes listening to a broken record. I mean, it’s 2021, people barely even like listening to non-broken records anymore.
So, when your husband is complaining about the same thing, day after day, it can be hard to be present and really hear what they’re saying.
Everyone deserves a good venting session from time to time, and the reason he keeps bringing up the same issue over and over might be that he never truly feels heard.
So instead of nodding along while you’re doing something else, or brushing off what he’s sharing by saying you already know how he feels, take the time to really sit down with him and give him your undivided attention.
The gift of feeling like their frustrations are acknowledged and cared about might be enough to get it out of their system.
7) You can validate the emotion, without validating the action
What can be most frustrating about people complaining is when they complain about something with no intention of taking action to make the situation better.
A common fear that prevents people from validating a complaining partner is that offering validation will be sending the message that it’s okay to complain so much, or it’s enabling their partner to continue to use them as their outlet for negativity.
What people don’t realize is that healthy validation is about their emotional experience, not necessarily the way they’re handling it.
So, if you feel strongly against validating something that you disagree with, try to change your approach.
For example, say your husband complains about his body, and you struggle to validate that dissatisfaction when you don’t see them trying to make a change by working out or eating healthy.
Instead of focusing on their response (in this case, complaining instead of signing up for a gym), focus on their emotion (their insecurities about their appearance).
By first validating the emotion, you’ll make them feel understood which can then pave the way for deeper conversations about what might be blocking them from taking action to make real changes.
8) Change the subject
If your husband has been ruminating about something that isn’t going well, they might not be aware of how much they’re actually bringing it up, or could be having trouble distracting themselves from it at all.
In those cases, changing the topic to something different can be just what they need to break them out of the cycle.
Asking them about another area of their life that you know they feel excited about, or even asking for their advice on something you are dealing with can shift their mood and the trajectory of the conversation.
9) Bring focus to the positive
Gently remind them of things that are going well for them, or what you do have control over in less-than-ideal situations that can make things better.
Negativity can wash over you like the cold. Like when you’re outside in the deepest, darkest part of winter, and the wind is whipping around you and you can’t remember what the sensation of sunshine feels like.
Sometimes you need to remind them of the light.
Let’s say the two of you are at a gathering for his family and he’s complaining about a family member that gets under his skin, you could say something along the lines of:
“I see how much they upset you, I’m sorry you have to deal with that. But something I am happy about is that we have a day away from the kids just the two of us. Why don’t we grab a couple of drinks and sneak outside for a little?”
If they’re fixating on a project that didn’t go well at work:
“I know it’s really disappointing that things didn’t go as you envisioned, but I’m noticing you’re getting really down on yourself because of it. I just want to remind you of these other things that you’ve done so well with at work in the past couple of months”.
10) Ask how you can help
“What can I do to support you through this?”
It might seem obvious, but simply asking how you can help can make a big difference.
Maybe they’re just looking for a sympathetic ear, or maybe they are hoping for advice on how to approach the situation.
Either way, asking them to clarify what they’re looking for from you will help you understand how you can productively engage in the conversation, as well as help them focus on what will make them feel better, rather than on the details of the issue.
11) Set boundaries for yourself
Being a loving and supporting partner does not mean putting their needs before your own.
If you’re finding that their complaining and venting is affecting your mindset or clouding your perspective, set boundaries with them in order to help you maintain a healthy detachment.
Maybe you feel like dinner table conversations are dominated by complaints, or it’s how you’re always greeted when you walk in the door.
Let him know that you’ve noticed it’s becoming a pattern and it’s been affecting your moods at the end of the day.
That you want to be there for him to discuss these things, but you ask that it be saved for after you’ve had time to decompress after your day and enjoy dinner together as a family.
12) Pinpoint where the negativity started
If the constant complaining feels like it sprung up out of nowhere one day, think back to what else was going on at that time.
Even if it seems completely unrelated to what they’ve been complaining about, if you can pinpoint anything significant that also happened around that time, you’re one step closer to understanding what caused the change in perspective.
Even if it’s something you think is insignificant, like repainting the house or something you think is positive, like getting a new job, it could have resulted in financial anxiety or imposter syndrome that you may not be aware of.
13) Express your feelings
Help them understand how their complaining is taking a toll on you.
Maybe it makes you feel that they don’t appreciate any of the things that are going well about the life you’re building together, or maybe it overpowers things to the point you don’t feel there is ever an opportunity for you to vent or complain.
Whatever it may be, verbalize it to them.
They may be so caught up in what’s going on with them that they don’t realize how it’s bringing down people around them, or preventing them from being a supportive partner.
14) Separate yourself from their experience
Don’t let their mood dictate your day, your event, your dinner.
If it seems like your husband has made up his mind to not enjoy himself, whether it be because the service is too slow at dinner, the weather is too hot at the baseball game, or the traffic is too heavy on your car ride, let them live with their choice.
Order yourself a second glass of wine while you wait for the food, think of the tan you’ll walk away with after the game, roll down the windows, and put on your favorite playlist.
Respect that, for whatever reason, they aren’t able to focus on anything except what’s upsetting them in order to enjoy themselves.
Recognize that it doesn’t mean that you can’t.
15) Take space
If they aren’t respecting the boundaries you’ve set and it’s making it impossible for you to separate yourself from what they’re going through, enforce the boundary by removing yourself from the situation.
16) Don’t take responsibility
Don’t get too caught up in the “fix it” mentality. Their happiness is not your responsibility.
If they aren’t happy with the way the night is going, if they feel stuck in their career, if they don’t like the neighbor’s dog, it doesn’t fall on your shoulders to solve the problem.
You can love them, you can empathize with them, you can support them.
But, a relationship dynamic where one person feels responsible for the other’s mood will quickly turn toxic.
17) Encourage them to take ownership of their moods
You know who can be responsible for their moods? They can.
The initial experience of emotion; disappointment, anger, frustration, sorrow, embarrassment, can be impossible to control.
What we can control is how we manage those emotions.
What steps can be taken to improve the situation? To learn from the experience? If nothing can be done about what’s upsetting them, how can they move towards acceptance?
If they are stuck in a negative headspace, what are some steps they can take to avoid projecting it on others? Go for a walk? Take a shower? Have time to themselves?
Exploring with them what emotional management looks and feels like can help them feel more self-aware and empowered moving forward.
18) Don’t retaliate
Hearing people complain kind of makes you want to….complain about it, right? Maybe even just to give them a taste of their own medicine?
While it’s understandable that would be the case, trying to get even with them will just perpetuate the bad attitude and make the problem worse.
19) Put things into perspective
If your husband is going through a cynical time in his life, it can put a gloomy cloud over the both of you.
This in turn may make it difficult for you to think about any of his positive qualities and be totally blinded by the complaining.
While it is justified to feel fed up with the complaining, don’t let it erase the things about him and your relationship that made you fall in love in the first place.
20) Work together on constructive communication and positive reinforcement
“You’re always leaving your dirty towels on the ground, it’s so gross and annoying” or “You never want to do anything fun, all you ever do is sit inside playing your stupid video games” is not going to make anyone feel inclined to do things differently.
Work together on asking instead of nagging.
“I know you’re in a rush in the mornings, but I work hard to keep the bathroom clean. Could you make an effort to hang up the towels after you use them? I’d appreciate it.”
When requests are followed through, practice acknowledgment and appreciation.
“Hey, thank you for coming to this dinner party with me. I know it’s not really your scene, but it means a lot to have you here”.
21) Plan a romantic surprise for them
As I mentioned earlier, complaining stems from dissatisfaction in some areas of their lives. Some need that isn’t being fulfilled.
Oftentimes it stems from being stuck in a rut, whether that rut exists in their relationship, the mundanity of their routine, or something else.
The best way to get out of a rut is to do something different and switch things up.
Is his complaining driving you insane? Well, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing hoping for a different result.
So, do something different!
Surprise them with tickets to their favorite musician, book a hotel for the night, make reservations somewhere you’ve never been before.
Bringing spontaneity (and romance) into your routine can offer a much-needed reset and encourage positive interactions between the two of you.
22) Suggest therapy
If the chronic complaining persists for many weeks, they aren’t receptive to your support or suggestions and show no signs of trying to change their situation, it might be time to turn to professional help.
This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the support you’ve been offering them, but a licensed professional can offer a different type of support and perspective.
Gently suggest they talk to someone, and assure them you will still be there for them every step of the way.
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