Starting a Complaint



By Sally R. Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT
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We often have people ask us how to get their partner to listen to their concerns without immediately getting defensive or trying to turn the tables with a complaint about them … or about the way that they are making the complaint. We also have people ask us how to keep their spouse from “nagging” or bringing up complaints in an angry way … after they have been “sizzling” for awhile.

Starting a complaint in a positive way can make a big difference in how the conversation will evolve. Often complaints are started when someone is angry about a problem or behavior … and starting in an angry way only causes more anger… on the part of both people. Other times complaints are started after one person has thought about them for a long time and the frustration has piled on top of itself. The complaint then is “spewed” out in a quick and angry way.



Here are some tips to try when you want to talk with your partner about something that is bothering you.

Begin your complaint with a positive statement such as “I love you and I want to keep things good between us … and there is something that I really want to talk about …”
Begin with an example of a time when your partner actually did what you want him to do more of … “Last week, when you got up early with the children and let me sleep in awhile was wonderful. Can we find a way to make that happen a little more often?” or “I know that you have a really busy and complicated job. Yesterday when you called me and told me that you were headed home and would be here by 6:45 … and then got here by that time, really made me feel good. Is there any way that you can do that more often?” 
Consider the complaints. Are they concerns that really affect you and your life? Many times people complain about things that bother them but really are not problems. Think about the fact that maybe you should not let that concern bother you … or as some say “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Some other good openings are …

“I do not want to hurt your feelings and yet (never “but”) I really need to talk about this“…


“I really feel like you care about me when you … “

“I feel the closest to you when …”

“I know that you only have good intentions when … and yet it frustrates me when …”



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