The Squeaky Wheel

How to protect your psychological health, improve your relationships, and enhance your self-esteem.

Complain to Your Spouse without Starting an Argument

How to complain to your partner without starting an argument

Many of us hesitate to voice complaints to our spouses or partners for fear of starting an argument. But holding in our marital dissatisfactions over time creates a buildup of frustration and resentment that is toxic to a relationship. As a result, when we do voice our complaints we are likely to do so in tones and words that are too harsh for our spouse to absorb, leading them to become defensive and angry. Their response will convince us to continue withholding our relational complaints, a strategy that only creates further frustration and resentment and deepens the cycle of miscommunication and negativity in our relationship.

To avoid this destructive cycle we must learn how to voice our complaints productively and get the result we're looking for. The good news is, we can make any complaint much easier for our spouse to digest by using a simple formula I call The Complaint Sandwich. Here is a brief video tutorial:

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Here's a brief recap:

The first slice of bread in the Complaint Sandwich is a positive statement called The Ear Opener.

The meat of the Complaint Sandwich is the actual complaint or request for redress.

The second slice of bread in the Complaint Sandwich is a positive statement called The Digestive.

Here are some important Complaint Sandwich 'condiments' to consider: 

1. Make your tone as civil and as reasonable as possible. Anger or harsh tones will only distract your spouse from the content of your message.

2. Voice only one complaint per discussion--so choose wisely.

3. Make your complaint as specific as possible--do not genenralize it into a criticism. For example, "You forgot to clean the cat's litter box" will make the same point and be far easier for your partner to hear than "How many times have I asked you to clean the cat's litter box? Why do I have to do everything around here?" 

More techniques and advice for complaining effectively to a spouse can be found in Chapter 6 of The Squeaky Wheel, "The Art of Squeaking to Loved Ones".

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Copyright 2011 Guy Winch and Like The Squeaky Wheel Blog on Facebook.


Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem. more...

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