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. And then, when we finally do voice our complaints we do so in tones and words that are too harsh for our spouse to absorb, leading them to become defensive and angry, a response that only convinces us to continue withholding our relational complaints going forward, creating even more frustration and resentment and deepening 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

How to Make a  Complaint Sandwich:

The first slice of bread in the Complaint Sandwich is a positive statement called The Ear Opener. Its goal is to lower the recipient's defensiveness and allow them to absorb the complaint to follow.

The meat of the Complaint Sandwich is the actual complaint or request for redress. The 'meat' should be lean--that is, keep it to a single incident and single prinicple.

The second slice of bread in the Complaint Sandwich is a positive statement called The Digestive. Its goal is to increase the recipient's motivation to respond positively to our complaint/request-going-forward by reassuring them that doing so will make things better between us (i.e., "Look, my tone is positive, no grudges will be held here.")

Important Complaint Sandwich 'Condiments': 

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?" 

Many more techniques for addressing common psychological and relationship issues can be found in Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014)

Join my mailing list and receive an exclusive gift: How to Recover from Rejection

Follow me on Twitter @GuyWinch

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

Most Recent Posts from The Squeaky Wheel

7 Steps to Making Sound Decisions

Finding balance between our reason and our gut

7 Reasons Every New Parent Should Read Welcome to the Club

Learn realistic expectations and laugh out loud while you do

3 Reasons Twins Live Longer (and How You Can, Too)

New research into why twins, especially identical twins, boast longer lifespans.