4 Most Common Couple Complaints

Micromanaged, unappreciated vs. dismissed and neglected: How to break the cycle.

Posted Aug 25, 2018

Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock
Source: Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock

Mike is feeling micromanaged. Carly is always “reminding” or complaining to him about something: to remember to pay the electric bill, to pick up something at the store, to make sure he squeezes out the kitchen sponge after he uses it. He feels like she is always looking over his shoulder, always pouncing on him and finding fault, not trusting that he is a capable adult. And even when he does squeeze out the sponge, she doesn’t seem to notice.

Carly feels like she makes a simple request, and Mike seems to blow it off: He “forgets” or does a half-a** job. He seems to always be in his own world, is always working on his own “projects," rarely asks her about her day, and they are doing less and less as a couple. And when she makes an effort to do something nice, like making him his favorite meal, he doesn’t say much about it.

Here we have it, the four most common complaints of couples: being micromanaged, feeling dismissed, feeling neglected, and not feeling appreciated. Mike is feeling micromanaged, but it could just as easily be Carly feeling micromanaged, and Mike neglected. Time to drill down:

1. Micromanaged

What Carly may think of as reminding, Mike hears as micromanaging. What comes with this is feeling like you are being treated like a 10-year-old — always being directed, not trusted to be responsible, being nitpicked and criticized. It feels controlling, it creates resentment.

But on Carly’s side, it’s likely about anxiety — that Mike won’t follow through and pay the electric bill or stop at the store or squeeze the sponge, because he “forgets.” If she doesn’t stay on top of things, she worries they won’t get done.

2. Dismissed

Mike’s lack of follow-through leaves Carly feeling that Mike is dismissing her requests, even when she says them in a calm, adult way. She is not feeling heard, like she is not important.

But on Mike’s side, he is not necessarily tuning her out, but he does forget, because he has other things to worry about, but she cuts him no slack. Or he admits he does tune her out, because she goes on and on about the smallest things.

3. Neglected

Feeling dismissed can easily combine to Carly’s feeling neglected — Mike being in his own world, his lack of interest in her, the lack of couple time. The end result that Mike doesn’t care about her.

Mike feels that Carly is always coming at him, always wanting more, always needy.

4. Unappreciated

Mike feels that 8 times out of 10, he pays the electric bill, squeezes the damn sponge, stops at the store. He's also working hard at his job, which Carly doesn't seem to appreciate, and giving her compliments that she doesn’t seem to hear.

Carly knows Mike works hard, but she does too. She also feels like she actually bites her tongue a lot, and when she does make an effort to do something nice for him, like the dinner, he is underwhelmed and never notices all that she tries to do for him, for them.

Both are feeling like they are doing their best and not getting enough credit.

The cycle

You can probably see how a negative cycle is easily set in motion here:

  • Mike feels micromanaged and unappreciated and withdraws into his own world, partly to escape further negative comments.
  • Carly feels anxious and also unappreciated, and when Mike pulls away or ignores her requests, she feels more anxious and is more sensitive to what he is not doing; in response, she copes by demanding more, causing Mike to pull back more.
  • Mike sees Carly as critical and needy.
  • Carly sees Mike as being in his own world, not caring.

They are in a negative cycle, both feeding into it with nothing positive to balance it out. 

Breaking the cycle

The way out of this is breaking this cycle, changing this into a win-win situation, rather than a power struggle over whose reality is right; actively changing the climate by making it more positive:

Mike needs to speak up.

Mike needs to stop pulling back or getting into an argument about sponges, and instead have a calm, adult conversation about his feeling micromanaged and criticized and not appreciated. Better yet, he wants to understand that Carly is anxious rather than controlling, and that she needs more input from him. Finally, he needs to step up and take responsibility for his “forgetting.”

And if he has strong feelings about specific issues — say, feeling nitpicked about the sponges — he needs to push back and be clear that this is something that is simply not important to him, rather than lapsing into a passive-aggressive stance. That said, he also needs to realize (as does Carly) that because he is choosing to live with someone else and not by himself, some accommodation is part of the package. He wants to pick his battles and rationally decide what is important and worth making a stand about. 

Carly needs to speak up.

Instead of continually play offense and over-reminding Mike, she too needs to have the same larger, adult conversation about what triggers her feeling dissed, neglected, and unappreciated, the bigger pattern rather than getting into the weeds of electric bills or sponges. She also wants to help Mike understand her, namely, how she is not trying to be a drill-sergeant, but rather how Mike's track-record of not being dependable or ignoring her triggers her anxiety. 

They need to cut a deal.

Win-win, not either-or. Mike agrees to be more attentive, more involved as a couple, more reliable. Carly agrees to back off, allow Mike to have his individual time without resentment. They come up with a concrete plan, with which they both can agree.

Both need to increase the positives.

This is about changing the relationship climate — getting out of the negative, ramping up the positive through by consciously looking for and acknowledging the good — the other's efforts, good intentions, the stepping up or the backing off. At first it may have that fake-it-till-you-make-it quality, but over time, it becomes more natural and habitual.

While the solution here may sound fairly straight-forward, there are obviously plenty of challenges: Both partners need to get out of their emotional silos, talk about big patterns and issues, rather than arguing about details and who's at fault. But this is certainly doable. If this seems too difficult, too overwhelming, if they can't break out of the power-struggling, a short stint of couple therapy may help break the logjam and give them a safe place and the tools to negotiate. 

Like most things, it's not about doing it right, but about getting unstuck by doing it differently.