Complaints Are Highly Underrated

Complaints show what we are committed to.

Posted Feb 08, 2018

gpointstudio/Shutterstock
Source: gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Linda: Many of us resist voicing complaints, even during those times when we are in touch with our dissatisfaction and what we don’t want. We don’t want to be whiners. And we may even be in touch with what we dislike about our partner, yet we hold back from speaking it aloud, because we don’t yet know how to tell the truth without blame and judgment. So we fear that we will hurt them or be on the receiving end of retaliation.

And we don’t like hearing their complaints, either. One reason why so many people have an aversion to hearing complaints from their partner is because it flies in the face of their self-concept that they are a good husband, wife, or partner. It hurts to hear a complaint. And it hurts even more if the complaint goes over the line to criticism. It is a very thin line.

But if we stop to consider the danger of having our partner go silent about their dissatisfaction, it puts complaints in a different light. If we can take a broad overview, we discover that we don’t want our partner to give up on us and become complacent, resigning themselves to never getting their needs met. We can come to understand that if they settle for so little, they will accumulate resentment destructive to our partnership.

It is the wise partner who makes room for complaints and makes sure to communicate that they are welcome. Contained inside every complaint is an unfulfilled need. Communicating to a partner that we want them to feel free to bring their unfulfilled needs to us does not mean that we are assuring them that we will meet that need; it just means that we want them to reveal it to us, so that we can consider our next step.

When we deliver a complaint, we stay on the constructive side, focusing on our own feelings and needs rather than speaking to what our partner is doing or not doing. A complaint that says “I was disappointed when you forgot our date” is quite different from “You always break our agreements. You don’t really care about me.” By not going over the line to criticism, we have a chance for productive communication.

If we blurt out to a complaint before we have worked out our awareness of what’s bothering us, the message is more apt to be experienced as criticism, and our partner will feel hurt and angry. Such communication invites reactivity in the form of defensiveness, retaliation, ugly nonproductive arguments, or withdrawal. These types of breakdowns can be avoided if the partner with the dissatisfaction or unmet needs does a bit of homework first, investigating the complaint so they can deliver their message in an effective, respectful way.

It is important that both partners take responsibility for seeing to it that as many needs as possible are met. One partner cannot take a passive stance and expect the other to satisfy all their needs. We each have a responsibility to know what our needs are and to take on the task of seeing to it that they are met so that we can both thrive.

Here are some common needs that people want to have met by partnering: “I need to feel..."

  • Loved.
  • Respected.
  • Cared for.
  • Free to be who I am.
  • I can trust you.
  • I can be trusted by you.
  • I can depend on you.
  • That I’m special.
  • That I’m number one.
  • That I matter.
  • That I’m important.
  • That I’m valued.
  • That I’m an asset.
  • Heard.
  • Seen.
  • Understood.
  • Wanted.
  • Welcomed.
  • Validated.
  • Affirmed.
  • Acknowledged.
  • Fairness.
  • Justice.
  • Equality.
  • Safety.
  • Security.
  • Included.
  • Appreciation.
  • Supported.

If we demand that a partner meet our needs, we’re in for a lot of trouble. Communicating needs to a partner in an inviting way makes all the difference. With an attitude of curiosity and wonder, we can discover what it is that we do want and what we are committed to. When the subject is brought up after such a refinement, the conversation will get off on a better foot. It is a more positive approach, one more likely to produce constructive interchange.

An atmosphere of openness, receptivity, and non-defensive listening is the context most conducive to an outcome that works for both partners. The way a subject is introduced has a strong impact on the outcome. Our effective, direct requests give our partner a clear ideal of what we need to thrive. It is a wise partner who wants to hear those needs and desires explicitly articulated.

If we continually find that a need is not being met, we may become furious with our partner and blame them. But when we look more deeply into the issue, we may discover that they are not being selfish and uncaring, but are actually attempting to meet that need. It can be a preoccupation of ours, because there is an old wound that we unconsciously want our partner to fix. Bringing that old sore spot up to our conscious mind can be helpful. It is the way we take care of ourselves to admit how strong the need is.

There are, of course, other parts to being responsible in stating our request clearly. We will sabotage our best interests if they are spoken in a demanding or commanding way. We need to stay open ourselves, knowing that we are not likely to get all of what we want, and to be flexible. Patience too, will also hold us in good stead. Our partner may need some time to assimilate the information before they are ready to make an agreement about change.

Complaints show us what we are committed to. It is our joint responsibility to see to it that all of the important needs of both partners are met; that will bring a relationship into a higher range of well-being.