You’ve had this nagging feeling going on for days, or maybe even weeks. You just can’t shake it. That feeling that you just aren’t happy in your relationship. You wish your partner would meet your needs better. And when you get to this point, you can’t help but blurt out how you are feeling in hopes that it will make things better.
For days, you search for the right words to say to get your point across or to bring him closer to you. Then, when you finally say something it doesn’t seem to solve the problem. Either your partner gets defensive when you express your dissatisfaction, and now you have to deal with an argument on top of what you were already feeling. Or complaining to your partner does seem to bring him closer to you, however temporary. But now you are left having to deal with the resentment of always being the one to have to bring these things up.
Complaining is one of the most common communication problems in relationships.
It makes sense that if you tell your partner what is bothering you that it may help resolve the problem. Except complaining to your partner often backfires, for both you and your partner. Complaining about your partner to your partner can weaken intimacy and closeness. And distance is the last thing you want more of in your relationship. You want to feel closer and less resentful. While you feel lost at how to do that without expressing how unhappy you are, you are willing to try something different.
Let’s first define what complaining looks like and identify how it is different than communicating. To complain is to express negative feelings, such as dissatisfaction with something or someone. Complaining about your partner is typically being critical or negative about your partner and may include a “you always or you never.” On the other hand, communicating does not try to shape your partner’s behavior or be critical of your partner. Communicating would simply be telling them about yourself or telling them how you are going to meet your needs better.
How complaining weakens intimacy:
Learning to communicate without complaining takes practice. So don’t just do it for your partner, do it for yourself too. Here are some ways that complaining more than communicating contributes to more distance in your relationship.
- Negativity: We all get negative sometimes, but holding onto a negative mindset is an internal stressor. If all you can see is what isn’t working, what is missing, or what you don’t have, you will feel miserable. So the more you are caught in your head fighting your own negative thoughts, the more you will miss seeing what you do have, what is working, or what you are receiving. Because what we focus on grows.
- Conflict: It is easy to get sidetracked by focusing on getting your partner to see what they are doing. But over-focusing on your partner’s behavior leads to feeling more and more dependent on changing their behavior to make you happy. So you complain to try to solve the problem, but it backfires with an argument. Then to deal with the tension, one or both of you gets more distant.
- Distance: Either one of you may deal with the conflict by shutting down or pulling away. Or maybe you don’t complain to your partner, but you are complaining internally. As a result, you pull more and more into yourself. Instead of moving closer to your partner or meeting your own needs better, you are more and more withdrawn. Negativity fuels conflict which in turn fuels distance and the circle continues.
Complaining blinds you from seeing opportunities for intimacy and connection.
You don’t have to be stuck in this negative circle, where you feel like you can’t get out of your own head. Complaining keeps you stuck trying to figure out how to change your feelings by trying to change your partner’s behavior. In doing so, you miss seeing opportunities for connection. I get it, really, I too can be so busy focusing on what isn’t there, that I forget to see what is right in front of me.
So if it’s time to get out of the negative circular thinking in your head. Instead get curious about yourself, your spouse, and relationships. You can focus on the solution more than the problem. And you can focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do.
It can be as simple, as noticing that you are feeling overwhelmed, so you identify what you can let go of. Then, you have more energy for yourself and can see more opportunities to move toward your spouse when you are feeling too far away from them.
Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers marriage counseling for one at her practice in Independence MO. She helps men and women who are struggling in their relationships find better ways to connect even if there is only one spouse in the therapy room. Schedule your free 15-minute phone consult with Marci to determine if working with a counselor can help reduce your stress and improve your relationship. (Note: Relationship counseling for one includes those in nearby areas of Blue Springs, Grain Valley, and Lee’s Summit.)