Linda: Many of us have resistance to voicing complaints. Even during those times when we are in touch with our dissatisfaction, clearly in touch with is 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, and 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 so many people have 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 the complaint. And it hurts even more if the person complaining goes over the line to criticism. It is a very thin line indeed.
If we stop to consider the danger of having our partner go silent about their dissatisfaction, it often 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 not getting neither needs met. We can come to understand that if they settle for so little that they will accumulate resentment that is destructive to the partnership.
It is the wise partner that makes room for complaints and makes sure to communicate that they are welcome. Contained inside every complaint is an unfulfilled need. Communicating to our 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, if we stay on the constructive side to stay with our own feelings and needs rather than speak to what they are 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 good chance for a productive communication.
If we blurt out to them before we have worked with our initial 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 communications invite reactivity in the form of defensiveness, retaliation, ugly non-productive arguments or withdrawal. These types of breakdowns can often be avoided if the person with the dissatisfaction and unmet needs does a bit of homework first by investigating the complaint so that 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 expect to 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”…..
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
If we demand of our partner that they meet our needs, we’re in for a lot of trouble. Communicating our needs to our partner in an inviting way makes all the difference. With an attitude of curiosity and wonder, we can discover that it is that we do want and what we are committed to. When the subject of the complaint is brought up after such a refinement, the conversation is getting off on a better foot. It is a more positive approach, one that is more likely to a produce productive interchange.
An atmosphere of openness, receptivity and non-defensive listening is the context that is 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, clear, 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 find ourselves furious with our partner and blame them. If 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 in that particular area that we unconsciously want our partner to fix. Bringing that old sore spot up to 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 own best interest 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 any agreements about change.
It is the complaints themselves that show us what we are committed to. And it is the joint responsibility to see to it that all of the important needs of both of us are met that will bring the relationship up into the higher range of well-being.