My wife is a constant complainer. Nothing I do is ever good enough for her and I can’t seem to please her. Her complaining pushes me away and I can’t stand it. I’ve brought this to her attention, yet she continues to complain. Do you think she realizes how much she complains? What can I do to stop it?
I’m afraid complaining is an All-American pastime. Actually, it’s a universal phenomenon. Complaining is a natural expression of dissatisfaction, yet the complainer rarely realizes how ineffective complaining actually is. A complainer believes complaints actually accomplish something, yet in effect they push a mate away and cause their mate to resist what they’re asking for.
Obviously your wife is upset about many things; however, she undoubtedly suffers from the same misunderstanding—that complaining is equivalent to effective problem-solving. It isn’t! She may complain about things she has no control over, and hence her complaining is equivalent to whining. She may complain about matters over which she really does have some control, yet her complaining renders her ineffective.
So, consider that your wife really is upset and complaining has become her way of expressing her dissatisfaction. You want to help her stop complaining—which is dismissive, disrespectful, and ineffective—and find a way she can assert herself so she isn’t feeling victimized.
Please bear in mind that you cannot change your wife. You can only change the way you interact with her. Consider this action plan and see if this alters her complaining behavior:
Listen carefully to her complaints. Before you become too critical of her complaining, make sure the problem is on her side of the street and not yours. Have you fully listened to your wife and taken her complaints fully into consideration? It is unfair to complain about her complaining if you are inattentive to her concerns.
Respond effectively. Listen to the request embedded in your wife’s complaints. If she had a wish list, what would it say? How would she like you to be different? Consider how you might meet her needs more effectively, then see if this diminishes her complaining.
Share with her how you’d like her to bring her complaints. It is likely that she cannot see what she is doing. Scripture tells us to “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Gently point out to your wife that you will be better able to hear what’s upsetting her if she uses encouragement rather than criticism.
When your wife slips into complaining, don’t engage. This does not mean you ignore your wife, but that you don’t engage in bickering, defending, or arguing with her. You acknowledge her concerns and ensure that you have responded effectively to them. Then you gently let her know that you will respond better to encouragement.
Catch her doing it well. Watch for when your wife is positive and thank her for making her requests in a positive way. Spontaneously catch her asking for her needs assertively without criticism or complaint. Thank her for doing so, again and again. In this way you don’t participate in negativity, but rather reinforce healthy behavior.
In summary, complaining can be wearying to a marriage. Complaining can be contagious and can bring down the morale of any relationship. Ensure that you respond to the needs expressed in the complaint and gently ask for issues to be brought to you in an encouraging way. Finally, catch your mate doing it well, thereby positively reinforcing behavior change.