How to complain constructively to your partner

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Tired of having your complaints fall on deaf ears? Relationship expert Terrence Real has four simple steps to help you complain constructively.

How to complain constructively to your partner

The most important step happens before you speak. Remember love. Why are you complaining? Is it to vent, prove you’re right, or to nail your partner? Remember that the person you’re speaking to is not the enemy, they are a person you love. Or, if you can’t feel love, remind yourself this is a person you have to live with.

According to Terri Real, there are four simple steps for complaining constructively to your partner:

  1. This is what I observed. This is not the place to throw around attitude or sling accusations. You should recap what your partner said or did, like you are playing back what a video camera would record. It is simply your observation of the behavior.
  2. This is the meaning it had for me. This is where you share how you interpreted your partner’s actions – what it meant to you. What did you hear (perceive)? Again, do not accuse, but tell them how their actions are being translated in your mind. For example, if your partner says “have a good day” as you are walking out the door for work, right after you have had a disagreement, you may question whether they are being sarcastic or genuine. Tell them that it seemed that they were being sarcastic- take responsibility for your perception of the situation.
  3. This is how I felt. Take responsibility for how you feel. Emphasize that it’s not about them; it’s about what you are going through – what you are feeling. Remember, it’s not how he or she made you feel. Your feelings are yours alone– joy, pain, anger, fear, shame, guilt, love.
  4. This is what you can say or do to help me feel better. This step is often forgotten, yet it is a simple way to move forward constructively. Tell your partner what they can do or say to help you feel better. For example, you can say, “When you said ‘have a nice day’, I thought you were being sarcastic and I was hurt and angry. If you were being sarcastic, you can apologize. If you were not, please explain what was going on.”

Finally, let it go. How your partner responds is up to them. If you have explained yourself clearly and respectfully, you’ve done your part.

meet theexpert
  • Terrence Real

    Terrence Real Relationship Therapist Terry Real has been a family therapist and teacher for more than twenty years. He is a best selling author and founded The Relational Life Institute, dedicated to therapist training as well as relationship workshops for everyone. more about this expert »

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