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FACT: We all complain about things now and then…
A co-worker might set us off, the kids might be absolute rascals, or just about everything might seem to go wrong.
As a result, we can be both patient and compassionate when those close to us also complain about what’s going on in their lives.
But what happens when you have to contend with a spouse whose complaining is never-ending?
Rather than just a one-off, this scenario involves them complaining on a constant basis, ranging from neighbors’ behavior to the weather or home decor.
It can be very challenging to deal with, especially if you’re trying to maintain a positive outlook in life.
So what can be done about it?
1. Don’t Take Anything Personally
If you’re not yet familiar with The Four Agreements – popularized by Don Miguel Ruiz – they’re worth looking into.
The second of them is not to take anything personally, but to recognize instead that whatever a person is expressing is a reflection of what’s going on inside them, and isn’t about you.
Sure, it may be difficult not to have a knee-jerk reaction when someone is being critical, so the key is to be able to take a step back, and take a look at the entire situation.
When we listen to someone without automatically getting defensive, we can try to delve into what’s really bothering them and ask where this negativity is coming from.
This brings us to our next point:
2. What’s Going On With Them?
If your partner has always been fairly upbeat and positive, and is suddenly full of negativity and complaints, they’re undoubtedly struggling with something.
In fact, people who avoid confrontation and are hesitant to discuss topics that upset them can lash out in different ways… such as complaining about everything except what’s actually hurting or upsetting them.
For example, if your spouse is feeling negatively about your relationship, he or she may complain about messes around the house.
Alternatively, if they’re feeling seriously depressed about something, and can’t necessarily voice what’s really bothering them, they might lash out by complaining about other things.
Is your partner feeling “trapped” at home, alone taking care of children?
They may feel torn between the resentment they feel, and how much they love the kids.
So they’ll complain about how the house is a mess, or that the neighbors are being too loud, or the grass on the lawn isn’t green enough, etc.
Behavior always stems from somewhere, so it’s a matter of trying to determine the underlying issue that’s causing it.
Follow the path back to the source, and you can help to clear it, right?
Try to recognize that their behavior stems from the fact that they’re deeply unhappy and don’t know how to express that properly, nor do they know what to do to help themselves.
You’re their closest companion, so they might be using you as a sounding board, or unconsciously pouring their frustrations out in the wrong direction.
This can be incredibly frustrating (and depressing) to you, but hopefully you can help them sort out what’s causing all of these complaints and negativity.
If your spouse isn’t comfortable talking to you about what’s going on with them, you can suggest some kind of counselling or therapy to try to help them.
3. Listen To What They’re Complaining About, And See If Solutions Are Possible
When they complain about something, try to avoid invalidating what it is they’re trying to express, and try to listen to what’s really going on instead.
What may seem insignificant to you may be tearing them apart inside.
As a result, try to pull back a bit to see things from their perspective, and acknowledge what they’re saying.
Your spouse: “The kitchen is absolutely filthy. I JUST cleaned this place and it looks like a bomb went off in here!”
Unhelpful response: “What are you talking about? It’s not that bad – it just looks lived-in. We have children, what do you expect?”
Helpful response: “I know how hard you work to try to keep this place clean, and it must be really frustrating to see your efforts undermined all the time. Let’s talk to the kids about helping you to keep this place tidier.”
By validating what they’re saying instead of just brushing it off like it’s nothing, they’ll feel heard, and understood.
And by letting them know that action will be taken to help them out, it may very well neutralize that particular complaint.
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4. Focus On Their Positive Aspects (And Remind Them of These Too!)
Take a look at the example above, where the response was to reinforce a positive aspect of your spouse’s personality, before offering some kind of solution to what’s going on.
You fell in love with this person for several reasons, right? There are undoubtedly many positive, wonderful things about them that you fell for, and are still integral aspects of their personality.
Try to focus on these.
Appreciate the positive things about them, the little things they say or do, and voice your appreciation whenever possible… even if it’s about something that seems almost insignificant.
You’d be amazed at how much positive change can occur just by leaving some encouraging notes here and there.
Slip a note into their bag, telling them that they look as gorgeous today as the day you met.
Are they neat freaks? Hang a sticky note somewhere that says how much you appreciate how well-organized they are.
A bit of positive reinforcement and sincere gratitude goes a really long way. Try it!
5. Take Care Of Yourself
While it’s not okay to demand that someone radically change ingrained behavior to make us more comfortable, it’s absolutely okay to create healthy boundaries.
It’s great that you’re doing what you can to curb your partner’s negativity, but you can’t do it all yourself.
And if their constant complaints and/or whining are bringing you down, you have every right to express yourself to them.
Don’t be cruel or unkind: as we’ve established, this negativity is likely stemming from something that’s upsetting them deeply.
But do make firm boundaries.
Try something like:
I know there’s a lot weighing on you right now, and I understand that you need to vent. Just please recognize that I’m also processing a lot of my own stuff too. I’m not asking you to force yourself to fake being happy around me, but if you feel overwhelmingly negative, I ask that you give me space to myself for a few hours.
This reassures them that you understand that they’re hurting, but also helps them realize that their behavior does, in fact, impact you as well.
That in itself might make them think about their behavior, and its repercussions.
6. Try To Help Them Rekindle Their Light
Once you’ve started to listen to their complaints instead of tuning them out, you might find that they’re all related.
In fact, there’s a chance that they stem from the same source, and as such, can be remedied.
If your partner mostly complains about there not being anything good on TV, ask them whether there’s something they’d rather do instead.
Maybe instead of watching passively, you two can play a game together. Or do a creative project.
Are they complaining about how the house looks? Well, how about painting the living room a different color, and rearranging the furniture?
A lot of little changes can accumulate to create a big, positive change, right?
At the very least, it doesn’t hurt to try.
7. Have They Always Been Negative?
Has this person always had a negative lean, and you just can’t handle it anymore?
This does happen. A person who complains consistently about everything, all the time, can be funny at first, especially if they do so in a playful way.
That said, this type of constant negativity can also begin to grate after a while, especially if it permeates every single aspect of your lives.
If you’ve been together for a long time, and this person has been negative since day one, that’s probably an ingrained aspect of their personality.
People change over time, and behavior you once thought was adorable might now irritate you no end.
But if it’s part of who they are, they’re not about to change any time soon.
As such, asking that they modify their behavior to better suit your current preferences isn’t cool.
In a situation like this, it’s up to you to learn how to cope with the chronic complainer, either by tuning it out or playfully counteracting it with positivity, so you two can meet in the middle.
But if it ends up being just too much for you to deal with, having a talk with your partner is definitely in order.
Maybe you can deal with the roots of their negativity and see how you can work together to make life a bit brighter from now on.
Still not sure what to do about your spouse and their constant complaining? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.