Our relationship expert Emil Harker joined us to talk about why complaining is good for you! Emil asks us to imagine if when we finished complaining, our spouse thanked us!

Often times in relationships we are stuck between two bad decisions when we are upset frustrated or have a different opinion. Should we share it and risk a fight, or keep it in and keep the peace? Why do either? With the four steps of complaining you can not only share your opinion perspective or frustration but also create more closeness.

Marriage Researcher Dr. John Gottman theorized that couples who let issues slide, and didn’t complain often would have healthier relationships. However, when he looked at the data he was surprised to see that the opposite was true. Albeit that the way the complaints were brought up made a huge difference. The reason why is that when couples complain to each other they are sharing more of who they are. When couples care about each other by knowing each other and then meeting each others needs they become more in tune with each other and in greater harmony. Imagine that you and your spouse are two guitar strings that when they vibrate in harmony they can make better music together. Complaining in the relationship is like getting valuable feedback to know how to turn the key string so that both strings vibrate in the same frequency. That is called harmony. Harmony in music and in the marriage. 

So how do you complain?

  1. Share your feelings and the story behind the feelings: Keep it brief tell the person how you feel and why.
  2. Transition statement: “But if I try to see it from your perspective.” 
  3. Share the feelings and story of your partner: Put yourself in their shoes, what would they say in their own defense. How would they describe the situation and their feelings.
  4. Check in: “Am I close? What am I missing?”


Step 1. I was really frustrated yesterday when you said that you wanted to spend time with me and then when we were planning to spend time together you went over to the neighbors and helped them out with shoveling dirt from their driveway. I felt like I was an afterthought and unimportant.

Step 2. But if I try to see it from your perspective. 

Step 3: It’s not like you were trying to blow me off, you have been helped by him in the past when you needed a hand and so you felt like to be a good neighbor you owed it to him to do that. So even thought you really wanted to spend time with me that you felt like you needed to help him. 

Step 4. “Am I close? What am I missing?”

Complaining is sharing a piece of who you are. The message of your feelings and thoughts get delivered but you are able to do it in a way that doesn’t come across as an attack. Take some time to write out your complaints before you share them. It will help you get clear on the hardest and most important step of them all and that is step number 3. Complaining communicates that you aren’t okay with what the other person did even thought you understand. This process helps you deliver your message, over ride their natural defense mechanisms and create greater understanding between the two of you, and that’s what creates greater closeness.
Emil Harker M.S. LMFT