Do you complain or criticize your spouse, kids, family members, friends, or others hoping that they’ll change because you pointed out what you don’t like about their behavior?
As illogical as it sounds, that’s what most of us do.
In an effort to get our loved ones, family, and friends to change, we regularly use these kinds of ineffective statements or questions:
- Why did you _______________?
- You know I don’t like it when you _____________.
- I wish you would ____________, or I wish you would stop _____________.
- What is your problem?
- Wow, you’re so _______________ (sensitive, rude, mean, etc.).
The number one problem with these critiques and complaints is that they are harmful to our relationships.
They’re also a dead-end form of communication that provides no roadmap toward a solution.
So what to do?
A number of years ago, I trained with Terry Real, a couples therapist based in Boston, and author of The New Rules of Marriage, and I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. Terry teaches a relationship skill he calls “turning a complaint into a request.” It’s such a powerful and useful tool, I want to share it with you.
First you notice what’s not working for you. For example, if you’re a betrayed partner and you get highly anxious when your spouse disappears into another room with his cell phone, you might be in the habit of saying to him, “Why do you do that? You know how much that bothers me!”
The truth is you’re probably less interested in why he does it, and much more interested in him being more transparent with you or not disappearing into another room with his phone.
In the spirit of turning a complaint into a request, you could say:
When you go into the other room by yourself and take your cell phone, I feel scared and anxious. That’s what you used to do when you were having an affair and I get triggered every time it happens. I would like you to not take your phone into a room by yourself in the future. Is that something you’re willing to do?
This is a clear, clean, and solution-focused way of making an effective request.
When you’re feeling triggered or angry, you will be tempted to lash out and attack your spouse rather than first reflecting on what is happening to you, and what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Learning how to turn a complaint or a criticism into a request is an essential relationship skill.
Not only will it make your interactions more positive, you will exponentially increase the chances of getting more of what you need and want.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
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