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 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’re harmful to your 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.

© Victoria Priya, LCSW [formerly Vicki Tidwell Palmer] (2018)

Radiant Threefold Path articles are protected by U.S. copyright laws, and may not be reproduced, distributed, or re-published without written permission of the author.


I want to support you to Return to the authentic truth of who you are, Reclaim what is yours, and Receive everything that is meant for you. So that you can Regenerate your life, your relationships, community, and the world.


  1. Christene Lozano on March 13, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Great communication tip that can go a long way! Similar to what I teach my clients.

    • Vicki Tidwell Palmer on March 13, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      Thanks Christene!

  2. Annod on July 16, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Please define emotional affair.

    • Vicki Tidwell Palmer on July 17, 2018 at 10:55 am

      [Update: Read Vicki’s blog article here for more information about emotional affairs.]

      Good question Annod!

      I define am emotional affair as participation in most or all of following behaviors:

      • Discussing intimate details about one’s primary relationship.
      • Having conversations/discussions regarding intimate, emotional matters that should only be discussed with partner, therapist, sponsor, etc.
      • Discussing sexual matters.
      • Seeking and/or getting ongoing emotional support/comfort

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