10 Ways To Complain Less and Appreciate More
One practice that doesn’t work well in relationships — pretty much anywhere, any time — is complaining.
No surprise there, but why does complaining have such a detrimental effect?
If I’m complaining, my fingernails are on the personal chalkboard of the person to whom I’m complaining. I might not consciously intend to be creating such a racket on their chalkboard while I’m venting my negative feelings, but if I am complaining, be assured — that’s what I’m doing.
- Complaining is loud and dissonant. It’s (really, really) bad music. Listeners just change stations and tune you out.
- Complaining is a slow and rugged road to nowhere. You’ll have mud up to your rocker panels in no time.
- Complaining or criticizing invites defense and justification from others. If I take my big bow and arrow of criticism, and aim it at your heart, are you likely to stand there and take the shots? Probably not. You might feel compelled to explain your side of the story — or leave. Criticism is the death knell of relationships.
See what I mean? Inefficient.
According to researcher John Gottman, contempt is the #1 thing that breaks couples apart. Contempt and disapproval are housed in complaints. You can put a fancy roof on a house of complaints, put lovely curtains in the windows or plant flowers in all the right places, but it doesn’t make the contempt “un-feelable.”
On the other hand, kindness is good glue in a successful relationship. Kindness creates a culture of respect and appreciation.
Couples who developing a culture of kindness in their relationship are usually skilled at translating and transforming a complaint into what’s needed or wanted.
For example, instead of:
- “why don’t you ever help me with….”
- “why didn’t you tell me you were going to be late… you left me waiting… “
- “you don’t bring me flowers anymore…”
10 Ways To Appreciate More
- Notice what’s working. Notice when the person does help and when s/he pitches in and communicate a simple “thank you for stopping for groceries on the way home.” Say thank you for the small things.
- Say why. Tell your partner why their assistance makes a difference. Sometimes partners don’t realize how their help changed your day. They don’t know that doing that errand for you gave you the creative capacity to come up with an idea for your business that will benefit both of you, or gave you time to read a special bedtime story to your daughter and connect with her. Maybe we think it should be obvious to our partner how much their assistance helps us or why. But they are not psychic. Tell them. Spell it out. Let them know. It’s music to their ears.
- Get more information. You may not know why your friend or partner or business associate was late. There is probably more to the story. Start by giving the benefit of the doubt. Calm down and collect more facts.
- Acknowledge positive intent. Maybe your partner didn’t intend to be late, but they stopped to get a gift for you on the way, or do a special favor for a friend, and it took longer than they planned. Hey, sometimes we have good intentions, and a less than perfect delivery. It happens to all of us.
- Realize it’s probably not personal. Did you take someone’s actions personally? Don’t fall for being the center of the universe. It’s not always about you.
- Be responsible for your reaction. You’re in charge of your reactions or responses. You’re the chooser. Nobody is doing anything to you. You have many choices.
- Learn to soften your reaction. When you’re upset, say to yourself, “This is my trigger button (something I react to) and I can soften my reaction to anything, if I realize it’s my reaction. I can find a thought that relaxes me, and gets everybody off the hook. Like “this, too, shall pass” or “this will not seem so important in a few hours” or “there are lots of ways to respond to this situation, and I picked one way.” Or “What if there is a good reason it happened this way?” This takes some practice. What relaxes you is unique to you, so experiment. Learn how to talk yourself down off the cliff.
- Get over yourself. If you’re mad as a hornet, or defensive, you have lost your ability to problem solve or think creatively. Give yourself a chance to calm down before you tackle solutions.
- Stop suffering. If you’re suffering, you’re not in a place to help yourself or anyone else. Suffering comes from seeing through a pinhole instead of a picture window. If you’re in emotional pain, you’re thinking too small. Open up your thinking.
- How is this helping me? Know that everything is for you (not against you.) If everything is for you, then how might this situation be there to help you? Brainstorm it. Think outside the box. Give yourself a break. Sometimes I say to myself, “I don’t know how this is helping me, and I’m happy to find out.”
See? Wasn’t that easy? Instead of a stream of what I don’t want and why it’s wrong, I can translate that into what I do want, what I’d prefer, or what I’m aiming for.
And I can say that. And be that.
Good for me! Things are looking up already!
About Terri Crosby — I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains with Eric, my partner of 15 years, two cats and a dog, and as many flowers and vegetables as I can plant. I love really good food, good friends, good relationships!