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How Unresolved Ongoing Complaints Disintegrate the Safe Haven

Hello Safe Haven Community,

“I wish you could understand how you hurt me when you do this or that!”

After sitting with over 700 couples during Safe Haven Marriage Intensives, the one phrase I hear the most is: “I wish my spouse could understand how they hurt me when they do this or that.”

Complaints are good in marriage. This is where you can share what hurts, what you’d like your spouse to change or stop. Sharing a complaint (it hurts when you do that) in a way that your spouse can hear it and understand is not so simple. And it is just as difficult to listen to a complaint - without taking it as a personal attack about your self worth.

When a couple gets stuck in complaining and defending, the vicious cycle leaves both partners hurt and disconnected.

“Do you really care that you hurt me when you do that?”

And I am sure over the years, the more you have tried to tell your spouse how he or she has hurt you when they do what they do, the more self-protective and defensive your spouse has become. And the more you have tried to listen to your spouse’s seeming lectures of how you have hurt them, the more your spouse feels you don’t understand nor care which results in an accumulation of hurt for you both.

How can you begin to turn your go-no-where but keep-hurting-each-other arguments into connecting conversations? Here are a few steps.

The Heart Injury:

You have done this many times over the years, even though I have told you so many times that it hurts me, you keep doing it even though I keep telling you how it hurts me.

It must mean you do not care about me and therefore I can’t trust you with my heart.”

THE COMPLAINER: What are the Issues that sound your alarms:

  • Buying on credit rather than saving to pay cash

  • Over spending

  • Put your dishes away after you use them instead of leaving them for me

  • Standing up for me when your mother is critical

  • Driving fast and not slowing down when I say I am nervous

  • Following through on discipline with the kids

When you feel your spouse doesn’t listen and won’t change, what do you do?

  • Say it again, but louder

  • Say it with more critical words, name call

  • Highlight the negative character qualities that prevent your spouse from doing what you feel is important

  • Shut down, pull away, close up, maybe sulk

THE LISTENER: What is it like listening to your spouse’s hurt and complaint about you?

  • My spouse is being irrational and illogical, so I minimize their hurt

  • It is not as big of a deal as my spouse is making it out to be

  • Why should my spouse’s view be more important and trump my view?

  • My spouse is saying I am a bad person because I don’t see it as dangerous or as big of a problem as they do

THE LISTENER: Then what do you do?

  • I minimize my spouse’s hurt and dismiss their reaction

  • I try telling my spouse how they shouldn’t interpret the situation as negative as they do

  • I try telling my spouse the situation is not as bad as they view it

  • I try telling my spouse how to handle the situation, so it won’t hurt as much

  • I defend myself saying I am not as bad as my spouse says I am

  • I shut down, withdraw, freeze, ignore, try avoiding facing it as there is nothing I can do to calm/reassure my spouse

How you are both left feeling

  • Hurt because you won’t hear my perspective

  • Attacked, not good enough, the bad one,

  • Dismissed, not understood nor empathized with

  • Double hurt, first by what you did, and now that you can’t understand my perspective, alone, broken hearted, guarded, disconnected


1. Slow down. Stop the persistent conversation around, “look what you did to hurt me” and the ineffective rebuttal, “you shouldn’t be so hurt by that”

2. Move from your harsh protective argument, to your softer side.

  • What are the softer emotions you are feeling under your porcupine quills or cold protective wall?

  • Yes, you are angry that your spouse never puts his dishes in the dishwasher, but what is the softer emotion, or dragon that fuels your anger?

  • What meaning do you put on the event?

  • And if you are the one listening to the complaint, what is at the heart of your defensiveness?

  • What are your softer emotions?

  • What does it feel like to be consistently told you are ‘hurtful’ when you don’t do your own dishes?

  • What do your dragons say to you about yourself? About your spouse?

3. Each take 5 minutes to share your softer side. If it is hard to do, then write it out on a

3 x 5 card and read it. Try understanding why it makes sense for your spouse to do what they do, hurt the way they are hurt and react the way they do.

4. Listen with a kind heart to your spouse’s perspective.

5. Is there a bit of truth in what your spouse is saying?

6. Each take a turn to share how you understand each other, when you are ready, apologize for your part.

7. Remember, all your spouse really wants from you is for you to empathize with his or her view and pain.

Even if you don’t see it the way your spouse sees it. And when you are able to soften and express understanding, the sting is often removed from the event.

I hear you say that when I leave my dishes around you feel unvalued. Even though I feel you shouldn’t feel that way, I understand you do. I don’t want to hurt you because I do value you.

I hear you say you feel worthless, like you are not good enough when I tell you how it hurts me.

I am not wanting you to feel worthless.”

It is amazing how powerful your softened heart that expresses understanding and care for your spouse can heal hurt.

Try it at home.

As always, we are here for you. If you would like to change your marriage, consider attending a Safe Haven Marriage Intensive.

If you have questions, please email us at

Growing together,


Sharon May, Ph.D.

Originator of Safe Haven Intensives for couples and individuals

P.S. If you are interested in joining our Safe Haven Couples Group, we will be offering a

4-week webinar reviewing the Safe Haven Model, helping you diagram your argument cycle, discover your dragons and learn how to turn your argument into a connecting conversation.

Send us an email to sign up –

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