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How to Complain Constructively

Hello Safe Haven Community,

Have you ever tried to share your complaint and got heated, maybe even contemptuous and angry … but you really wanted your spouse to understand how this thing bothers you?

Then, here is the kicker, your spouse got hurt and offended by the way you talked, totally missing your complaint, and you end up being the bad guy. That’s something to complain about!

So how can you share a complaint with your spouse in a way that your spouse can receive it?

1. Pick your complaints.

What would it be like to live with someone who complains all the time? No fun at all, right?

Let go of things that you know you can’t change, or are about life style differences.

Share what really matters to you rather than what just irritates you. And remember that choices in marriage need to be made by both of you, not just based on what you want, like or need. Your spouse gets to share his/her opinion and have input as well.

2. Don’t try avoid sharing your complaints in an effort to avoid an argument.

As Max, during a Safe Haven Marriage Intensive said, “I used to keep quiet about things. Why pick a battle? I can put up with a lot of things if I put my mind to it. But I realized I was not showing up for the relationship when I kept silent about my complaints and needs in an effort to duck and avoid conflict. I was shut down, and my wife could sense it.”

For you to be connected with your spouse, to work toward being “one”, you will each need to fold in your desires, hurts and yes… complaints.

3. Keep your complaint specific about an action rather that attack, put down or demean.

Don’t say ‘You always make us late,’ or ‘you are so inconsiderate.’ That will only cause your spouse to be defensive rather than listen to you.

Wrap your complaint in a compliment, or something kind.

4. Give information, explain the situation, give reasons as to why this bothers you.

Give reasons why they should do it differently, why it is important to you, rather than attack your spouse’s character.

5. Share your feelings about the situation.

Maybe you are disappointed, frustrated, and feel hurt, alone, uncared for, not a team, let your spouse know how the situation impacts you.

6. Be willing to hear your spouse’s perspective.

Don’t interpret this as defensiveness, let your spouse give his/her view. The more your spouse feels heard by you, the more willing they will be to hear you.

7. Review solutions.

Offer a solution to your complaint, but be open to hearing your spouse’s ideas about solving the situation.

Don’t push your way, be flexible, teachable and be willing to work as a team with your spouse.

Using these above principles, here are some constructive complaints:

“When you don’t put a cover over the food in the refrigerator, the food is exposed to air and gets crusty, then I can’t use it and feel alone taking care of the family. I know you don’t mean to hurt me by it. Thank you for helping me out after dinner and making sure all the leftovers are covered.”

“I appreciate all you do in the house, but can you make sure the kids pick up their toys from the driveway before I come home? If not I have to get out the car to move the toys, or often I accidently run over them. I know you are already so busy, I so appreciate it.”

“I am really upset that you talked about your work through dinner and didn’t even ask me how my meeting went. (careful here, don’t attack your spouse’s character or put them down) I felt unimportant to you. It means a lot to me when you express interest in my day.”

“If you don’t mail our your mom’s birthday present today, we will feel bad when we call her on her birthday and she expresses disappointment.”

8. Remind with a word (or very short sentence).

If you know your spouse forgets, leaves behind, doesn’t do it the way you want … don’t nag, remind with a word.

Be kind, encouraging, uplifting. And don’t get all angry and bent out of shape if you need to ‘remind’ here and there. No, you are not the mom or being taken advantage of … your spouse might just forget, or not be as concerned or anxious about the issue as it is to you.

“I like hearing about your day, maybe we can leave some time so I can share with you my day.”

“I know you know this, but plastic wrap over the plate before putting in the fridge would be great”

“Thanks for helping, but a reminder that the post office closes at 4pm today”

“I’ll be home around 5pm if you can remind the boys to pick up the toys, thanks love.”

Our Safe Haven Marriage Intensives are filling up fast.

We only have a few spots left for 2018, so please email us if you are interested – the way we work and the extended time allows for much growth over the few days. It's like 6 months of counseling packed into a few days.

If you are interested we offer the following:

Safe Haven Model – an overview of the model, a chance for you to understand your argument cycle and how to change it so to foster a safe haven marriage.

Safe Haven Model for Couches– we will offer an introductory training in Safe Haven for counselors and relationship coaches. This will enable you to lead a Safe Haven group in your church or at your counseling center.

Safe HavenTraining for Counselors – we will be offering a training series for counselors interested in the well known Safe Haven model.

I so enjoy hearing from you, so please keep the questions, comments and encouragement coming.

Email us for information at

Growing together,



Sharon May, Ph.D.

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