02 Dec How To Switch From Complaint To Request For a Happier Relationship

Ever been in a relationship with a partner who complains a lot? Or perhaps you’re prone to a bit of complaining and whinging yourself when your relationship isn’t going right?

All of us have days when we feel inconvenienced, annoyed, or even outright furious about something our partner is (or is not) doing. It makes sense that we should be able to communicate to our partner when we’re not OK about something.

Young couple quarreling isolated against white backgroundEveryone knows that good communication is important for great relationships.

But there’s a very important truth about successful relationships, and its one that many of the couples I work with aren’t understanding and aren’t getting right, and it’s this:

While it’s healthy to speak frankly in our relationships, it’s HOW we speak that makes the difference between a relationship that’s truly happy, and one that’s not.

So, when we need to speak up about something, HOW should we do it?

The answer is simple:

If you want a happy relationship, get out of complaint mode, and instead, simply ask for what you really want.

Let me illustrate with three examples:

“You never put your plates in the dishwasher!” is a complaint…

… Turning this into a request sounds like this:

“It’s hard for me to use the kitchen when the sink is piled up with dishes. Could you please put your plates in the dishwasher when you’ve finished using them?”

“You never even check with me before inviting your mates over” is a complaint…

… Turning this into a request sounds like this:

“Next time you are thinking of inviting your mates over, could you please run it past me first?”

“You expect me to do everything for the kids when it’s their bedtime. You don’t help me!” is a complaint.

Turning this into a request sounds like this:

“It’s time for the kids to get to bed and I’m going to need some help from you please.”


You might be thinking that communicating with requests like this will only annoy your partner and that he or she would probably just respond with a “No!”.

If you anticipate that your request will be rejected by your partner, this may be why you choose to communicate in complaint mode in the first place. Maybe you figure that that at least if you’re not explicitly asking for something, you can’t be rejected.

But the problem is that if you choose to communicate in complaint mode, your partner will learn to switch off (who wants to listen to a whinger?). Your words will become like “white noise” on an old TV set… nobody is really listening. Perhaps that’s how it feels in your relationship already? And if you feel unheard, perhaps you react by complaining louder. That’s even more reason why a change of strategy makes sense.

Changing any relationship culture takes conscious effort, and time. But if complaining is part of your relationship culture, next time you have something important to say, try asking for what you want instead. I’ve seen many couples make make this change (therapist Terry Real calls it a “complaint to request shift”), and it’s always in the best interests of a healthier relationship.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.