how to complain without damaging relationship

Conflict in relationships is inevitable.

Your partner continues to show up late for date night. Or maybe they made a big purchase on your joint account without consulting you.

No matter how much love and understanding there is in our relationships, our partners can do things that upset us.

They’re human, imperfect and can’t read our minds—go figure.

We need to find ways to address conflict that won’t ruin your relationship.

In these cases, it’s important that we’re able to speak up about our disappointment, frustrations, even fears.

If it truly bothers us, our partner needs to know—this helps us repair and connect.

Two ways to complain that can cause more harm than good.

  1. Don’t say anything and avoid the conflict even when it REALLY bothers us. Sure, there are times your partner may make a human mistake and we’re able to let it go. But if you notice you can’t let it go, it can continue to fester inside and lead to resentment in the relationship. If it’s important to you, it’s important to speak up.
  2. Criticize. Coming at our partner with criticism and a personal attack can put them on the defense. Defensive partners can attack back or shut down—not what we’re looking for when we’re trying to connect.

Instead, be specific and wrap it in kindness:

  1. Be specific about the problem.
  2. Share how it impacts you.
  3. Be specific with what you need or want.
  4. Allow them to respond.
  5. Wrap it in kindness.

So instead of “UGH. I can’t believe you are late AGAIN. You’re so irresponsible.” You can say:

“Our date nights are important to me because we’re both so busy and I look forward to having fun with you. When you show up late, I’m hurt because it feels like maybe our time together isn’t as important to you. I need to know you prioritize our time together. Can we talk about this?”

Tips are helpful, but it’s okay if you get stuck.

These tips can open the door to conversations that allow our partners to understand us better and learn how to meet our needs in the relationship.

It’s okay if the conversation goes off track or if our partner can’t “fix” it right away. Relationships are imperfect.

If you get really stuck, or feel like you are both often slipping into avoiding problems, resentment, constant bickering or criticism counseling may be a good next step.