Complaining in Marriage

Dear Dr. Harley,

My wife says that she wishes she could talk to me about the things
she is dissatisfied with in our marriage, so they could be addressed.
But when she does talk to me about these things, I get frustrated
because it seems like she is never happy with me. The progress I
make doesn't seem to matter.

I often see her explaining what she is upset about as complaining and
only focusing on the negative. I don't often feel like she has
recognized the good things about us. I want her to be more positive.
I think she complains too much and does not see the good in some
situations. I want her perspective to change, but she doesn't think
she has to do something different to make this happen.

Thanks for your help.


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Dear R.D.

On average, women complain far more often than men, in both good and
bad marriages. But there is a difference in how the complaints are
received in those marriages. In good marriages, a complaint is
regarded as a problem to be solved with wisdom and compassion. In
bad marriages, a complaint is viewed as an unnecessary irritant --
something that should be either ignored or reacted to with anger and

Remember what a complaint is -- it's a reminder that you are losing
love units in your account in your wife's Love Bank. She is simply
giving you accurate information about the present state of your
relationship. While it may be discouraging to hear that you are
losing ground, to be kept in the dark about such losses would be
worse in the long run.

More than anything else, your wife wants to be in love with you, and
you want her to be in love with you. So to achieve that crucial
objective you must know when her love for you is being threatened by
behavior that makes her unhappy. If your marriage has any hope of
recovery, she must tell you how she feels about your behavior, and
you must make corrections to eliminate her negative reactions.

Your wife's high incidence of negative reactions simply reflects the
number of issues that have yet to be resolved in your marriage. If
you want her to be more positive, you must address those issues, and
eliminate them one at a time. You've had success in the past, and
she has been very encouraged when that happens. But when you seem
to be overwhelmed by it all, and tell her that she must learn to be
more positive, she feels hopeless because there remain many issues
that must be resolved if she is to be happy and in love with you.

The harder you try to become sensitive to your wife reactions, the
more successful you will become in doing what it takes to make her
happy. The more you try to avoid anger, replacing it with empathy
(an effort to try to understand how your wife feels without being
defensive), the more your wife will feel your care for her, and
that in itself will make massive Love Bank deposits.

Remember, all of your efforts on your wife's behalf make a
difference in the way you think and behave. You are rerouting
neural pathways in your brain that will make it easier for you to
care for her in the future. While it may seem like a lot of
effort now, in the future, it will be almost effortless to address
your wife's complaints, and solve her problems with compassion.

Best wishes,

Willard F. Harley, Jr.


"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.." Theodore Roosevelt

Exposure 101