Some people are simply complainers. They complain about the disruption COVID has caused, but when the pandemic ends and “normal” life resumes, I predict they will continue to complain. But instead of complaining about masks, they’ll be complaining that now they have to wear full makeup. Or now the traffic is more congested. Getting dressed and driving to the chapel is so much less convenient than Zooming. And instead of complaining how boring it is to be self-isolating at home, they’ll complain that now their in-laws are able to come over. Now their calling requires more work. Now they have to throw or attend parties, weddings, and funerals.
Things are never just right for complainers. I don’t know if you fall into this category or just complain on occasion (don’t we all fall into that trap?) but here’s the cost: Happiness. Contentment. Relationships. Popularity. Closeness with God. Good health. A deep desire to share the wonderful gospel you love.
Complaining is one of the most expensive activities we can engage in. Here’s a conversation I overheard recently between a married couple. We’ll start with the wife:
“Do you want to go to Tyler’s wedding?”
“Mmm… not really.”
“I thought you were good friends with him.”
“Well… there’ll be wedding cake there.”
“Do you really need wedding cake when you’re trying to lose weight?”
Ouch. Can I just say that no wife ever appreciates her husband’s “help” to lose weight by constantly reminding her about it? And when a man says he’s only doing it because he cares about her health, I suspect there isn’t a woman alive who believes that.
And now it’s the husband’s turn to go first. This was overheard in a pharmacy line:
“Hey, I fixed the bathroom shelf that kept falling down.”
“Please tell me you didn’t put big, ugly brackets under it.”
“Well, I used brackets, but I think they look–”
“No! No bracket is invisible, and that’s the look I wanted. Do you ever listen to me?”
“Well the invisible method kept falling.”
“Honestly, if you could just ask me before you do something stupid.”
And now the husband looks like a toddler who’s been scolded by Mommy. My heart ached for this guy, who has to listen to put-downs from a wife who has zero appreciation for his efforts.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of criticism, especially if we were raised in homes where tough talk and insults were common. But any one of us could find ourselves dropping courtesy and snapping at our mate when we’re tired or exasperated, if we don’t make conscious effort to speak kindly.
It’s also easy to behave this way if we’re keeping a running list of our spouse’s flaws. We have dozens of petty changes we want them to make and we rationalize that we’re only correcting them to help them improve and better themselves.
We can also become critical if we’re actually angry about something else and haven’t tried to discuss it. Suddenly our resentment bleeds over into our daily conversations. We seem irrationally irritated about small things, and when told so we become even angrier.
Many couples find themselves barking at one another, impatient and rude, simply because familiarity makes us think we can vent about whatever we please. And this is not true. No matter how well you know someone, you can’t disregard their feelings. In fact, the longer the relationship, the more your words sting because they betray a pattern of loving and trusting. Too many couples forget the “we” in a problem, and what was once an emulsion is now separated into “you” and “me.”
So what can we do? First, recognize the problem. If you’ve been harsh, admit it and apologize. Is this painful? Yes. But it’s less painful than continuing to chip away at your marriage until it’s just two strangers living under the same roof.
Don’t justify your rudeness because you were correct, or because “he or she really does need to stop that obnoxious habit.” Don’t justify it because you were “just kidding.” If you spoke gruffly, you need to admit it, and do some soul-searching to figure out why.
Sometimes complaining is a lifelong habit that will take effort to undo. Ask your mate for help. Maybe have a key word to remind you when your manners begin to lapse. Don’t claim this is just the way you are, and the problem is that they are too sensitive. This is only adding another insult to the pile. If your behavior is hurting your loved one, you need to stop it. Even if you think they are overly sensitive.
Don’t conclude that harmony is only about biting your tongue. People can talk about areas of concern without being critical; it’s important to have hard conversations and learn each other’s communication styles rather than bottling things up.
Keep a journal and celebrate your successes. When you find other ways to react to your spouse’s ideas or efforts, you’ll instantly see improvement in your relationship. We all love to feel respected and appreciated. Keep doing it and you can almost feel a honeymoon-like attitude returning.
Some time ago I wrote about healing hurts in a relationship and someone wrote that all their kindness was flatly rejected by a cruel, mentally ill spouse. So let me just say that solid advice for a happier marriage will not work when one or both spouses suffers from severe mental illness. Professional help might shed some light in those cases.
But if you’re both basically healthy emotionally, try being ultra-kind and watch it come back like a boomerang. Demonstrating real love works. Think before you correct. Is it really necessary to remind him to park a few inches closer to the curb? Do you really have to analyze what’s wrong with the meal she fixed? Many of the changes we want our spouse to make aren’t worth it. Breaking your husband’s or wife’s heart and convincing them they’ll never be good enough is dangerous ground. It can take years to repair that damage.
Try just accepting those annoying idiosyncrasies. Don’t you wish someone would find yours endearing? Yes, when horrendous things happen we need to talk them through. But most of the criticisms in most marriages are not the “how did you get addicted to drugs and then burn the house down?” category—they’re trivial.
My Interfaith calling introduces me to quotes from leaders of other faiths, and I like this Hindu one by Sathya Sai Baba: “Love lives by giving and forgiving, not by getting and forgetting.” Selfishness vs. Selflessness—it’s the root of most marital trouble. So take a look at your gripes and see if they’re based in selfishness. Often we can avoid a blowup by simply being more “giving and forgiving.”
Christ taught us to offer endless patience, sincere service, perfect loyalty, and unlimited love. We can bring the Spirit into our relationships in many ways that will have measurable impact: Reading scriptures daily together, praying for one another, praying for understanding when there’s a disagreement, and attending the temple once they are open again. Just those four actions will make a huge difference in your unity and love. Yes, even a lifelong complainer can find the joy and peace of giving up that trait once and for all.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.