A few years ago I ran a Ragnar race with a group of friends.
If you haven’t heard of a Ragnar, it’s a 24-hour, 220 mile relay race you run with a team of 12 runners. Each runner takes 3 legs of the race, and each leg consists of a 2-10 mile stretch.
When people run a Ragnar it's not typically to win. It's to have fun! They paint their cars, dress in costumes, keep track of how many people they “kill” as they pass them on the course, and have an all-around good time.
I was really looking forward to an awesome adventure, meeting some new people, and doing something that would challenge me.
I didn’t train as much as I should have, but our team was full of a bunch of non-athletes, so I wasn't worried. We were just having fun… or so I thought.
Have you ever tried to have fun with someone who complains about literally everything?
“It’s too hot.”
“My feet hurt.”
“This is hard.”
“It’s not what I expected.”
“I think I saw a snake! Ew!”
“I’m tired. You should all squish in the front of the van so I can sleep in the back.”
“I can’t finish the race, someone needs to run the rest for me.”
I’m not a violent person, I swear… but I was contemplating strangling the complainer in our car to keep me from having to ever hear her whine again.
She was literally beating fun to death right in front of us.
I remember at one point I just started laughing because I just couldn't believe how EVERY WORD that came out of her mouth was negative.
Nothing sucks the life out of a good time like a complainer.
Years later, that Ragnar is still something my buddy and I roll our eyes about.
I love this quote by Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture:
“Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier.”
If you want to have a strong marriage, complaining is a love-killing, and fun-killing, and intimacy-killing habit you have to squash.
"But Nate, I'm not complaining. I'm just being vulnerable and authentic to my emotions!"
Ugh... look, all this "vulnerability" and "authenticity" nonsense can grossly lead you astray in your relationship.
The reason complaining seems like the easy and correct alternative when we’re feeling that emotional crunch of anxiety and overwhelm is because we’ve been taught that we can't have true intimacy unless we are “vulnerable” and “authentic” about our feelings.
Did you feel that? It feels like another Truth Bomb is about to get dropped: If your “vulnerability” and “authenticity” come out in the form of a complaint… well, it’s not really vulnerability, and it definitely won’t create more intimacy for you. As a matter of fact, it does the opposite.
Complaining, whining, and nagging are cowardly behaviors. They crush the emotions of your partner and destroy any semblance of intimacy in your love life. (I'll explain how this in just a few paragraphs.)
So, how the heck are you you supposed to address something that’s not working in your relationship without complaining?
I mean, simply remaining silent when things aren’t going smoothly doesn’t feel like a winning strategy either. Letting that tension of “this isn’t working for me” build up without speaking up can create a anger and frustration that will definitely wear you down, and kill your connection with your partner too.
Some people can do that, but I can't. I wear my emotions on my sleeve.
There is another way… and if you’re open-minded, you can try out this strategy that actually works!
Dr. Terry Real, author of The New Rules of Marriage gave me this idea!
To understand why complaining NEVER works, first we need to know what a complaint actually is. Here’s Terry to explain it for us:
A complaint is double negative thinking. Instead of saying, “I’d be really happy if I could have more of this positive thing,” you try to get it by saying, “I would have been happy if only you hadn’t done that negative thing.”
Essentially, you're entrapping your partner in a lose-lose scenario. The only options they have to make you happy are to read your mind, or apologize for not being able to read your mind… which means you still don't have what you originally wanted, and your partner is stuck being punished by an unhappy you.
This is not love... It’s emotional warfare!
So, to avoid the constant nagging, guilting, shaming, and incessant apologizing, Terry has create a rule for marriage.
Rule: You have no right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.
The best way to stop senseless blaming and complaining is to just ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT!
Replace complaints with requests.
Asking for what you want is a sign of true vulnerability. A request invites you to own your desires. It requires you to take a risk and ask for help, or support, or a favor, or a gift, with the possibility of someone saying, "No."
Asking for what you want upfront can be confronting and hard... but that's how adults do it.
Getting angry or resentful when you don’t get something is the easy path... and the path of the childish coward.
So instead of getting angry at your husband for not taking out the trash when it OBVIOUSLY needs to be emptied and thinking, “He sees it overflowing. I shouldn’t have to tell him, he should just know!”...
Ask your husband, “Will you please take out the trash for me? It would be really helpful.”
If you’re on a deadline to get that trash taken out because you’re expecting company, be specific about what you need in your request! “Will you please take the trash out for me before 1:00? I have company coming over, and it would mean a lot to me to get your help.”
Does the idea of doing this make you feel anxious or upset?
You're not alone!
Asking for what you want is hard. It goes against a lot of crappy marriage myths we’ve convinced ourselves to be true. Like that if our partner loves us enough, “They should just know what I need.”
Or that our partner’s lack of focus on the things that are most important to us means they don’t love us. “She drives the car, she should know when it’s time to change the oil and rotate the tires! I shouldn’t have to tell her.”
Believing the stupid myth that marriage somehow grants your partner mind-reading powers will kill your love, undermine your communication, and crap all over everything that makes amazing relationships possible.
Maybe you're still thinking things like...
“Oh my gosh. Is he that dumb that I have to spell it out for him?!” or "If I have to tell her what I need, what's the point? I'm not her parent."
Hmmm… maybe turn that thinking around...
I mean, why wouldn't you want to make it SUPER easy for your partner to make you happy?! What better gift could you give them?
Are you that unkind and unpleasable that you refuse to make it easy for your partner to make you happy?
Now, I'm not saying your partner has the right to be completely irresponsible. If you ask and ask for something and it never gets done... well, that's a different email I'll write for another day.
Just notice this one thing: Every time you complain it’s always because you didn’t ask for something you needed before you actually needed it… and complaining about it never makes things better.
It just makes you come across as an unpleasable nag.
Think back to when you got married. You were so excited! You were going to conquer the world together! You were going to create the most amazing partnership possible.
You were going to be so much better than your mom, or your dad.
This is your chance.
This is what extraordinary couples do!
They stop complaining. They dig deep and ask for what they need.
Replacing complaints with requests opens up doors to serve each other, to meet each others needs, and set each other up to succeed in making the other person happy.
This is what love is about.
Are you a complainer? What’s an example of a complaint you can switch for a request? Leave your comments below!