Complaints and Unspoken Requests

We are now facing new lockdown measures that are bringing us all home again. This, I am no doubt will also bring complaints to our marital lives. 

It is essential to understand that below the surface of such complaints, are feelings and needs which are not being shared. These are human beings who are trying to say something with no success.

Complaints and Unspoken Requests

A complaint is an unspoken request. Which means that you may feel betrayed, hurt, angry, misunderstood. Instead of expressing your feelings, you provoke an argument about something as mundane as handwashing glasses. 

A client brought this topic of handwashing glasses to one of my coaching sessions on intimacy and relationships. She said that she always wanted to hand wash the glasses, and not washing them in the dishwasher, because that way they remained brighter. But her husband did not think the same way. 

 “So, what we usually do” she explained, “is complaining about each other, and he ends up placing the f_cking glasses in the dishwasher. And I take them out and hand wash them. And we both get mad at each other”.

When exploring deeper why this was so important to her, she started sharing her true feelings. The action of hand washing brought her calm and peace, which she hardly had lately. She said she felt ignored by her husband in many ways and felt like imprisoned when not being able to be her true self. She also recognized that she did not get him either. Their life had turned into an enormous maze of complaints which prevented them from seeing beyond their agony.

 “What is your real request?” I asked her. “Pretend he is here, tell him!”

 “I need you to respect my weirdness”, she started to say. “I just want to be me!. I don’t know you anymore, and I don’t think you know me either. I want us to find time and space to understand what is going on with us”.

More profound than just “glasses washing”, as you can see!

Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, lectures and researches at Harvard, explore in their book “Difficult Conversations” how unspoken feelings create tension and provoke disengagement. 

 As they explain “the problem is not that you are unable to express your feelings, but that you are unable not to. You get angry and show it in ways that are embarrassing or destructive. You cry or explode when you would rather act composed and capable. You don’t cry or lose your temper because you express your feelings too often, but because you express them too rarely. Like finally opening a carbonated drink that has been shaken up, the results can be messy”.

 A different perspective

 So, how do you express what you need through a request instead of a complaint?

When coaching people on relationships, I help people to explore what’s the real story behind their complaints, and how to convert them into requests to improve their communication and understanding. One example:

Complaint: “you always have time for your things, and I am always taking care of the kids. I am just tired and fed up.

Request: “I need to have time for me too. I feel so tired after coping with all these things at home and working too. I know you are tired too. I don’t blame you. On the contrary, I see that you struggle with the whole thing too. Let’s talk about it and see how we can support each other. Let’s work on something that helps us both”.

 The benefit of requests

The benefit of requests is that they help you turn toward each other instead of away. 

John M. Gottman, an American psychological researcher and clinician who has done extensive work on divorce prediction and marital stability, states in his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” that “the first step in turning toward each other more is simply to be aware of how crucial these mundane moments are, not only to your marriage’s stability but to its ongoing sense of romance. For many couples, just realizing that they shouldn’t take their everyday interactions for granted makes an enormous difference in their relationship. Remind yourself that being helpful to each other will do far more for the strength and passion of your marriage than a two-week Bahamas getaway.”

Your baby step!!

In these difficult moments of lockdown, I invite you to take a baby step in converting potential complaints into honest requests when conflicts arrive home because they will come! 

Choose one thing you need to talk about and make a request to your spouse or partner.

 – Maybe it is about your roles?

 – Maybe it is about kids, money, cleaning, cooking?

 – Maybe it is about private space and time to take care of yourself? 

 – Maybe it is about help and support?

 – Maybe it is about finding time to talk and understand each other better?

Whatever it is, talk about it making requests instead of complaining about it. Remember not to try hide feelings because, one way or the other, you will express them. Practice sharing them openly and avoid the shaken carbonated drink effect!

As Mark Twain, an American writer and entrepreneur, said “the secret of getting ahead is getting started” 

So, what is the request you need to make to your partner?

Stay calm, stay safe.

Raquel Ferrer is a Coach on Intimacy and Relationships and is the author of “Magic & Mischief” newsletter. You can find her at and on Social Media here, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.

If you would like to work with Raquel, then she is Offering Greenwichmums members three free sessions – Get all the details here.