We’ve all known them, the constant complainers. They can suck the fun out of any situation and exhaust you in a matter of minutes. Nothing is ever good enough, there’s always a problem or something to nit-pick. It can be hard enough to work or be friends with people who complain constantly, but constant complaining can also take a big toll on your romantic relationships.

Over time chronic complaining will destroy nearly any relationship. In a romantic relationship it eats away at it bit by bit as it upsets the normal balance between partners that is necessary in a healthy relationship. This leaves one partner as the director and the other as the fixer.

Complaining to your partner automatically puts them in a position of needing to fix things or make them right in order for the complaint to be remedied. Even if there is no stated request to “fix this” (whatever this is), there is unspoken pressure exerted when one partner complains to the other. As time goes on this pressure builds and can create resentment and animosity between partners.

The Mind of a Complainer

Frustrating situations occur for all of us from time-to-time. As a result, most of us will complain. “The traffic was awful today!” or “I can’t believe they screwed up my order again!” In the case of relationships it might be things like, “you always leave the toilet seat up!” or “why can’t you put your laundry in the hamper?!” These are all rather normal complaints and they can come and go.

But when complaining becomes constant it’s different. A chronic complainer will rarely let any situation go without offering some observation about something that’s gone wrong or isn’t to their liking. This is the type of complaining that creates problems.

It may seem like a partner who is a chronic complainer is simply a negative or unhappy person, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Often partners who complain to and about seemingly everything in the relationship are looking for a way to be heard and are making a poor choice in communication style.

They may be seeking the attention of their partner and trying to be noticed. Complaining and getting a response, even a negative one, in their mind is better than feeling invisible. In addition to being an ineffective way to communicate, however, this is also a form of manipulation and control. Needing to exercise power can be another reason for regular complaining. Sadly, nagging someone or verbally manipulating them to get them to respond to you is more likely to end your relationship than it is to get the attention of your partner.

Dealing with a Complainer

So how can you handle things if you are in a relationship with a complainer? While each situation and person is different, there are some tips that can help.

  1. Understand what they want. Many times in a relationship the complainer is looking for attention or respect. The wife that complains about her husband’s socks on the floor is more likely looking for him to show her the respect of putting things where they belong and honoring the organization and cleanliness of their home. The husband who says, “You always have your nose in the phone at dinner” is probably looking for his wife’s attention. These are general examples, but complaints from chronic complainers are generally motivated by something other than the specific issue mentioned.
  2. Avoid arguing with them. As annoying as constant complaining can be, arguing about the complaints, or getting angry won’t make things better. In fact, if the complainers motivations are different than the actual complaint, it will likely make things worse.
  3. Reframe or restate the complaint. Restating the complaint in a different way like, “so if (insert complaint here) were changed, you’d be happy?” can make the complainer look at the solution rather than the problem.
  4. Ask for a solution. Instead of feeling the pressure to fix everything yourself, try asking the complainer how they would like to see things fixed. And, if they have a reasonable answer, help them work out the solution. This may require your involvement, or it may be something you can encourage them to handle on their own.
  5. Confront them. If nothing else is working it may be time to have a open and honest conversation about what the pattern of complaining is doing to your relationship. It’s possible they haven’t recognized what their own behavior is doing.

Most people who complain frequently don’t want to be known as chronic complainers. Despite the frequently of their complaints, the complaining doesn’t actually make them happy. In fact, the complaining will eventually drain the pleasure from their life and relationships. So if you’re in a relationship with someone who complains constantly and it’s ruining your relationship, try to find some compassion and work with them on changes that address the underlying problem.