Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My husband is a complainer. Always has been. His complaints often also encompass criticism, or what I perceive to be — usually of something regarding parenting our 5- and 3-year-olds (I’m a stay-at-home mom). His complaints and criticism very, very rarely offer any sort of suggestions or fixes.
This has been a frustrating cycle throughout our relationship, and I can’t figure out how to break it. I call him out, it seems to get better briefly, and then starts all over again. Please help.
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DEAR SAHM: Have you tried the super-simple “What I’m hearing is that you think X. Is that correct?” He either says yes, or clarifies with Y. Then: “I see. So you see X/Y as a problem. Do you have any suggestions for how to fix it?”
Depending on his answer, you follow it with either “Great, then please feel welcome to try that” or “Hmm. Well, if you think of anything, please let me know.” Then you carry on with what you were doing.
That’s the micro answer, obviously. The macro is that this is who he is, as your relationship has told you all along, and that means any changes need to come from you — be it to accept that this is who and how he is, or to decide a home with him in it is not a healthy one, or to find some workable point between these two extremes. Good, reputable counseling is a viable option, of course, either to get to the root of his negativity (if he’s willing to go) or to figure out strategies for dealing with him (if he’s unwilling and you go alone). I hope you’re in a position to consider it.
RE: COMPLAINING: Two of the toughest things for me to get used to as a dad were that: (1) My wife’s parenting would not be like my parents’. (2) My children were not me and would require different parenting than I did.
Since hubby’s complaints are about parenting, the question of how he was brought up and how his children are being brought up might be broached at a time when he is not complaining — if there is such a time. It might start with Mom remarking on things she is doing that differ from her parents’ way.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Such a great way to look at it, thank you. It’s possible to have rigid ideas of how things are supposed to be done, and even to hold people to them, without being fully aware you’re doing it.
RE: COMPLAINER: My husband is very similar. He’s analytical enough to recognize issues, but panics when put on the spot about taking action. When I ask, “What do you propose to do about it?” his response is invariably “I don’t know.” I reply: “OK, I’m going to go get a cup of coffee/go for a walk/clean the kitchen. When I get back, please give me your proposal.” Giving him some time helps him work through it, and saves my sanity.
— Anonymous 2
DEAR ANONYMOUS 2: Plus, you get coffee, a walk and/or a clean kitchen. Though I’d stop at the coffee.