Sometimes My Wife Complains…

Sometimes My Wife Complains - What's behind the complaint and what to do about it.There we were, a night in with the family, and I thought it would be fun to play a board game. I convinced Michelle to put down the laundry she was folding and come and join us. It was great! We were all together in the living room, the girls were having a good time, Michelle was engaged and having fun. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

Then, as we were putting the kids to bed together, something clearly switched. My wife went from happy and carefree to visibly tense and frustrated. I couldn’t exactly figure out why. I asked if everything was okay and got the dreaded, “Yes, I’m fine,” from her.

I tried to leave it alone, but it concerned me that everything had been going so well and now, for no reason I could figure out, things were not ok anymore.

Do you ever feel like you are in the dark about what your spouse is feeling? Michelle is constantly processing her thoughts in her own head. She doesn’t typically talk unless what she is about to say has been thought through. In some ways, this is great. I can trust that she means what she says and isn’t trying to play games or manipulate me. In other ways, like this particular evening, it’s lame. I can see that she’s gnawing on something – something is bothering her, and she is spending her energy trying to figure out what it is and if she’ll communicate with me about it. I’m left in the dark instead of invited in to process with her. She knows I want to hear what she’s thinking, because I’m pretty sure that, often times, I can help solve it. But, I know her. She likes to figure things out on her own. I guess we’re the same that way. I just wish she’d let me in.

The next morning, after I left for work, I got this email…

Subject: Frustrated


Last night I was trying to relax and enjoy you and the girls when you insisted I play games with you instead of folding the laundry and doing the dishes. I did have a good time, but was triggered and irritated when Claire didn’t have clean pajamas in her drawer. It was a reminder that my real value is keeping up with the laundry and dishes. I often feel like staying on top of those things, along with whatever else I need to do around the house, doesn’t get noticed until I fall behind. So, I’m constantly choosing between doing something I might want to do – like go out with my friends, or sit down and work on the blog, or even play games with you guys – and the stuff I have to do because the stuff I have to do doesn’t get done all by itself.

I so appreciated your help the other night. I felt like we were working as a team to clean up and you always do so much, especially with the girls, to keep our home tidy. I just get frustrated when the behind the scenes stuff (everyone’s laundry, dishes, pumping breastmilk, feeding the baby) doesn’t seem appreciated when it is done, but instead comes back to me when it’s not done. “Mom, where’s my pajamas? Why don’t we have any clean dish towels? The baby doesn’t have any pajamas. There aren’t any burp rags.” All of that stuff makes me feel like I am doing a crappy job and I’ll never be able to sit down and relax.

It seems especially evident to me on the weekends. I know you want to hang out and it’s not fun for you if I’m busy folding laundry, so I try to set the chores down and not rush around so much. For you, the weekends are your time to relax since you’ve been at work all week, and I get that. It’s your free time, it should be. But, with my “job,” I don’t get weekends. I don’t get to clock out and leave it all until Monday. I get envious sometimes when you decide you want to work on something – play a video game, take a shower – and you don’t have to think about making sure everything else is already taken care of before you just run to the store or head into the office to do whatever you want to do. I always feel like I have to prepare 15 things before I can do something I want to do, and even then, I always have a pile of “work” waiting for me when I’m done so it hardly seems worth it to try to take a “break.”

Anyway, this is all normal stuff and I’m under no illusion that I’m the only person that ever feels this way. I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself, and ordinarily I don’t want to complain because I know my life really is so good. It’s just that last night it felt all piled up and unappreciated and lonely.

So… that’s what that was all about.

I love you,

your wife

"Behind every complaint is a deep personal longing." - Gottman quote on #staymarried

Now, you’re not in my marriage and I’m not in yours, but I have to tell you that getting this email was a BIG deal. Most of the time, even if she is able to identify how she’s feeling and why, she may or may not ever share that with me. The fact that she took the time, in the midst of toddler tantrums and infant feedings, to put some thought into an email was HUGE. I knew I needed to think carefully about the way I responded. Here’s what I sent back…

Re: Frustrated


I love you so much. What you do is appreciated and noticed (not just when someone doesn’t have clean PJs). I know you work really hard, really long, and without breaks, and I want to help out.

I’m here to be your teammate and partner, so let me know how this frustration can be avoided in the future.

You are right… I’m willing to let the chores go by the wayside so that we can bond as a family, but not to the expense of making you feel overwhelmed. Next time we’ll prep our chores before we play games.

In love with you,


In his research, Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues have found that “Behind every complaint is a deep personal longing.” I know my wife doesn’t want to complain, but in a strange way, I appreciate when she does. I know that when she finally lets me in and tells me the things that are bothering her, it’s a window into something more personal. I can see that what she needs is to be affirmed. We’ve taken the Five Love Languages assessment and memorized each other’s “Love Languages,” so I know one of hers is “Words of Affirmation.” Telling her that I appreciate her does not come naturally to me. I typically hope that she just knows I appreciate her without having to say it. But, she doesn’t work that way. She needs to hear it.

When I read her email, I knew that the issue wasn’t really that our kids didn’t have clean pajamas in their dresser drawers. I could figure out that the real issue was that Michelle didn’t feel appreciated for all she does to keep our family running smoothly. I realized it had been a while since I expressed my gratitude in words. One of my “Love Languages” is “Acts of Service,” so I figure that helping out around the house is sufficient to showing her love. And, by her email, I can see that she appreciates my efforts, but it doesn’t replace her need to hear from me that I see what she does and it matters immensely.

"Meeting your spouse's need for love is a choice you make each day." - Chapman quote on #staymarried

So, sometimes she complains. I’ve decided that it’s ok when she does. I believe Dr. Gottman that there is a deep personal longing behind those complaints and I do my best to try to figure that out, to acknowledge it, and to show my wife love in whatever way she feels lacking. I know she does the same for me when I complain.

If you hear your spouse complaining, consider that maybe it’s an opportunity for you to understand them better. Maybe they are letting you in on a deep need that they have, a chance for you to show them love and understanding. Do your best to listen to complaints with an empathetic ear, not to be insulted, but to reach out and meet them where they are so that you can #staymarried.

You are reading Sometimes My Wife Complains, a #staymarried blog. You may also want to read If You Really Want to be Heard and To Love is To Listen. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing.

New to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and our first entry to get a little background.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Tony

Becoming a Marriage Mentor

As I mentioned in my last post, having mentors early in our marriage proved to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. Tony and I  have so valued Barabara and Rich Butler in our lives that I thought it would be great if the rest of you could hear from them directly. Here’s their take on the mentoring side of our relationship…

We met Tony and Michelle Peterson at church. We didn’t really know them when Michelle approached us. And, yes, we did indeed wait for at least a month to respond to Michelle’s request to mentor her and Tony in their marriage. We waited a month AND we waited for them to ask us again. And during that month we may have slightly panicked and even laughed a little. Us…marriage mentors?? Who were they kidding? We might look all cute and happy on Sundays at church, but truth be told, we get into some awesome fights, our finances are kinda messy, and our intimate connections can be quite sporadic. We’ve even mentioned the D word to each other during our almost 28 years of marriage {insert audible gasp}.

But wait….we get into some awesome fights, and we get back out of them. Our finances are messy, but we do work through them. And we work on our sex life (now there’s an awkward conversation to start with people you don’t know very well). And that D word? Well, we’ve talked about it and agreed how very much we want to work on avoiding it. Ok. Maybe there was something to this. Yes, we could share our struggles, things we’ve learned along the way, and our willingness to keep growing together. We agreed to be an open book for the Petersons to read. We were feeling apprehensive, but we moved forward.

And then, something wonderful and unexpected happened: we grew more in love with each other and with our marriage each time we met with Tony and Michelle. It was a win-WIN. Talking about our marriage and some truths about marriage on a regular basis and working through some issues with another couple proved to be quite therapeutic and comforting, and even healing. We felt invigorated and joyful at times, reminiscing about our early years as a couple. We had time to re-work some of our arguing techniques (there is such a thing as a fair fight, you know) and we were given the gift of spending time with newly-weds. There’s something so sweet about people who are freshly in love– something sweet and contagious.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we agreed to lead other couples who were preparing for marriage in a small group format at church.  We used Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s book, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, and constructed our meetings around the 7 principles that are outlined in the book.  Working with 5 or 6 couples at a time was quite different than working with just one couple.  It was more like a class (we’re both teachers), and the couples tended to be guarded about their responses.  There was not enough time to explore responses that “touched a nerve” or uncovered a difference of values.  We realized that real marriage “mentoring” required time, focus, and vulnerability. It required the need to stop and really talk about something that we saw could be trouble for a young couple, time to stop and share our own complicated and painful story of how we worked through something.  Meeting with just one couple at a time really seemed to be more effective for everyone involved.

So, what is our take away from these amazing experiences we’ve had with these younger couples? Everyone with a few years of  stable marriage under their belts should be doing it! If your marriage feels a little stale and you want to liven things up, don’t wait for something to happen. Go find a couple to mentor. Go find a younger couple to share life with. Get a book to work through together and be vulnerable. It could be the magic your marriage needs right now.

If you’re still not convinced…

 The Top Five Reasons You Should Mentor a Couple.

1. You get to tell the story of how you met your spouse.

2. You experience the joy and passion of young love again (without all of the stomach aches).

3. You can use your own mistakes to save another couple from the same disaster.

4. You discover hidden gems of wisdom that can help your own marriage.

5. It’s practically free counseling for BOTH couples.

If you think you’re ready, or maybe just willing, to take on a mentoring role…

Here are guidelines and some helpful hints we have used when we mentor a couple:

1. At the first meeting, establish boundaries and rules.

These are ours:
a. Commit to the process.  Make all the meetings and do the readings.
b. Responses can be honest, more honest, or most honest depending on how vulnerable the speaker wants to be.
c. Everything shared is confidential unless the person sharing gives permission.
d. No “blindsiding.”  If you are going to share something potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable about your partner, you must get permission from them BEFORE the meeting.

2. Don’t unpack what you can’t re-pack.

I, Rich, first heard this advice from a professional therapist who was speaking at my school (yes, teachers do a LOT of therapy!). He was using the analogy of unpacking and re-packing a suitcase to describe what to do when a student shares feelings about a difficult event in their lives – divorce, abuse, suicide attempts. The therapist’s advice? Don’t let the student share more than you, the teacher, can help them with… which is usually not much. The idea is to help them “re-pack” the feelings they are having and take them to a professional, a counselor. When a couple reveals a deeply traumatic event – and it is obvious that they have not processed it, understood their feelings about it and the consequences of it – it is better to just listen to them, help them “re-pack” their feelings, and then suggest that this is something to speak with a professional about. We are not professionally trained counselors, and it is not our place to try and heal a broken psyche. We have often advised couples to seek professional help, explaining that we also have benefited from counseling.

3. Ask  probing questions.

Mentors cannot shy away from asking the hard, penetrating questions. The most common is “How did that make you feel?”  Young couples tend to be unaware of their deeper feelings, or they flat out hide them so as not to shatter the euphoria they are experiencing.  Yet hurtful things are said and need to be addressed.  Values and beliefs are revealed and need to be faced.

4. Eat.

Our best times with young couples have always been over food.  Perhaps it is the wine that loosens the tongues a bit, or perhaps it is the warmth of a well-lit table and the feeling of family. The conversations just seem to be better, the trust deeper.

5. Pray.

We believe that God brings couples together, and that he has a plan for them.  We will sometimes look at a couple and say to each other, “Those two?  Really?”  But God sees the deeper hearts, and He has a plan.  We ask couples to allow us to pray for them and over them, for “God, the best maker of all marriages” knows better than we what is needed.

6. Use other people’s stuff.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or design a curriculum. Beg, borrow, and steal from the experts! These are books and websites we have used or recommended:

a.  Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  There is a book and 2 workbooks, one for the guys and one for the girls.

b.  Sheet Music  by Dr. Kevin Leman is a great book on sexual intimacy.

c.  Dr. John Trent’s Personality Styles – see strong  We love Dr. Trent’s use of the “Lion, Otter, Beaver, Retriever” personality descriptions.  We can understand and use them.

d.  The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a must for any couple.

e.  Preparing for Marriage by Boehl, Nelson, Schulte, and Shadrach takes a deeper spiritual look at preparing for marriage.

f.  51 Creative Ideas for Marriage Mentors by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.  Our son- in-law gave us this book (no, we did not mentor them), and it has wonderful ideas to spice up your meeting times.

We are glad the Petersons asked us, and asked us again, to mentor them. We never could have imagined how good it would be for our own marriage to partner with a young couple just starting out and wanting so much to #staymarried.

Five for Five

After my last post, I was challenged to move past the concept of the love languages and offer some practical tips. So, here goes…

Five tips for each of the
Five Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

  1. Be specific. Instead of “You look great” try “I really like your hair like that” or “Those jeans make your butt look good.”
  2. Send a text, just because.
  3. When you buy a gift, WRITE something personal in the card.
  4. Compliment your spouse to your friends.
  5. Compliment your spouse to your kids.

Quality Time

  1. Turn off your mobile device (laptop, iPad, smart phone) during dinner or on a date. Better yet – leave it in another room.
  2. Ask about their day and don’t be distracted while they answer.
  3. Ask them on a date and plan it out – babysitter, restaurant, a walk in the city.
  4. Block out time on your calendar, even without specific plans, just to be together. Don’t let your time get gobbled up by plans with other people.
  5. Take a walk in your own neighborhood after dinner, removing yourselves from the usual busyness and chores of being home.

Receiving Gifts

  1. Get them something they can enjoy, not just something they need.
  2. Remember their favorite candy and pick it up as you leave the grocery store.
  3. Wrap a small gift – even when it’s not their birthday or holiday.
  4. DO NOT forgo a gift on a birthday or holiday.
  5. Build a collection – make a tradition of a certain type of gift over time.

Acts of Service

  1. Take care of a chore that’s typically on their list.
  2. Wash and clean out the car they usually drive.
  3. Finish that home improvement task that’s been lingering.
  4. Open the door for her – rush to get there before her!
  5. Warm up the car and scrape the windshield in the winter.

Physical Touch

  1. Run your fingers through her hair, or scratch her head.
  2. Sit close on the couch when you’re watching your favorite show.
  3. Squeeze tighter and longer than usual when you hug.
  4. Hold hands when you’re in the car together.
  5. Initiate sex and focus on serving your spouse when you’re in bed.

Tony and I came up with these just by bouncing ideas back and forth one afternoon. The reality is, your spouse will be the best person to share with you what you can do to express love to them. Ask them about this list. Ask them if any of these ideas appeal to them. We’d love to hear some of your tips, too! Feel free to share your tips, ideas, and experiences below in the Comments section. We’re learning these love languages because we want to show love in a way our spouse can appreciate so that we can #staymarried.

Speaking my Language

My mother, sister, and I moved in with my grandparents when I was three years old, after my parents’ separation. My grandparents are from Mexico, immigrated to the US when my mother was just a little girl. Spanish is their primary language and, though I was just a toddler, it was not mine. My sister and I only spoke and understood English. My grandparents speak English also, but they are much more comfortable with Spanish. It’s their daily parlance, it’s how they talk with each other and to their friends. So, in come these little blue and green-eyed girls who are totally baffled by their language and really only respond when they speak to us in our language.

By the time I was five, I was fairly fluent in Spanish. I understood most of what my family was saying and even mustered up the courage to join in a conversation here and there. I remember how patient both my grandparents were as my sister and I ate breakfast with them. They sat together, having their usual over breakfast conversations and I constantly interrupted. “What does ‘allamayhor’ mean? What is that word? Wait, how do you say ‘yellow’?” So patient, they would stop their conversation and teach me. I was eager to learn, proud of myself when I began to grasp it. Learning to speak Spanish opened up a whole other world for me and I loved it. I even began to have dreams in Spanish and they say that’s one of the signs of fluency. Speaking their native language made me feel closer to my grandparents, whom I call “Lita” and “Lito.”

Do you ever feel like your spouse has their own language that you are on the outside of? Like you are learning how to speak “Husband” only to be misinterpreted or accidentally use the wrong phrase? Well, you might not be too far off. According to marriage expert and author Dr. Gary Chapman, there are Five Love Languages , and if we want to grow closer to our spouses, it’s pretty important that we at least learn theirs.

According to his book, these are the Five Love Languages:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Quality Time
3. Receiving Gifts
4. Acts of Service
5. Physical Touch

You can take this quiz online to find out your primary love languages.

Now, you really should read the book. His insights are incredible, far deeper than anything I can sum up in a blog. But, I will share this with you:  You and your spouse most likely show and receive love using just two out of these five languages. Not that they aren’t all important, or that you don’t use them all at varying degrees, but your primary love languages are the ones in which you most easily receive and express  love.

Also, it’s likely that your primary love languages and the primary love languages of our spouse are not the same. Not the same! What that means is that you might be speaking love to him in Spanish and forget that his primary language is English – he doesn’t feel loved! I know. CRAZY! So, for starters, take the quiz. Ask your spouse to take it also. Then, when you find out what your love languages are, think together of ways you can communicate love to each other. Don’t concentrate on the fact that your language is “Words of Affirmation” and you’re married to a woman who is quiet and solitary and hardly talks. DO concentrate on the realization that your wife is “Acts of Service” and begin SHOWING your love to her by getting the oil changed on the car instead of telling her all about it.

As you learn to love your spouse the way they understand love, you will feel closer to them. Your heart will grow for them and your frustration may even go down as you put the pieces together that they may have been trying to show you love all this time, but it was in their own language and not in yours. Begin to concentrate on speaking their language and communicate to your spouse that you are eager to #staymarried.