Its Paradoxical – Marriage Complaints Bring Real Intimacy in Couples Therapy

Recently, I have had to give the same intervention and recommendation to several couples who are in marriage therapy.  The intervention might surprise you as much as it surprises them: complain more and fight more!  This is a paradoxical intervention for couples who have grown apart.

A wife recently told me that whenever her husband annoys her, she thinks about whether she should tell him or not.  Ultimately, she decides it is not a big deal so she does not say anything!  Good Lord, she would be in utter shock if she spent a day at my house.  Big deal.  Little Deal.  Medium Deal.  My husband and I discuss a lot of stuff, and not all of it is positive.  For example, it annoys me that he is so particular about only having one jug of milk (or jar of pickles or bottle of ketchup) open at a time.  Sure, in theory I think we should have only one open as well but sometimes I am just not paying attention.  If you are laughing at how goofy it is that we discuss what is open in the refrigerator, well then just imagine me at my job.  People bring up this kind of stuff in their marriage counseling sessions all. the. time.  Maybe it sounds negative and whiny; but actually whining has its positive side.  When my husband is annoyed that I opened up a second jug of milk before the first one was finished, he tells me.  I then tell him that I am annoyed because I think it should be acceptable to have two jugs open if it is not ideal.  No sense in building up resentments over milk jugs! This may seem silly, but some of this stuff is part of intimacy.  It is part of knowing each other – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And without these whiny little complaints, resentments grow – even about the stuff that may seem like such a small thing that people don’t even bother to bring it up.

I am not saying that people should not pick their battles. Of course, they should.  But they shouldn’t pick too sparingly!  There should be regular battles and complaints and expressions of annoyance.  Research by Dr. John Gottman, a marriage expert has found that a ratio of 5:1 is important for a successful romantic relationship.  Here is a link to learn more about Gottman’s recommendations for the 5:1 Ratio in marriage:

I encourage my couples who are in marriage therapy or couples therapy to have 5 positive interactions (a hug, a thank you, a compliment, an offer to get the other person’s coffee) to every 1 negative interaction (a complaint, a comment about whatever your partner did that was irritating).  My conflict avoidant couples have trouble with the 1 part of this ratio.

So, by all means be sure to file your complaint at the relationship repair counter.  Get it out there on the table!  It may seem negative, but it is a part of keeping your relationship vital and passionate.  Make it a point to tell your sweetheart how he or she got on your nerves that day.  Because sure as can be, he or she most likely did get on your nerves at least once.  Unless of course you are leading separate lives.  Which I hope you are not, because those milk jug discussions can be pretty funny at some point later in the day (making them a positive interaction in the 5 part of the Ratio) – and they are a part of real intimacy and true relationship success!



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