Tag Archive for complaints

Learn to Complain Well

Complaining can easily become a habit that traps us in a cycle of finding even more reasons to complain. That cycle is bad for our mood, our health, and even our brain… UNLESS we learn to complain well!

Complaining well has a different purpose and outcome than simply complaining. Simply complaining traps us in the self-perpetuating cycle of negativity that feeds negative expectations and attracts even more negative experiences. How can we complain well and break out of this cycle of complaining? Here are 3 tips to help you do just that.

First, determine what you can and cannot control. Rather than complain and worry about what lies outside your control, focus on what you can control. You cannot control what other people do or say. You can control your response to other people. You cannot control the weather. You can control how you dress for the weather. Notice, those areas we can control tend to evolve around ourselves, not others. Focus on those areas you can control and take action to make a change.

Second, practice gratitude and appreciation. Learn to view your desire to complain as a signal, a light on the dashboard of your “car of life,” that warns you of the need to “fill up” your tank with gratitude and appreciation. When the signal arises (when you feel like complaining) fill up the tank by thinking about those things you appreciate and those for which you can be grateful. Then start sharing your gratitude and appreciation.

Third, voice your complaint with a goal toward resolution. This 4-step plan can help you do this.

  1. Assess why the situation arouses your desire to complain. What value or expectation is being infringed upon? Is it a reasonable expectation?
  2. Determine what you would like instead. What action would better align with your values or expectations? Is it possible and within your control? Is it reasonable?
  3. Give a solution with an appropriate boundary. If it is possible, how can the solution be achieved? Can you enact the solution alone or do you require assistance? If the solution is not accepted, how will you respond? Are you willing and able to respond in this way?
  4. Calmly verbalize this to whoever else is involved. If there is no one else involved in the situation, simply determine what action you can and will take to remedy the aspects of the situation over which you have influence.

At first glance, this may seem more difficult than simply venting and complaining. In fact, complaining is easy. It just doesn’t do anything but make us feel worse. And, habits take intentional effort to change. Changing the habit of complaining is no different. However, changing the habit of complaining will add to your happiness and your health. Perhaps more important, it will enhance your family’s happiness and health. It will improve your relationship with your spouse. And you know that’s nothing to complain about!

Why Do I Have To Do Everything?!

Have you ever asked this question? You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper. Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest. Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very words.  One day, however, I had an epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind. It’s my fault.  My frustration and fear about “having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,” I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me share what I learned.

  • I do not live with mind readers. No one in my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK, I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?” “I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.”  Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
  • I’m not called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family, but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know, radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell them.
  • It’s alright to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our household.
  • I need to be honest with myself. To be completely honest with you and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household.  I need to develop the habit of noticing what they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.

Four realization and four actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling too. 

There’s a Killer Loose in Your Family

There’s a killer loose in the family! He’s popping up everywhere: on the news, in social media, from other people. He may live in your home. He may even live in you! Every time he mutters his loathsome words he vandalizes our brains, packing down a neural rut leading to pain and misery. In time he will establish a rut so deep that just a word or even a look will send your whole family tumbling down the pathway toward more of the same agitation, misery, and depression! Who is this vandal? The Constant Complainer! That’s right. Constant complaining creates a neural pathway in our brains that makes complaining easier and more likely to occur. In time it will even become the default pathway…a highway leading straight to agitation, misery, and depression for everyone in the family. It doesn’t matter if the Constant Complainer is a Venter, a Chronic Complainer, or a Sympathy Seeker the result is the same. They suck the energy out of the whole family and leave everyone feeling empty, agitated, and miserable (Read Research Shows That Physically Complaining Rewires Your Brain to be Depressed and Anxious for more). I do have good news though. You can kick the Constant Complainer out of your family by practicing these skills.

  1. Change your expectations. Generally, complaining is unproductive. It accomplishes nothing but increasing frustration, misery, depression, and anxiety for you and everyone around you. In college I hated to wash clothes and I complained about it every time. My complaining fueled my hatred and increased my misery each time I had to wash my clothes. Then it dawned on me. Complain or not, I still have to wash clothes…or stink. Might as well accept it and figure out a way to enjoy it. I changed my expectation from “this is wasting my time” to “at least it gives me a chance to read my book or talk with friends.” I still don’t jump for joy to wash clothes, but I do it without complaint.  Sometimes we have to change our expectations.
  2. If you are going to complain, do it right! Rather than complain for complaining’s sake, make sure you have a positive goal in mind. Pause and think about the reason you want to complain and what you want to accomplish. What is underlying your complaint: anger, frustration, hurt, irritation? What do you really want to see changed to make things better? Who would be the right person to take your concern to? What solution can you offer when you voice your concern? These questions will help you do more than just complain constantly. They will help you find a way to remedy the problem and reach an outcome that will bring you satisfaction. (Read Five Mistakes We Make When Complaining for more details)
  3. Share gratitude. Don’t get stuck in the rut of complaining when you don’t have the power to change something. Instead, think about what you have to be thankful for. For instance, rather than complain about the traffic, be grateful you have a car and can go so many places. Rather than complain about having to do the dishes, be grateful you have dishes and the opportunity to enjoy the delicious meals that result in dirty dishes. Rather than complain about your spouse, consider what they do for your family and you. Be grateful. Make it a habit to voice your gratitude to others. Rather than packing down a neural rut of complaining you will establish a neural highway of joyful gratitude.
  4. Think about the positive memories of your life and family. Even though this is similar to sharing gratitude it adds another positive neural highway to help eliminate complaining from your home. Ponder the positive memories of family vacations. Contemplate the intimate conversations with your wife. Dwell on the memories of laughter with your children. Create more positive memories by participating in family game nights, vacations, outings, family dinners, and family celebrations. Each time you engage in a family activity, intentionally focus on the positive times you are enjoying and the joyous memories you are creating.

Practice these four actions and you will get that killer, the Constant Complainer, out of your home. You will replace those neural ruts of complaining with neural highways to joy and intimacy.

The Killer Wall in Your Marriage

Defensiveness can kill a marriage. Think about it. One spouse, feeling attacked by the other, begins to defend himself and his actions. He builds a wall of defense between him Pointing fingers at each otherand his spouse rather than around him and his spouse. He thinks of protecting himself, not his marriage.  By establishing a wall of protection between him and his wife, he sends an implicit message that he will not accept her influence. The wall between them grows taller and thicker with each defensive experience. The couple grows more divided. Trust is breached. Overtime, this stance of defensiveness will build a wall strong enough to kill a marriage.

We want to tear down the wall of defensiveness between spouses and build a wall of protection around their marriage. Both spouses generally play a role in creating defensiveness; and both spouses need to play a role in ending that defensiveness. Here are 5 ways to decrease defensiveness in your marriage and assure a wall of protection is built around you and your spouse rather than between you and your spouse.

  • Cherish your spouse. Do something to let your spouse know you cherish her every day. Thank her for what she does to maintain your home. Acknowledge her wisdom and care in parenting and caring for you. Recognize and voice your respect for the work she accomplishes on the job, in your home, and in the community. Let your daily words and actions reflect how much you cherish your spouse.
  • Build trust with your spouse. The kisses when you part and the hugs when you reunite build trust. Completing the chores you said you would to complete and keeping the promises (large and small) you made build trust. Spending time laughing, playing, working, and just being with your spouse and children every day builds trust. Trust is built on the little things done throughout the day every day.
  • Each spouse can decrease defensiveness by taking responsibility for his or her actions. Listen for the kernel of truth in what you perceive as an accusation. It may be small, but accept even the smallest role you played in creating the situation. Acknowledge your part. Take responsibility. Apologize.
  • Accept your spouse’s influence by committing to change your part in the situation. As you do, your spouse will feel heard and understood. Feeling heard increases the desire for intimacy…and isn’t that what you really want in your marriage?
  • Complain instead of criticize. (Read For a Healthy Marriage Complain, Don’t Criticize). A criticism accuses, blames, and defames. A complaint focuses on the behavior you want to change. Focus on the behavior, not the person, when you bring up a concern.

Practice these five actions and you will build a wall of protection around your marriage rather than a wall of defense.

For a Healthy Marriage Complain

Let’s face it. No matter how much you love your spouse, he will drive you crazy. At other times, she will do things that frustrate you. Somehow these moments need to be addressed in order to maintain a healthy marriage. If not addressed, these frustrations will erode your Pointing fingers at each othermarriage. People in healthy marriages address these frustrations and concerns with complaints, not criticism. It’s true. They complain. They do not criticize. There’s a big difference. A complaint addresses a specific unmet need. It identifies a specific action or statement that irritates you and leaves the need to feel loved and connected unmet. A criticism, on the other hand, attacks character. It makes a global statement about the other person’s shortcomings, demeaning or belittling them. When a discussion begins with a criticism, it is sure to end poorly. The one criticized is tempted to rise up in defense, which perpetuates a cycle of decline and disconnection unless repairs are made. So, if you want a healthy, happy marriage, state your concerns as complaints, not criticisms. Here is a format for offering a complaint rather than a criticism.

  1. Realize that your frustration or irritation speaks more about you than anyone else. Other people may see the same action and not be bothered. They may simply let it “roll off their backs.” The fact that it bothers you reveals that you have a specific need. You want to get help with this specific need, not attack your spouse.
  2. With a calm voice, state your observation of a specific action or behavior that creates a need. “When I came home from work the last two days, dishes were piled up in the sink.”
  3. State the impact this behavior has on you, but do so without placing blame. The impact will identify your emotions in response to this behavior and a need created by this behavior. “I get really frustrated when I’m tired and see all those dishes. I think about how much I have to do and I get angry.”
  4. Offer a positive way your spouse could help meet your need. “If we could all put our dishes in the dishwasher when we use them it would really help me feel better.”
  5. Ask for your spouse’s input about other ways you could work together to meet the need. “Would you be willing to do that or do you have another idea for how we could work together to keep the sink clear?”

Remember, you are approaching this situation to get a positive need met, not to attack your spouse. When you voice a concern with a complaint rather than a criticism, you are limiting the chance of a defensive response and increasing the chance of getting your need met. You also open the door to work together. You increase intimacy and trust in your marriage. So, when problems arise in your marriage, don’t criticize. Complain instead.

Prime Your Children for Success

Many skills can boost your children’s success, but the ability to communicate well is one of the most important. Effective communication will boost your children’s chance of success in personal life and vocational life.

  • couple talking with can telephoneClear communication will enable your children to effectively express their needs and ideas.
  • Effective communication will empower your children to manage their emotions, harnessing the energy of emotion to work toward a goal they can clearly express.
  • Effective communication involves listening. Good listeners gain a better understanding of other people’s needs and ideas. They respond to those needs and ideas in a practical and useful manner. This decreases conflict.
  • Effective communicators listen in a way that builds relationship and leads to greater intimacy.
  • Effective communicators learn better. They listen well and know how to clearly and politely ask for clarification when needed.


Knowing effective communication is essential to your children’s success is one thing; but, how can we teach them to listen well and express thoughts clearly? As with most skills we want our children to learn, the most efficient way to teach them is through every day activities and games. Let me share some examples.

  • The next time you take your children to the park or a local ice cream shop, let them give you the directions to your destination. Follow their directions to the letter, encouraging them to clarify as needed.
  • Play telephone. You know the game. Everyone stands in a circle. The first person whispers a message into the ear of another person, who whispers it in the ear of the next person, and so on around the circle until the message is whispered one final time into the ear of the person who started the process. Will the message remain the same? Depends on how well we listen and how clearly we repeat a message.
  • Simon Says is another game that promotes good listening.
  • Take turns telling stories during dinner. You can tell stories about “a day in our life” or share stories you have read, watched on TV, or heard from others.
  • Play games based on the development and acting out of stories. Playing dolls, dress up, teacher, princess, or mom offer wonderful opportunities to develop communication skills. Encouraging your children to put on a play is another example of activities with a strong theme of communication.
  • Allow your children to blindfold you and your spouse. After you are sufficiently blindfolded, they can give each of you a bowl of ice cream. Then, your children can verbally direct you in feeding one another. You might want to start with something less messy…like popcorn.
  • Encourage your child to speak politely and clearly when ordering in a restaurant. This includes making good eye contact and enunciating while remaining polite.
  • Role play approaching a clerk or teacher with a concern or complaint. You play the clerk or teacher and coach your children in voicing their concern and complaint. Then, accompany them to meet with this person. Let them do the speaking. Your presence merely offers support.


As you can see, these ideas represent every day activities and games. I’ve listed only a few ideas; I’m sure you can think of many more. When you do these activities, you will have fun learning to communicate. You will have provided your child with practical experience in effective communication. You have primed them for success.

3 Steps to Sweet Complaining

Person Annoyed by Others TalkingIt had been a long day. I came home from work exhausted and the moment I walked in the door–BOOM—my spouse bombarded me with questions: “Did you put the concert in your calendar?” “Do you know where that receipt is?” “School’s cancelled tomorrow. Will you be home?” “Kaitlyn got invited to….” My head began to spin and I began to hear the sounds adults make on Charlie Brown…”Blah, blah-blah blah, blah.” I had a little question of my own to answer: How do I escape? I wanted to scream…or turn around and walk back out the door to get a breather…or go into the bathroom and “pretend to be occupied by the call of nature.” I don’t know…I had to do something though!


Have you ever run into a situation like that, a situation in which you have a legitimate complaint but you don’t know how to address it? We all have. I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” recently (an excellent movie, by the way) and was reminded of an excellent solution. Mary Poppins gives the solution when she sings “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…in the most delightful way.” Complaints, like many medicines, have a bitter taste to the one receiving it. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth, elicits defensiveness, and can make a person feel unappreciated. The residual bad taste, feelings of defensiveness, and a feeling of being unappreciated make it difficult for the person receiving the complaint to hear it or understand it. Instead, they might feel hurt or angry. You can avoid this by offering the complaint in “a spoonful of sugar!” Here is how to do it.


First, step back for a moment and think about the other person’s intent. What are they trying to accomplish with the behavior that you want to complain about? What contributes to their action? In my example, my wife is an incredible planner and organizer. Without her planning I would not get near as much done as I do and our family would miss out on so many opportunities. The positive intention of her behavior is making sure our family is on the same page, that I do not miss any important events, and the each person’s needs are met.


Second, appreciate and admire that intention. Take a moment to realize the benefit of the other person’s work. Allow it soak in. admire that person for their desire to bring something good and positive into your life. In my example, I can appreciate how smoothly our family functions and how many activities and opportunities we engaged in because of my wife’s planning. I can admire her for her selfless work in making our family life better.


African American Couple Laughing On The FloorThird, tell the other person. Tell them how much you admire and appreciate them (step two). Then, convert your complaint into a simple statement of need.  Explain in one statement what your family member can do to help you. A practical example from my situation…”I really appreciate how you keep things organized for our family. In fact, I am amazed at how much we are able to do because of your efforts and how much you accomplish. One of the things I love about you is your ability to organize and how you use that ability to help our family do so many fun things. And, I am glad to answer questions. But, when I come home could we postpone the questions until we greet each other and have 10-15 minutes of down time and small talk?” There it is, a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down…in the most delightful way.


Quit complaining. Offer your legitimate concerns with a spoonful of sugar. A little love and admiration and a practical statement helps a concern “go down…in the most delightful way.”

Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day…Make It Bearable Anyway

When you find yourself in an argument or disagreement (notice how I say “find myself” in an argument; I never start one…well, maybe once in a while…alright, alright, so even when I start an argument) with another family member, how can you make it bearable? Who is responsible to make it “go well”—the ones who starts it or the ones who finds themselves in the midst of it? Dr. Gottman suggests that both people in the argument (the speaker and the listener) hold responsibility for the outcome; both are responsible to make the argument end well. Here are the 9 ways to help an argument end well, 4 tips for the speaker and 5 tips for the listener.

 First, the Speaker’s responsibility includes:

·     State your feelings in as neutral a manner as possible. Remain objective and state your feelings in a “soft manner” rather than an intense emotional manner. Intense emotion may overwhelm your spouse and make it difficult for them to hear what you are saying.

·     Avoid making “you statements.” “You statements” tend to blame, accuse, and attack your spouse. “You statements” will more often result in defensiveness from your spouse, escalating the argument. Avoid them as much as possible.  

·     Instead, use “I” statements to state how you feel in this specific situation. Really, the only person you can honestly report on is yourself. So, stick with “I statements” about yourself, not “you statements” about your spouse. Also, stick to one specific situation at a time.  No need to throw in the kitchen sink. Stay specific and deal with one situation at a time.

·     Convert your complaint about the other person into a positive need (or what your spouse can do to help). This offers your spouse a plan of action, a way to help remedy the situation. It reveals something about you to your spouse, increasing intimacy with your spouse.

         When the Speaker follows these four tips, it will change the whole feel of the argument.  Instead of saying, “Here’s what’s wrong with you” and “This is what you need to stop” you  will be saying, “Here’s what I feel” and “Here is a positive thing I need from you.”

 Second, the Listener’s responsibility includes:

      ·     Remember your spouse’s “enduring vulnerabilities”—their triggers, buttons, troubling memories, etc. Remembering your spouse’s “enduring vulnerabilities” will help shape your response to them. You can honor your spouse by avoiding the sarcastic or implied statements that push buttons and flip triggers. You can show love by responding with comments that calm their “enduring vulnerabilities.” 

·     Turn toward your partner by postponing your own agenda. You will still get to talk about your concerns, but postpone talking for the moment so you can listen. Have the grace to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This will endear you to your spouse and reduce the conflict.

·     Make understanding your spouse the goal. Instead of working to make sure your spouse understands your point of view, be gracious and work to understand their point of view. Let them have the first and last word!

·     Listen non-defensively by postponing your response and getting in touch with your partner’s pain or emotion. Listen to understand how this situation has made them feel. Underneath all the anger, do they feel unloved, devalued, unworthy, abandoned, inadequate?

·     Empathize—respond to their underlying feeling with compassion and empathy. Assure them of your love and respect. Reaffirm your commitment and respond to their feelings with reassurance. You will find it helps everyone remain calm when you can summarize your partner’s view and validate it with a sentence like…“I understand why you feel… because …”

 As an added bonus, here are 3 tips for both the Listener and Speaker:

1.    If you identify a negative quality in your partner, look for that same quality in yourself.

2.    If you identify a positive quality in yourself, look for that same quality in your partner.

3.    Look for the similar desires and intents throughout the argument.

Follow these tips and you will find your arguments become the best part of the day…alright, so I exaggerate…a lot. But, honestly, follow these tips and you will find the arguments resolve more quickly and more productively. They become opportunities for growing intimacy…and making up will be a whole lot more fun!

12 Roadblocks to Communicating With Your Teen

Parents want to talk with their teens but teens are often hesitant to approach their parents. Part of our teens’ hesitancy may stem from responses they have received from us, their parents, in the past. Perhaps past responses have communicated a lack of trust or acceptance. Maybe they felt blamed by us or made to feel wrong by our response. I’m sure we, as parents, do not intend to send those messages; but we do, even if we do so unintentionally. And, those subtle, unintentional messages put up roadblocks to communication. They close the bridge to intimacy with our teen. I want to warn you about 12 such communication roadblocks that Thomas Gordon identified. Once you know them, you can work to avoid them…and increase the communication with your teen. Here they are:

      ·    Excessive commands and directives communicate a lack of trust in our teen and a disbelief in their ability to do what is right or needed at the moment.

·    Constantly warning and threatening our teen with consequences builds a wall of fear between us and them. When we warn and threaten our teens, we build resentment and invite our teen to test the real bite (the truth) of the warning or threat.

·    Moralizing and lecturing often increases feelings of guilt in a teen—a sense that he is “bad.” Communicating in this way often leads to rebellion against the “shoulds,” “oughts,” and “musts” that parents generously sow throughout the moralizing lecture.

·    Giving solutions and unsolicited advice sends the message that we have no confidence in our teen’s judgment or ability to find a solution independently. If teens “buy” the message about their lack of ability to solve problems on their own, they may become overly dependent on others.

·    Giving logical arguments can backfire, sending the message that we believe our teen “doesn’t know anything.” Constantly giving logical arguments makes our teen think we consider them stupid, inadequate, or inferior. And, a teen may go to drastic measures just to prove the argument wrong and so prove his point.

·    Criticizing (judging) and blaming makes a teen feel inferior, unworthy, devalued, and bad. Critical, blaming statements evoke counter-criticisms from teens in an effort to save face. Criticize, judge, or blame and welcome an argument. 

·    Praising can have several negative effects. Check out How to Ruin Your Child with Praise
to see some of these negative effects.

·    Name-calling, ridicule and shame all have a devastating effect on any teen’s self-image.

·    Analyzing and diagnosing (i.e., telling a teen what their motive or feeling is) sends the message that “I know you better than you know yourself. If you disagree, you are wrong.” This intrusive communication style only leaves one way for a teen to become their own person—rebel!

·    Reassuring and consoling discounts your teen’s emotions and sends a message of our own discomfort with difficult emotions. It informs our teens that our emotional comfort is more important than accepting their emotional struggle and connecting with them in that struggle.

·    Questioning and interrogating…who likes to be interrogated? Many teens shut down in response to what they perceive as too many questions. Try sitting with a little silence and allow your teen time to talk.

·    Distracting and diverting can make teens feel like you are minimizing their pain, excitement, concerns, or joys. They feel unheard and devalued.

 When parents consistently respond to their teen in these 12 ways, walls arise, roadblocks get put in place, communication suffers, and intimacy falters. You might be asking, “If these 12 things block communication, what can I do to enhance communication?” I’m glad you asked! To enhance communication, use “simple door-openers.” Respond with statements that open the door to more communication…statements like “really,” “That’s interesting,” “Hmmmm.” These “simple door-openers” reveal your interest in and acceptance of what your teen is saying. They focus on your teen’s ideas, feelings, and judgments rather than your own (See 5 Ways to Look out for Number 1). That paves the way for conversation, bridges the communication gap, and creates intimate relationships!

4 Ingredients for a Happy Family

I discovered a new recipe for Happy Family. No, I’m not talking about the Chinese dish, although I would enjoy Happy Family for dinner tonight (click here for a recipe for the “edible happy family”)…well, both the dish and the family come to think of it. Anyway, I am talking about a simple way you can turn your family into a happy family. This recipe works especially well in the heat of conflict. 


First, realize that conflict is often too hot to handle. Cool it down with a neutralizer. State what has upset you in as neutral a tone as possible. To help you stay neutral, avoid statements beginning with “you.” Making comments like “You drive me crazy,” “You always mess things up,” “You’re so stupid,” or “You make me so mad…” only adds heat to the recipe, threatens to scorch the relationship and burn your family. Instead, turn down the heat by making more neutral comments. Start these comments with an “I” instead of a “you” and simply state how you feel in this specific situation in as neutral a tone as possible.  “I’m really upset right now,” “I am worried that this will end badly,” “I am hurt by that statement,” and similar statements will go a long way in keeping the heat of conflict to a moderate level. And, in all reality, these comments speak the truth more accurately. They truthfully express how you feel rather than making assumptive statements that exaggerate the other person’s faults.


Second, replace your complaint or criticism with a positive action the other person can take to help. Rather than throwing bitter blame, sour complaints, or overly-spicy name-calling into the recipe mix, state what positive thing your family can do to help. State what you want rather than what you don’t want. Stating your “positive need” (what you do want) infuses a solution into the recipe mix and adds the sweet opportunity for an expression of love. And, as John Gottman says, “Stating your positive need is a recipe for success.”


Third, add listening to the recipe as a stabilizer. Without stabilizing the family in the midst of conflict, those involved will “weep” and separate. Listening acts as a stabilizer, binding us to one another and helping all the ingredients, including the people, stick together. Listen carefully and non-defensively with the goal of understanding the other person’s emotions and pain.


Finally, add the calming sweetener of empathy. As you listen non-defensively, summarize your partner’s point of view. Validate the other person by repeating the meaning of what they have said and labeling the emotion behind what they have said. Summarize their perspective with a simple sentence or two.


Combine these 4 ingredients over the heat of conflict, mix gently, and you will enjoy a Happy Family. You know, I got a little hungry writing this. I think I’ll go practice these 4 ingredients with my wife. Then, we can work together on the recipe for the Happy Family dish. Tonight, we can sit down as a Happy Family for a serving of Happy Family. Sounds like a happy time.

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