Why We Love to Complain
Yesterday, we talked about the first reason we like to complain about others (as opposed to confronting face-to-face): we can feel a sense of community with those who share, or validate, our complaints. Yes, this is a commiseration, a community of the miserable, but it at least feels productive.
This is where the second reason we complain enters in. See, taking our complaints to someone else (someone other than the person we are complaining about) feels like we are actually doing something about the issue. We feel energized, validated, and connected, so it must be productive, right?
Actually, no. In fact, just the opposite. It turns out that complaining to someone else is almost always the opposite of doing something productive—truth is, it’s the thing we do in order to excuse ourselves from doing something productive. See, having a complaint isn’t bad in and of itself. What we do with that complaint, however, is what makes the biggest difference in our relationships. What most of us need to learn is that in order to experience the life we want most, we have to learn to confront more, and complain less.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that confrontation is not normally pleasant. Actually addressing your complaint, to the person you have the complaint against, can be very uncomfortable. It can produce the opposite immediate feelings of just complaining—instead of feeling energized, confrontation can leave you feeling exhausted. Instead of feeling connected, confrontation can leave you feeling all alone and on your own.
Sounds fantastic, eh? If such exhaustion and aloneness were a possible result, why would anyone ever choose confrontation? Good question. And here’s a good answer: Because the good feelings we get from complaining are temporary, and eventually leave us feeling miserable. And surrounded by equally miserable people. Learning to calmly address our complaints through authentic confrontation, however, has the opposite effect: potentially uncomfortable and lonely at first, but stronger and more genuinely connected later.
So, if we bravely choose to confront, in a way that actually leads to more genuine feelings of contentment and connection, how do we do it? Well, there are a number of ways that people will practice confrontation, but there’s one way that has always seemed to me to produce the best results. In fact, my wife and I endorse this way so much we actually put it in the marriage book we wrote together. We even came up with a big, high-fallutin’ name for it:
Let’s keep this going tomorrow, folks. Hopefully, you’re enjoying this as much as I am.
Peace begins with pause,