What Do I Do If My Partner is Constantly Complaining?

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I’ve received a few emails as of late asking this question (oftentimes coupled with the question of “how/why would I validate someone if I disagree?“), and I thought it might be helpful to publicly answer, for any others who may be wondering the same. Here is one of those emails:


First of all, thank you for taking the time to write a book about your super power. Your super power has been my kryptonite for a very long time.

I’m not very good at empathy, and not very good at validation unless I feel something needs [to be] validated. I have a Bachelor’s in psychology, and have read many self help books. I am happy 90% of the time and love my life.

But I do not communicate well with my spouse because of my lack of validation. I have known I need to work on this for years and finally bought your book to try to start on my journey.

Can I share with you my struggle? I have 2 issues with validation.

First, I hate validating something I don’t feel deserves validation.

Let’s say “hypothetically” 🙂 that “someone’s” spouse spends a majority of conversations with their spouse complaining about how the kids ruined their day, and they are overwhelmed and stressed and tired and don’t feel good.

Years ago, this couple discussed that the spouse needed to make sure they were taking time to take care of self. Nutrition, exercise, breaks from the kids, boundaries around social media needed to be put in place for them to feel better. Years later, still the same complaining, but they haven’t taken all the steps that they know they need to take to feel better. So when they share their feelings, I do not validate them, I don’t even look at them cuz I don’t want them to feel the anger in my eyes.

I know they know what they need to do to fix it, and the fact that they aren’t doing it is making my life worse. That makes me feel frustrated, not supportive. If I just continue to validate, I feel I am enabling them to continue not taking action.

Any light to shine here? (This one prob just needs some marriage counseling 🙂 )

The second question will prob be easier for you to answer.

I have a fear that if I validate my spouse’s feelings, I will become their venting box.

I make it a point to not vent to my spouse (or anyone else for that matter… Except right now to you apparently hahaha!) because I don’t believe it’s their job to listen to my negativity so that I can feel better.

I honestly fear a life of coming home from work to listen to all the things that went wrong in my spouse’s day and how the kids did this or that and then I say “oh, I’m so sorry. That sounds hard” and then rinse and repeat most days of the week. I want our interactions to be positive. Not negative. Am I wrong in thinking that it shouldn’t be my job to listen to their (or anyone else’s) negativity so that they can feel better?

Any light you could shine on those two things would be more than appreciated.

Again, well written book. I SUPER appreciate you not making it long and full of fluff that didn’t need to be there.
Hope to hear from you soon!

Thanks for your time!

A Grateful Reader

* * *

Hi Grateful Reader,

Thank you for sharing some of the struggle with me. That’s definitely a tough spot to be in—an immediate “solution” didn’t arise for me either. With that said, here are my thoughts:

Concern #1: “I hate validating something I don’t feel deserves validation.”

I’m 100% with you here. What I’d suggest first and foremost is looking at that concern slightly differently. Rather than judging whether or not the “issue” is deserving of validation, ask yourself whether your spouse deserves validation. Do they deserve to feel heard and understood? Or would you like them to feel that way? I would expect your answer to be “yes,” because you love them. The beautiful (yet also tricky) thing about validation is that it’s about the person, not the issue.

What I mean by that is this: it doesn’t matter what the issue at hand is. It could be the craziest, most bizarre fear imaginable, and it doesn’t change the fact that they—your spouse—needs to feel heard and understood before they’ll put the fear aside and begin taking action. (It does also sound like they may need to work on whatever underlying issues are preventing them from making the changes you both discussed, but we’ll address that in just a moment.)

With that said, I’m making a lot of assumptions for your particular situation, so take what resonates and toss out what doesn’t:

In situations like the one you’ve described, there are generally some deeper emotional issues that the person is not (currently) willing to look at and address. Nothing against your spouse—we all have those. Their busy day isn’t the immediate issue, though, and I say that because when you offer/push them to take time for themselves, they refuse to do so.

SO: the goal for both of you is to figure out what the underlying concern is. If I’m in your shoes, I would find a moment when I’m centered and calm (not feeling angry at them, stressed, tired, etc) and have a casual conversation with them to try to better understand what’s going on.

That might sound something like the following:

“Hey, can I share something with you? I know you have a *lot* on your plate and I feel badly because I know I’m not very validating when you vent to me. I love you and I *want* to be more validating, AND I have such a hard time because I’m worried that if I *do* validate you, it will make it easier for you to just stay where you are and not make changes that will help.”

“I’m not quite sure how to support you because I don’t feel like you’re making self-care a priority. Could you help me understand what’s preventing you from taking time for yourself, like we discussed a couple of years ago?”

They’ll probably then go through all of the excuses—“no time,” “the kids just won’t settle down,” etc.

Whatever they say, validate it. While it won’t be true that they don’t have time (we all have the same number of hours in every day), they *feel* like they don’t have time, and since they feel like they have to do everything, they’re going to feel like they don’t have time. So you might say:

“Yeah…it’s tough taking time for yourself when you feel like you’re already under water—especially with everything the kids have going on right now.”

After you validate, continue asking discovery questions. You don’t want it to feel like an interrogation or like you’re pressuring them to do what you want—instead, you want to make sure it feels exploratory in nature. A sort of: “Here’s the problem before both of us. Let’s look at it together, side-by-side, and see if we can better understand it.”

I also really like the “What are you going to do?” question. That invites them to take ownership and responsibility and helps prevent endless cycles of complaining. Assuming you are sharing the load in the family and are looking for ways to support them, it’s their responsibility to speak up for what they need.

It’s a tricky situation, to be sure, and I’m happy to discuss further if you’d like. I’ll be curious to hear how you end up handling it.

Concern #2: “I have a fear that if I validate my spouse’s feelings, I will become their venting box.”

You’re not alone in this fear either, and it can be an issue. I’ll bet that if you’re able to find a tactful way to explore the issue with your spouse as mentioned above, it will help with this concern as well. That “what are you going to do?” question is going to be your best friend. Used consistently—and lovingly—this gently turns the responsibility back to your spouse and reminds them that they are responsible for their own happiness, and they have the power to change.

So, for the next week or so, try the following whenever they complain to you:

  1. Listen
  2. Validate the emotion
  3. Ask them what they’re going to do about it

This could all happen in 60 seconds:

“Ugh…that’s tough. It seems like this is always the issue, right? …What are you going to do?”

Now, since they’re in the habit of complaining, it’s still likely that you’ll have moments where you simply aren’t up for any of it. That’s 100% okay, and entirely appropriate to set boundaries to protect your space.

There are a million different ways you could do this, and what boundaries you set will be up to you. For example, you might say:

“I’m sorry—I’m not really in a great place to talk about this right now. I want to help/support you, and I’m pretty worn out at the moment. Could we chat a bit later?”


“I’m finding that, after a long day at work, I want to unwind, relax, or talk about more positive topics, so I get pretty stressed out when we start talking about the day’s problems as soon as I get home. How would you feel about setting a boundary that we keep dinner conversations positive, and save the venting for later in the evening?”


“We’ve talked a lot about this, and I’m not quite certain how to help. I want to help, yet I feel like I’ve just become a complaint receiver and it’s starting to get quite draining. Do you have any solutions in mind? Any specific way I can help?”

Now, your spouse may take this well, or they may lash out or withdraw into themselves. If they choose to withdraw, and now refuse to tell you anything, that’s their problem, not yours. I don’t mean to sound harsh; the boundary you set is important for your own health and happiness, and how they choose to react to it has nothing to do with you. The benefit here, for the both of you, is that you can still choose to ask them how they’re feeling when you’re in a place where you’re willing to listen and validate, which will lead to a more genuine, caring interaction.

I’m not sure how that would go down between the two of you, and—again—I’ve made a considerable number of assumptions in this response. So take what resonates and toss out the rest. In an ideal world, if this becomes an issue, you would both be able to talk about it openly in the same manner described above. (E.g. “I want to support you, and sometimes I feel like I’m just your venting box. Any thoughts on how we could address that?”)

Let me know your thoughts.


* * *

Have you, the readers, experienced situations like this? If so, how did you handle it? Any additional tips or thoughts? Let me know if the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “What Do I Do If My Partner is Constantly Complaining?”

  1. I’ve been looking for this advice for over 30 years. Everywhere. With marriage counseling as a couple for over 10 years, and in private counseling with 4 counselors. I read this blog in less than 10 minutes. Your method Is brilliant, your examples are beautiful. You have validated ME. Now I know for sure it’s not me and not my responsibility to make my husband happy. And I feel free to give this marriage another try by putting the responsibility for change off my shoulders and back where it belongs. Whether it works as a catalyst of change isn’t up to me. But if it doesn’t work I will be at peace knowing I truly gave my best – in addition to having given it my all. Having this validation, today, is more valuable to me than being in an unhappy marriage. With heartfelt thanks, God Bless You.

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi Cindy,

      Thank you for taking the time to send this—it’s comments like these that keep me writing. While I am saddened to hear of your situation, I am thrilled to hear you have found this article empowering. Coming to a true understanding of what is “ours” and what is “theirs” is life changing. I wish you the very best.


  2. Nobody can see a subtle gender violence here? Just in this history. Poor husband.. What an awful wife complaining!!! Well, kids and home are not stressful, and men need to relax, and women be happy and comprehensive. This woman has to shout her mouth and take the newspaper and a cup of tea to her husband, and stop complaining!!!!

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi Carol,

      I can absolutely see how this can come across that way. In my discussions with this individual, he mentioned that he had sat down numerous times with his wife to figure out what more he could do to support her and help ease the stress of the day. While it is not evident in the excerpt I posted, I understood his frustration to be around the fact that he is *trying* to lift the load and make sure he is carrying equal part of the responsibility, yet she brushes him off while continuing to complain.

      My intent in sharing this exchange is to discuss healthy ways of approaching a situation in which a partner has received offers for help and viable solutions, but nevertheless chooses to remain in a victim mindset.

      Regardless, I appreciate you raising this concern, as I am a strong proponent of both partners being complete equals in a relationship. The above situation could just as easily be a husband complaining to his wife, or a wife to a wife, or husband to a husband, a co-worker to a co-worker, a child to a parent, etc. As such, I have changed the pronouns to be gender neutral, so as to no longer detract from the principles being taught.

      Kind regards,


  3. As someone who learned about validation a few years ago, and has analyzed the effects of being personally validated, I can say that 95% of the time, when I complain over and over again, it’s because I don’t feel I was heard before. I’ve engaged in social media conversations in which the first comment was advice, and I immediately went into why the person was wrong, and continued to complain about whatever was bothering me. But when the first comment is validation — “Man, that stinks. I’m so sorry” or anything like that, I might vent for another minute to that person, and then I start telling them why it actually wasn’t that big of a deal and how I’m going to solve the problem. Validation quenches my thirst for more validation and I can think about what I can do about the problem.

    Also, I’m planning to use your information with my children, age 15 and 17, who spend more time bickering than they used to. As I said before, I already knew about validation, but hadn’t found a way of explaining it to them yet. I’ll be using the info on your blog to teach it to them.

    1. Michael S. Sorensen

      Hi Amy,

      Thank you for sharing. And I’m thrilled to hear you’re passing this on to your children. We really can’t learn this skill too early.


  4. My wife complains every waking hour about anything. She can’t stop complaining She is like a tire fire You can’t shut her up It’s non-stop complaining . She just goes from one thing to another . Very seldom a positive word to say. It’s driving me nuts . I really can’t deal with it anymore. The only way I can get any peace is to go into a different part of the house so I don’t have to listen to her bitch I don’t know what to do. You can’t argue with her She just bitches more and more when you confront her about about her habitual complaining. She won’t shut up Living in this negative environment is taking a toll on me

    1. Tom, I am so sorry to hear this. That sounds like a terrible environment. (Validation) So….what are you going to do about it?
      Actually, I say that all kind of tongue in cheek, as my hubby is the same way, which is why i just searched this topic and found this article. I wonder why our spouses are like this, what is their core reason for leaking their feelings in this corrosive way? I know mine suffers from perfectionism, procrastination and people pleasing, which results in inaction from him as he feels stuck and can’t decide what decisions to make, so he dumps on me. Sometimes I have enough energy to say to him, “It will be okay”, “You will make the right decision”, “I know you can handle this”, but other times he just drains me. One boundary i set in place is that when we get home from work for the first 20 minutes we will not start talking about anything serious or stressful. That way coming home is a happy environment that we look forward to. I am going to try the ideas in this article and keep an open dialogue about how i feel and listen to how he feels.

  5. Validating is a very important aspect of communication, and it works a great deal of the time, when dealing with reasonably emotionally healthy individuals. It is a tool we all can learn to use. Like building anything, including good relationships, you probably need more than one tool.

    Our friends with the habitually complaining partners probably need some power tools, as they may be dealing with partners with some underlying psychological problems. Reading between the lines of the initial inquirer, while one might call assuming, it sounds as if there might be some depression, dismissive behavior, emotional unavailability lurking around that house, and some professional help is needed, because he already said he isn’t going to participate in the negativity. The wife knows it. Saying “what are you going to do about it” is not necessarily productive, as she may very well, not know how to pull herself out of the hole she is in. This sounds very much like “just pull yourself up by your boot straps”. Maybe I am off….just sounds familiar to me.

    I like the book and referring others to it, it is simple and easy to read and is easy to implement. A lot of bang for the buck.

    1. Hi Soni,

      You are right that in cases where depression or other serious issues are at play, professional help may be required. And as you mentioned, validation and open communication here will be tools to use to help open up and guide that discussion, to determine necessary next steps. Thank you for weighing in.


  6. I enjoyed reading this, however I too feel frustrated my partner consistently complains about my son (not his), what he does and doesn’t do, that he should do more, not play games in his room all the time when home, take dishes out of his room etc. Whilst I agree with some things he says, he doesn’t stop frigging whinging. My partner and I have dated a year. My son is 16 1/2. Ive been a single parent for many years, raising my 3 kids (2 have since moved out) and Ive bought my homes on my own. Im quite capable of raising my own son the way I damn well like (even though my partner never ceases to offer unwanted and unsolicited advice on what I should and shouldn’t be doing, who doesn’t even have a child he raises I would like to add) but says all the time, my mother wouldn’t have allowed this or that etc and she would’ve done this or that, obviously I say I actually don’t give a damn toss how his mother raised him or my mum raised me, Im the parent here and will raise my son how I see fit, but he doesn’t stop.

    He is wearing me down and Im so close to being done in this damn relationship because its okay for him to constantly bitch about my son (who works full time too Id add) but when I speak up about things that bother me, eg: lack of touch, intimacy and affection (we sleep in seperate rooms and no sex in 10 months) he initially validates me, says he will take on board what I have said, but nothing changes.

    So why can he constantly whinge about my son and that he should fo more, when he won’t change things I mention to him?

  7. Hi Michael,

    This article has been incredibly useful in terms of getting me thinking so I wanted to thank you for that. My girlfriend is a perpetual complainer, and I feel I have almost enabled that by being there for her so much and listening, and offering help and advice when needed. It has however left me completely emotionally drained and I don’t know what to do with myself, as I’ve set up this expectation of being there no matter what to talk about anything wherever and whenever, but each complaint and each time I have to offer support brings me closer to an emotional breakdown. She does constantly apologise for bringing me down and realises what she’s doing, but I’m still not sure what to do.

    I was hoping you may be able to offer some advice for this situation and maybe help me out a bit?

    All the best,


    1. Hi John,

      Have you tried the recommendations from the bottom part of this article? It sounds like you may be in a situation where you need to set a clear boundary with your girlfriend. Something like, “We’ve talked a lot about this, and I’m not quite certain how to help. I want to help, yet I feel like I’ve just become a complaint receiver and it’s starting to get quite draining. Do you have any solutions in mind? Any specific way I can help?”


  8. Michael, thank you for these actionable phrases. My husband is a constant complainer (like his mother, and honestly it’s getting worse with age). I was trained to “deal” with undergraduate students going through a tough time, so I’ve used that toolkit to listen to him and validate him, while also telling him that I have boundaries. The problem is, he won’t listen to me when I have a problem. He will complain to me all day long (about the same subject, repetitively) and then when I want to tell him about my day (a positive thing) or just have a chat about any topic, he doesn’t respond or looks blankly and then switches the topic back to himself. I’ve told him that this is hurtful, but he’s been doing it now for almost a year. I don’t know what to do anymore – not only am I drained by his behavior (OCD?/anxiety?), but I’m also lonely because he is so wrapped up in himself. He doesn’t agree that he has anxiety and he doesn’t agree that he focuses too much on himself. Do you have advice for a partner who is both complaining and also ignoring me?

    1. Hi Erin,

      This is tough. Without knowing the details of the relationship, each of your histories, etc. it will be difficult to give advice. Have you discussed therapy with him? It seems, from what you’ve said, he will be opposed to it. But you’re right that that’s no way to live, and certainly not a relationship you’ll want to stay in, if he doesn’t change. The best general advice I can give here is to find a good therapist, and then attend together if he is willing. If he’s not, I recommend visiting with the therapist yourself for a few sessions to get their take. Not an easy situation at all…my heart goes out to you.


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