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Shifting From Complaint to Request: Learning to Ask For What You Need in a Marriage or Relationship

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As a couples counselor, I find myself devouring books and articles from other marriage therapists and couples counselors. Marriage counseling can be so effective and there are various research supported approaches that help couples and relationships over hurdles that can, in the moment, seem insurmountable.

One book I came across recently is the Audible book Fierce Intimacy : Standing Up To One Another In Love. Couple's therapist Terry Real highlights the 5 losing strategies for getting what you want in your marriage.

The first losing strategy is unbridled self-expression. Real defines unbridled self-expression as saying whatever is on your mind without kindness or respect.

Unbridled self-expression includes sharing how hurt, furious, and enraged you feel. This type of speech is more akin to a chaotic venting than healthy catharsis.

The main reason unbridled self-expression is a losing strategy is that it won't get you what you need from your partner. It will result in your partner shutting down or retaliating with similar vitriol.

There has to be a healthier way to communicate hurt and frustration to your partner. Terry Real calls this approach shifting from complaint to request.

There is a place to stand up to your partner in love and express how they hurt you and what they need to do to make things better. The key word here is love.

Unbridled self-expression usually devolves into personal attacks and emotional whiplashing. An emphasis on request focuses on the bad behavior and seeks a way to repair what's been broken.

How to Shift from Complaint to Request in a Marriage or Relationship

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Marriage therapist Vicki Palmer describes how we tend to address our partners whey they have done something that harmed us. These are examples of unbridled self-expression:

Why did you ______________?

What is your problem!

You know I don't like it when you________

I wish you would _________, or I wish you would stop _______.

Wow you're so _____________(sensitive, rude, mean, etc.)

These statements are dead ends. They do not leas to productive conversations where partners understand each other.

A request focuses on behavior rather than the person. If your husband forgets to do the dishes, a request would be "Honey I noticed you forgot to do the dishes. You said you would do them. Can you please try and get them done."

Unbridled self-expression attacks the person's character and makes an issue universal. An example would be, "You're so lazy. You never do the dishes! Why don't you care about me!"

A request also focuses on a solution. Venting can feel good in the moment but it rarely leads anywhere constructive in a relationship.

A request emphasizes what you need from the other person to get back into a state of connection.

An example of a request would be:

"I noticed you were late from work the other night. I understand things happen. Next time would you mind texting or calling so that I don't worry so much"

A complaint, on the other hand, comes across very different:

"You're so selfish! I freak out when you're late and don't call me. Why do you have to be so thoughtless. Do you not care about my anxiety?"

A complaint attacks the other person and blocks the possibility of a common solution. A request holds the other person accountable and helps them understand what they need to do to make things better.

Marriage Therapy or Couples Counseling Can Help You Communicate More Effectively

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An experienced marriage counselor can help you transform your complaints into requests. A couple's therapist is equipped to help you and your spouse communicate more effectively in your relationship.

If you learn how to stop attacking your partner and express what you really need, you'll be able to get more of what you want. Marriage counseling or couples therapy can help.

Begin Marriage Counseling or Couples Therapy at Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Katy, Tx & Houston

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, our marriage therapists and couples counselors can help. Marriage counseling or couples therapy can help couples resolve problems that at one point, may have seem unresolvable. Your relationship is worth fighting for.

Our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen and Family Counseling, is conveniently located off of I-10 and 99. We are about 4-5 blocks behind the Academy Sports in Katy, Tx.

If you are ready to start your journey with one of our couples therapist or marriage counselors, Katy Teen & Family Counseling can help. It's as simple as following these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Speak with one of our marriage counselors or couples therapists

  3. Let us help you strengthen your communication foundation in your relationship!

Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Serving Katy, Tx & Houston

Below are a few of the other counseling services we provide for teens, families, and young adults in Katy, Tx and Houston:

Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

About the Author

Man smiling standing in front of a tan brick wall wearing a blue pinstripe dress shirt with tan sports jacket. He is a couples counselor katy, tx 77494 and a couples therapist katy, tx 77494. He is also a marriage counselor katy, tx 77494 and a couples therapist katy, tx 77494.

Quique Autrey is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and an experienced couples therapist and marriage counselor.

He views each individual through the lens of the family system. Through this lens he provides: teen therapy, young adult counseling, family counseling, marriage counseling & couples therapy.

Quique has helped those who experience depression, anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, ADHD/ADD, and is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Quique also has a passion for helping teens, young adults, and adults who may be on the Autism Spectrum. He has a talent for connecting with and helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

If you're ready to start your healing journey in marriage counseling or couples therapy, you can call us at 346-202-4662 or email us at

Company logo for Katy Teen and Family Counseling. Providing couples therapy katy, tx, couples counseling katy, tx, marriage counseling katy, tx and marriage therapy katy, tx 77494.

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