I am a recovering complainer.
We were having a picnic lunch on a beautiful May afternoon. There were three moms and four children. While the children played, the moms talked. I remember talking about my house. Actually, I did a lot of talking about my house. I had a lot of complaints. I live in a 117-year-old house that, by default, we are fixing up. It is one problem after another. Not only did I complain about all there is to fix, but I also complained about the layout, the size of the rooms, the lack of closets, the location of the bathrooms, the lack of air conditioning… I’ll stop there. The picnic ended. We parted ways.
Not long after the picnic, one of the three moms invited all of us over to her house. I parked in front and my daughter and I followed the sidewalk to the back of the house where there was a tiny backyard. We greeted each other and were given a tour of the house. I thought my house had small rooms. I thought my house had problems. Her living room was smaller than our office. There was one bedroom for four people, and it was smaller than my bedroom. The floor was uneven. It was dark. It was crowded. I was embarrassed. I had complained about my house and here she lived in a smaller, more run down home than I did. I felt terrible. This tempered my house complaining, at least when I was around her.
Time went on.
Later that summer I heard a sermon about complaining. The sermon challenged us to think about the impact we were having on those around us when we complained. What vibe did we send when we complained? How was complaining impacting those around us?
I was so convicted. At that point in my life I had become quite skilled in complaining – about my job, my husband, my house, my financial situation, and on and on. I started noticing all the complaining around me. There were conversations that consisted almost entirely of complaining or conversations where one person complained and the other person would ‘one up’ the conversation with a “worse” complaint.
I knew my complaining was having a negative effect on me and my psyche. I knew it was putting a wedge between me and my husband. He would stop listening when I complained or pull away from me physically and relationally. I knew it was not what I wanted to role model for my kids. I knew that at times my complaining was ridiculous.
I made a decision that summer to get serious about eliminating complaining from my life. Here are some of the strategies I use to refrain from complaining:
- View my complaint in the bigger context of my life and the world. Perspective makes a lot of things less significant.
- Being a person of faith, I remind myself of what scripture says about complaining and its influence on me and those around me. (Philippians 2:14-15)
- Accept that there are a lot of things in life that I wish were different, that I wish I could change, but I can’t.
- Think about how my complaining will affect those around me. Is that the influence I want to have?
- Refrain from joining the complaining at the office, with friends or with family.
- Reflect on what I’m grateful for (including the hard times) through journaling and intentionally looking for the positive in every situation.
In doing research for this blog I came across an article that challenged me to think about how to “complain effectively.” The article distinguishes between venting, complaining, and problem solving. It offers some validation for complaining, but also challenged me to think through how, why and to whom I am sharing my frustration.
Interestingly, two weeks ago I met with researcher, author and speaker Shaunti Feldhan about her new book, The Kindness Challenge. I asked her for the genesis of the book and the research around it. Shaunti was studying what made a difference in marriages and her research found that kindness has explosive power to transform our marriages (or any relationship). Shaunti writes “…whether we thrive depends far more on how we choose to treat others than on how we ourselves are treated.” The challenge itself involves not say anything negative about someone, aloud or in your head.
This got me thinking. What if the goal was to replace complaining with something more positive, such as kindness, grace, and gratitude? What if I tried to spin potential complaints into opportunities? Opportunities to be proactive, to solve a problem, and to nurture growth, both in myself and in my relationships.
As I reflect on my journey to eliminate, or at least manage, my complaining I have found that my spirit is lighter, my relationship with my husband is more peaceful and intimate, and hopefully I am a source of positivity to those around me.
What impact is complaining having on your life? Are you ready to make a change?