Dear Carolyn: My husband is a complainer. Always has been. His complaints often also encompass criticism, or what I perceive to be — usually of something regarding parenting our 5- and 3-year-olds (I’m a stay-at-home mom). His complaints and criticism very, very rarely offer any sort of suggestions or fixes.
This has been a frustrating cycle throughout our relationship, and I can’t figure out how to break it. I call him out, it seems to get better briefly, and then starts all over again. Please help.
Have you tried the super-simple “What I'm hearing is that you think X. Is that correct?” He either says yes, or clarifies with Y. Then: “I see. So you see X/Y as a problem. Do you have any suggestions for how to fix it?”
Depending on his answer, you follow it with either “Great, then please feel welcome to try that” or “Hmm. Well, if you think of anything, please let me know.” Then you carry on with what you were doing.
That’s the micro answer, obviously.
The macro is that this is who he is, as your relationship has told you all along, and that means any changes need to come from you — be it to accept that this is who and how he is, or to decide a home with him in it is not a healthy one, or to find some workable point between these two extremes. Good, reputable counseling is a viable option, of course, either to get to the root of his negativity (if he’s willing to go) or to figure out strategies for dealing with him (if he’s unwilling and you go alone). I hope you’re in a position to consider it.