Dating Your Spouse without Your Spouse Complaining

Is dating your spouse frustrating and disappointing because of your he or she is never satisfied? You can end your spouse’s complaining and improve your dates at the same time.

unhappy woman embracing complaints dating
Is dating your spouse more like a job because of your spouse’s complaining?

Where people go wrong: trying to plan bigger, more elaborate dates.

Just as people in love can enjoy talking about anything, they can also enjoy simple dates. The relationship, not the wallet, is the key to good dates.

What’s love got to do with dating?

Couples who are not in love are going to feel like something is missing from their dates no matter what you do.

Improving your dates with your spouse requires a two-pronged approach:

The first is to help your spouse feel loved in your marriage.

The second is also to take away from your spouse whatever is gained by complaining.

Whether we are talking about children or spouses, their behavior can almost always be explained by looking at how it benefits them. The whining child may get the candy. The whining adult may get a feeling of power, depending on how their spouse reacts to it. If your spouse did not gain anything by complaining, he or she would not do it.

Don’t take the complaint at face value

If people simply said what they do want instead of complaining about what they don’t, relationships would be simpler. Many of my clients have tried to improve their marriages by responding to their spouse’s complaints. Typically, that doesn’t improve their relationships.

Most complaints are excuses, rather than reasons. Complaining is generally done by people who are not happy for whatever reason.  For the unhappy person, complaining is:

  1. a way to bring a partner down to an equal level of unhappiness (equality in misery),
  2. a signal of distress (wanting to be rescued),
  3. an attempt to control and improve one’s partner (power),
  4. payback for a perceived or real hurt (revenge), or
  5. some combination of all these.

Each of these reasons requires a different kind of response. Just changing a dating location or activity is not going to satisfy a spouse who complains about dates. Providing a better dating experience is not going to have an impact on any of these reasons.

The only complaint that requires more effort for dating is the complaint that you don’t date enough. That is not a complaint about dating. It is a complaint about not dating.

Complaining as an attempt to improve and control

Complaining can also be an attempt to improve another person by pointing out all of their errors. The hope is that eventually one will end up with a great partner. Unfortunately, pointing out peoples mistakes discourages, rather than encourages, them to do better. It makes people tend to give up rather than try harder. This is why complaining is listed as one of the eight most serious needy behaviors in my book on overcoming neediness.

If you feel like your spouse is trying to perfect you, you will need to learn to stop trying to please your spouse. Instead, you will need your spouse to accept you as you are by having good boundaries. I use a three step approach to help clients improve their relationships with a difficult spouse:

  1. Client learns to stop his or her own damaging behaviors.
  2. Client learns connection skills to build the relationship.
  3. Client learns boundaries to stop their spouse’s bad behaviors.

If you would like to start that on your own, my book on overcoming neediness will help you with the first part. My book on connecting with agreement will give you a good start on the second part. For working on the third part, here are some ways to respond to your spouse’s blaming, complaining, or verbal abuse.

Dating is necessary to keep your relationship alive

Regular dating is vital to the health of a marriage. In another article, I talked about how to choose what to do on a date. But, what if the dating process is just adding to the problems in your relationship? When that happens, couples often stop dating and their relationship gets even worse.

Instead of that, the dating process should be improved and the problems in the relationship addressed. Dating, just like sex, or talking, is very difficult to restart if you have stopped altogether.

Never simply give up and hope that things will just get better. They can, but you have to make them that way.  They won’t get better on their own.

Example dialogue with a spouse who complains about dates

In the following conversation, can you imagine that Partner 2 is a happy person, who is glad to be going out with his or her mate?  Or is it easier to imagine Partner 2 as an unhappy person who would not be satisfied no matter what Partner 1 did?

Partner 1:  “Would you like to go to the new chicken place that opened up last week?”

Partner 2:  “No, it will be too crowded because everyone wants to try it now.”

Partner 1:  “Well, how about our usual Italian restaurant?”

Partner 2:  “No, I’m tired of eating the same old thing.”

Partner 1:  “Well, where would you like to go?”

Partner 2:  “I don’t care.  Just not the new chicken place or the Italian place.”

Partner 1:  “Ok, I know, let’s get some seafood at the family seafood restaurant.”

Partner 2:  “Oh, good, another noisy dinner in a brightly lit restaurant.”

Partner 1:  “If you don’t like that, then where do you want to go?  I’m not going to make any more suggestions!”

Partner 2:   “Ok, ok.  The Italian restaurant, I guess.”

Partner 1:  “I thought you didn’t want to eat the same old thing?”

Partner 2:  “That’s true, but it’s better than eating in a bright room full of screaming kids.”

On the surface this example conversation looks like an argument, but it’s not. In an argument, each partner would provide his or her own ideas and defend them as well as attack the other’s ideas.

This example is pure complaining. Partner 2 points out the reasons why Partner 1’s ideas are bad, but offers no ideas of his or her own. If your partner criticizes your ideas, but has none of his or her own, one thing you know for sure—it’s not your ideas that are the problem.

How complaining makes your partner feel like a winner

In an argument, it is possible to lose. But the complainer never loses. This is because he or she doesn’t provide his or her own choices. A win is guaranteed if the complainer later finds fault with whatever was chosen (“I knew this place wouldn’t be any good”).

This pattern will lead to an end to dating much faster than being indecisive will. It creates a negative atmosphere right from the beginning of the date. The negativity has to be overcome if you are going to be able to have a good time anywhere. This requires a way get your partner to stop complaining at the beginning of your dates…

Stopping your partner from complaining

You can’t immediately stop your partner from complaining, but you can make it so that your partner no longer wins anything by complaining.

That will take care of the problem over the course of a few weeks.  Considering that this problem can go on indefinitely, a few weeks is really a short time to make a major improvement for the both of you.

The more often you date your spouse, the more chances your spouse gets to experience this change, and the faster things will change.

Many people make the mistake of believing that change should happen immediately. Change takes time because we are breaking old habits and creating new ones.

The relationship change process:

  1. You change how you respond,
  2. Your change creates stress for your spouse,
  3. Your spouse changes,
  4. Stress is reduced and the relationship improved.

Many people give up when their spouse becomes more upset (step 2), but that is actually part of making progress.

Use a communication boundary

A boundary is not something your partner does or something that you threaten your partner with. It is something that you inform your partner about, and you do without discussion.

Boundaries must be completely under your control or they are not boundaries.

Example of using a boundary for complaints about dates and dating

In this case, your boundary will be your refusal to suggest more than one place:

You tell your partner about your boundary like this:

You:  “I’m going to suggest a place where we can go on our date.  If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you will need to offer a different suggestion. If you don’t, then we won’t go out.”

Spouse:  “Fine.  I’m not going out.”

You:  “Okay, that is your choice, and I respect it.” 

This is a predictable reaction because people who complain don’t like to lose.  Don’t let it bother you. You will gain respect by being calm and not being hurt or angry.

Remember, you are changing a pattern and that doesn’t happen in one night. The idea is to take away the reward your spouse gets by complaining.

It is important that you remain loving. Just go out and do something by yourself or with a friend. Then, try again in a week, and then in another. That should create a change.

If you continue to get dating refusal, then your spouse has a lot of anger and there are serious problems in your relationship. Those need to be dealt with, rather than focusing on the dating.

A typical example when dating communication is the main issue:

If your spouse’s complaining is mainly a communication style (a habit), then your spouse will change in one or two weeks to a different response, and you might have an exchange such as:

You:  “I’m going to suggest a place where we can go on our date.  If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you will need to offer a different suggestion.  If you don’t, then we won’t go out.”

Partner:  “What if I don’t like where you choose?”

You:  “Then you choose a place—any place you like.”

Partner:  “What if you don’t like it?”

You:  “Then it will be my fault for giving you the choice and you can blame me for it.”

Wherever your spouse chooses, go and have the best time you can, even if it’s a place you hate. Your spouse may intentionally choose a place you hate. Don’t fall into that trap by refusing to go or by complaining.

Stick with this style of date choosing with a boundary for a while.  You will both develop a new and better pattern for deciding where to go. You may end up going to a couple places that you don’t want to go, but that is a small price to pay for a big improvement in your marriage.

The reason this works

The reason this works is that people continue to do what they are used to doing because it works, at least a little. To help them change, you need to make it no longer work at all, while also providing a way that will work.

Once they have success with the new way (which may take a few weeks), it will start to get easier and go better.

Questions and answers:

 Q:  I am the one who usually complains because my spouse really does choose terrible places.  What can I do?

A:  Two simple solutions are to either work with your spouse to come up with an acceptable list of places to go, or to take turns picking a place to go. Many of my clients like to take turns.

When they do that, they don’t need to worry whether their spouse will like it. If they go on a date they don’t particularly like, they don’t mind it as much because they know that next time will be their turn. After a while, spouses can even develop new interests this way. It also helps people to break out of a dating routine.

Q:  It feels very controlling when I set a boundary. Also my spouse gets upset.

A:  People never like boundaries. Keep in mind that the purpose of boundaries is to make the relationship better. Although it may feel controlling, allowing a bad situation to continue is damaging. Boundaries aren’t damaging.

Also, when you use a boundary, your spouse has a choice of what to do. In the above example, your spouse can choose to accept your choice, offer another suggestion, or not go out at all.

The only thing you are controlling is yourself. Your spouse has full control of himself or herself.

Boundaries don’t take away the other person’s ability to choose. That’s why boundaries are not really controlling. Boundaries prevent us from being controlled.

Q:  I tried this, but my spouse continues to refuse to date and blames me. What do I do now? Do I go back to the old way?

A:  Do you want to go back to the old way? It seems that was just a symptom of more serious problems in your relationship. Instead, try to have an open talk with your spouse about how to make your relationship better.

If he or she refuses to participate in that positive discussion, it is time for you to seek help. Something is going on in your spouse’s mind that you don’t know about.  He or she may be planning to leave you, for example.

Dating is part of the big three. Deal with it while you can.

The most important indicators of a long and healthy marriage are:

  1. Dating your spouse once a week,
  2. Spending quality time together each day at home,
  3. Having a sexual relationship that is enjoyable for both of you.

When one of these goes, your relationship will slowly degrade.

When two of these go, your relationship will more quickly degrade.

If all three of these are gone, you have become roommates or business partners. Being busy every day is not an excuse not to work on your relationship. Every day, I work with people who have lost their relationship because they stopped doing these three things.

Usually I can help them to regain their spouse’s love. Counseling, even marriage counseling, cannot do that for you. Counseling just helps to clarify issues through talking. Only coaching provides skills for relationship improvement.

One month of coaching accomplishes more than six months of counseling. If you need it, make sure you get it.

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