Speaking with a firm, long Texas drawl, the man on the other end of the phone complained loudly about the fact that his girlfriend had left him.

“It’s tragic,” he said. “She never was happy with me. Always had something to complain about. But fact of the matter is that she would never look at her own issues. It was always about me, and I kept turning things around to get her to look at herself, but she wouldn’t do it.”

“Did you ever stop to look at her complaints?” I asked.

“Can’t really say I did,” he said. “Oh, I suppose there was some merit to some of her complaints,” he said stiffly, “but not all of them, that’s for sure.”

“And when she complained, you would tell her you had the same complaint.”

“Sure did,” he said. “But, that never went anywhere.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“She just kept carping on the same issues.”

“How would you like me to help?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know if there is much you can do now,” he continued. “She’s gone and says she is no longer interested in working on our relationship. She doesn’t think I’ll change. Says she doesn’t trust me.”

“Can she trust you to really listen to her?” I asked, presenting him with an obvious problem.

“I’m not going to be the only one working on things, that’s for sure.”

“You sound resentful and stubborn,” I said, wondering if my bluntness would offend him.

“Yes,” he said, taking a long slow breath. “I suppose I am. I want her back.”

“There may be a way to win her back into the relationship,” I suggested. “But, it will take a lot of work. Would that interest you?”

“You bet,” he said. “I’ll do anything to win her back. I love her.”

With that I began laying out a plan that I’ve used with many broken relationships, helping them find their way back to each other. If you are in a similar situation, these steps can help you forge a bridge back to the person who has left the relationship.  

First, ignore complaints at your own peril. While you may not like your mate’s complaints, as our friend from Texas illustrated, they will rarely simply go away. In fact, if they do ‘go away,’ they are likely going underground, only to resurface in the form of resentment, stonewalling, distance, depression and ultimately, emotional and physical leaving.

Second, every complaint has at least a kernel of truth to it. While none of us likes to hear complaints, they contain vital information. Rarely, if ever, does our mate complain about nothing of importance. We may try to dismiss it as frivolous, ‘ridiculous,’ or ‘wild,’ but this is denial and defensiveness on our parts. These complaints come from a place of woundedness or unhappiness in our mate. There is wisdom embedded in the complaint.

Scripture tells us that God examines our heart: “God searches the heart and examines the mind” (Jeremiah 17:10). What if we were to take on that same attitude with our mate, listening intently to their heart and mind? What are they trying to say to us? Why are they telling us what they are saying?

Third, every complaint is an opportunity. Not only are complaints not something to ignore and avoid, but they are to be embraced and considered. We must, with a non-defensive heart, listen to what they are trying to say, albeit not always in the best way? What is their concern? Are you listening and trying to fully embrace them and their concern? Are you asking for even more information?

Finally, utilize their complaint as an opportunity for change. Thank your mate for sharing their concerns. Reassure them that you are listening and deeply care about their concerns. Let them know that their concerns are landing in a soft place, a place where you will examine them and prepare for needed change. Reassure them that they can share any concerns with you in the future.

Every complaint is an opportunity for change, a chance to not become defensive and turn the tables on them. This is a chance to show you are big enough to hear concerns and change. If you are willing to face issues head on, and change, you will win your mate’s heart and anchor a healthy relationship. With an open heart and willing attitude, growth occurs. This is a winning attitude!

Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please feel free to request a free, twenty-minute consultation.

Publication date: March 11, 2013