Intersection of Life and Faith

10 Reasons Why Your Family Complains So Much (And What You Can Do about It)

  • Donna Jones Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
10 Reasons Why Your Family Complains So Much (And What You Can Do about It)

Most everyone does it. In fact, studies show the average person does it 30 times each day. Yet, no one likes it.  

I’m talking about complaining. 

But if we really hate complaining as much as we say we do, why do we do so much of it?  Why is complaining an epidemic in American families?

Here are 10 reasons our families (including us) complain so much:

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  • 1. Laziness

    1. Laziness

    Slide 1 of 10

    Wait. I know what you’re thinking, What does laziness have to do with complaining?

    Complaining is not just expressing dissatisfaction (“excuse me, but this food is cold”) Rather, complaining is expressing dissatisfaction about something we are doing nothing to change (our food is cold, but we don’t tell the waiter, and gripe the entire meal).

    Complaining is the lazy person’s response to dissatisfaction. Why? Because this kind of response to dissatisfaction puts the burden of change onto another person, rather than taking responsibility for change ourselves. 

    For instance, if our kids protest because they don’t have the latest technological gadget, but aren’t willing to work toward it, that’s complaining. If we grumble about how the kids never clean their room, but fail to put a plan in action to ensure they clean it, that’s complaining, too. 

    What do you do when you realize complaints come from laziness? Pinpoint the frustration behind the complaint, and put a realistic plan into action to solve the issue before it steals your family’s joy and makes complaining a way of life.

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  • 1. Laziness

    2. Habit

    Slide 2 of 10

    Complainers fall into three distinct categories:

    1. The chronic complainer
    2. The venter complainer
    3. The constructive complainer

    The chronic complainer does so out of habit. This person complains so often they’re rarely aware they are complaining. In fact, if confronted by the frequency of their complaints, they usually deny it, excuse it, or justify it.

    Several years ago I had an honest conversation about complaining with a group of friends. We all admitted to complaining more than we should, but none of us were sure to what extent, so we decided to engage in an experiment. For one week we wore an easily removable rubber bracelet marked with the words “NO COMPLAINING!”  Each time we complained, we switched the bracelet from one wrist, to the other. At the end of seven days the results were unanimous. We all complained more than we realized, and the majority of our complaints were born out of habit.

    If you suspect your family complains out of habit, conduct a one-week experiment of your own. Get the whole family involved. You might be surprised at the results!

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  • 1. Laziness

    3. Unrealized Expectations

    Slide 3 of 10

    Unrealized expectations leave us disappointed. That’s normal. But when disappointment turns into dissatisfaction, complaining is usually not far behind.

    Americans--adults and children, alike--generally expect things to go our way, and when they don’t, we complain. It’s how we cope. And it’s not healthy. 

    We complain because traffic is heavier than estimated; the teacher is more demanding than expected; the movie was worse than anticipated. 

    If you can relate to any of the above scenarios, you might be a venter complainer. Venter complainers commonly have unrealized expectations. 

    Unrealistic expectations are practically guaranteed to become unrealized expectations. The next time you find yourself complaining, ask yourself this question: did I have an unrealistic, unrealized expectation? If we keep our expectations realistic, it’s easier to keep our complaints from going ballistic.

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  • 1. Laziness

    4. Entitlement

    Slide 4 of 10

    Closely related to complaints that originate from unrealized expectations are complaints that stem from entitlement. However, there’s a subtle difference between the two. An expectation is based on something we want (i.e. I want to play before I do homework) but entitlement is based on what we believe we deserve (I deserve a new smartphone because all my friends have one).

    Complaints uttered by an entitled kid (or adult!) will sound more like demands than desires. An entitled complainer finds it nearly impossible to stop complaining because they believe they have a right to what they don’t have, or can’t have. This is why the most common complaint from an entitled person is “That’s not fair!”

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  • 1. Laziness

    5. We've Failed to Cultivate Gratitude

    Slide 5 of 10

    Grateful people rarely complain. Ungrateful people almost always complain. What makes an individual fall into one camp, rather than the other? Is it their circumstances? 

    No, it’s their perspective. 

    Complaints stem from negative circumstances--real or perceived. Gratitude stems from positive circumstances--also, real or perceived. And here’s the kicker: we all have both. Grateful people intentionally focus on what they do have, rather than what they don’t have. It honestly comes down to a choice. 

    Several years ago, we experienced a family vacation that played out like a horror flick. Our condo refrigerator caught on fire in the middle of the night, and I had an emergency root canal. It would have been so easy to complain. Who could blame us? Instead, we decided to turn the mishaps into an adventure. Our family mantra during the trip became, “We’re making a memory!”

    And it made all the difference.

    If your family is prone to complain, practice making these gratitude phrases part of your daily routine:

    • “I’m so glad that…”
    • “We’re so blessed that…”
    • “I love it when…”
    • “We’re making a memory!”

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  • 1. Laziness

    6. Everyone Does It

    Slide 6 of 10

    Philippians 2:14 says, “Do everything without grumbling or complaining.” Frankly, this command has been largely ignored, which is why the average American complains 30 times a day. It’s also why so many of us lack joy.

    Philippians 2:15 explains why believers need to put the brakes on our grumbling and complaining: “so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky, as you hold out the word of life.”

    Do you see it? Choosing not to complain, even when others do, marks us as children of God, sets us apart from the way our warped generation behaves, allows us to be light in the midst of a dark world, and makes the message of Christ winsome--especially to our family members. After all, who wants to accept a message of hope from someone who complains all the time? Your spouse won’t. Neither will your kids.

    If we want our life, and our home, to be full of joy, we cannot allow our lips to be full of complaints. Even if everyone else does it.

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  • 1. Laziness

    7. Bonding

    Slide 7 of 10

    We’ve all heard the adage “misery loves company.” It makes us feel better to know we aren’t the only one who suffers. But there’s a less obvious psychological aspect to misery--bonding. What does this have to do with complaining?  

    Consider this scenario: a group of parents complain about a teacher or coach. Suddenly, strangers become bonded. Their common complaint creates a common connection. 

    Complaining doesn’t create healthy connections, but it does bond people, nonetheless. This connection--as unhealthy as it is--can drive us to make complaining a way of life if we are unaware of its effects.

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  • 1. Laziness

    8. It Gets Results

    Slide 8 of 10

    If we suspect our family complains more than they should, we must know why. It could be habit, it could be expectations, it could be entitlement, or it could be that we’ve set up a family system where complaining gets results. 

    When a family member complains, what happens next? If they get what they want, we have accidentally taught him/her to complain rather than converse, to whine rather than explain why, to protest rather than to propose, and to grumble rather than to be grateful.

    The fastest way to stop a complainer is to stop the benefits of complaining.

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  • 1. Laziness

    9. We're Maxed Out

    Slide 9 of 10

    Is your family overscheduled? Overwhelmed? Overworked? Do you struggle to find margin for down time, play, sleep, relaxation, intimacy, and fun?  

    God created us as spiritual, emotional, physical, and social beings. If we’re out of whack in one area, it automatically bleeds into the others. Families who run on empty are more apt to complain. Sometimes all it takes to lessen complaining in our family is a good night’s sleep, regular meal times, or good old fashioned fun. These simple pleasures aren’t luxuries for the family who wants to curb complaining--they are essential.

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  • 1. Laziness

    10. To Excuse Poor Performance

    Slide 10 of 10

    No one likes to fail, but when we don’t take personal responsibility for poor performance our likely response is to blame something, or someone, else. Deflected blame often shows up in complaining.

    If you’ve ever heard any of these phrases, you’ve seen blame complaining it work:

    • “This math is dumb.”
    • “My teacher doesn’t know how to teach.”
    • “My coach isn’t fair.”
    • “My kids drive me crazy.”

    Blame complaining is a negative spiral which makes us feel worse rather than better. To turn blame complaining around, help your family learn to problem solve poor performance. Excuses impede our progress, but solutions empower our progress. And best of all, real solutions stop complaining in its tracks!

    Donna Jones is a national speaker and pastor’s wife who travels from coast to coast helping people find the biblical wisdom they need, for the life they want. She’s the author of three books, including, Seek: A Woman’s Guide to Meeting God and Taming Your Family Zoo. Donna is mom to three young adult kids, who frequently sit on her kitchen counter, just to chat. Donna would love to connect with you on her blog at www.donnajones.org or on Instagram @donnaajones.

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