Friday, 27 November 2009

The complainer

It puzzles me when someone complains constantly about their partner but never seriously tackles the problems - or ends the relationship

I had a workmate once who moaned at every opportunity about her husband's intolerable behaviour. He did things without consulting her, he was always coming home drunk, he spent too much time working, he bottled up his emotions, and on and on.

The rest of us would listen patiently and sympathise, and then ask her what she was doing to resolve the drunkenness, overwork or whatever. Invariably she would say it was pointless to confront him because he wouldn't listen or that was just the way he was or he had his faults but he had his virtues too.

We would hear her out politely, then give her advice on how to change his behaviour. Tell him what he's doing is seriously distressing her, tell him he's immature and inconsiderate, or even tell him to shape up or ship out.

But no matter what we said to her, she took no notice and simply let him carry on as before, upsetting her again and again and prompting more complaints whenever she had an available ear to express them to.

Why was she so passive? I could never work it out. Maybe she had a masochistic streak and liked being badly treated. Or she was too timid to stand up to him effectively. Or she couldn't stand the aggression of a serious row. Or she was afraid of his violent retaliation. Or maybe she just liked playing the aggrieved victim and getting everyone's sympathy.

Whatever the cause, she let this flawed relationship drift on month after month and left the rest of us feeling exasperated and bemused by her feebleness. We wanted to wade in on her behalf and tell her useless husband exactly what we thought of him.

Whether she ever did end the relationship I don't know as I changed jobs and never saw her again. But I hope she eventually found the courage to break this sterile cycle.


  1. Maybe the problem was not actually the husband. I have come across several women like that who spend their life complaining about a partner, yet never try to do anything about it. Why? Because they are afraid that if they rock the boat then the partner will leave, and a life alone is not one they want to contemplate.

  2. it always amuses me that there is an assumption that if she only told him what was wrong they could resolve it. it doesnt always work that way

  3. Grannymar - Indeed, one very simple explanation I never thought of! A surprising number of people are terrified of being alone, they'll do anything to avoid it.

    Kylie - That's true, it can take a long while to realise that a relationship isn't getting anywhere. You can spend a long time deluding yourself and justifying the shortcomings.

    Also true that airing all your grievances won't necessarily get any results. You may just meet a brick wall of obstinacy and self-interest.

  4. I think in many cases it's better the devil you know. Look how many physically abused women return to their destructive relationships. I don't understand it myself. If I'm not treated with love and respect, I won't hang around. Then that's just me.

  5. intimate abuse, that is domestic violence as well as the psychological controls perpetrated on victims, stop them from leaving. the victim's perceptions of everything are altered and her ability to make decisions, to believe in herself and her judgements is vastly reduced or destroyed. she CANNOT leave, not until she has recovered sufficiently from the damage done. the satatement "if i'm not ttreated with love and respect, i wont hang around" is the statement of a healthy individual. an abused person is not healthy. it's like saying a blind person should see

  6. I hope she managed to escape eventually, though like you, I am wondering if she really wanted to, or just enjoyed moaning!

  7. Baino - Well, physical abuse is a step beyond the relationship here, but yes, it can become an addiction which it's hard to break.

    Kylie - Absolutely, persistent domestic violence can undermine the victim's self-confidence to such an extent that they're unable to leave. They may no longer be psychologically healthy enough to think in terms of love and respect.

    Suburbia - She may well have enjoyed moaning, she tended to moan about all sort of things.

  8. All of what Kylie said is true, about certain troubled relationships...

    however, when there is a great deal of very public complaining, that's probably a different thing.

    I agree more with the explanation of simply enjoying, on some level, the complaining. And the attention one gets when one endlessly solicits advice...

  9. hey! i have to laugh at me, here again!
    i did understand that this one seems to be a case of enjoying the drama but i just cant help taking the opportunity to get some information out there

    *jumps off soapbox*

  10. Leah - Hmmm, there seems to be a consensus emerging here that enjoying the complaining was a major factor. Er yes, I suppose also the enjoyment we got out of being the assorted agony aunts and uncles. And keeping up with this gripping domestic soap opera....

    Kylie - Soapboxes always welcome! I love it when the discussion broadens out in unexpected directions....

  11. Baino took the words out of my mouth. In our society, separation from the husband is still socially a big taboo for the vast majority and though women complain and get abused they go through a life time of such misery so that they can stay married to miserable sods. Life can be very unfair.

  12. Ramana - A lifetime of misery is a high price to pay to conform to social and religious norms. I hope there are signs that this cruel tradition of marital bondage is on the way out.

  13. Some people are just negative, Nick. I have one friend who complains about everything, I limit my time with her as a result.
    She had a horrific childhood which colours her outlook and really cannot perceive all the plusses in her own life. Her path is one of misery, always waiting for the next metaphorical punch to land, as it invariably does.
    If you point out her joys, she just gives a sad smile. She has done the therapy route but it hasn't helped.
    It is very, very hard to make a psychic shift in one's own nature. And the only change we can ever make is with ourselves, not others.

  14. www - There must be some other factor at work besides the horrific childhood. My own childhood was pretty dysfunctional but it didn't turn me into a miseryguts. Surprising that even therapy couldn't help her to see the pleasures of life as well as the setbacks.

  15. Kylie, I was on such a tall soapbox here a few months ago that I had to slink off the interwebs for a few weeks to calm down.

    Nick, I love the phrase "miseryguts."

  16. Leah - I enjoyed your lengthy soapboxing. You're welcome to repeat it! If you like miseryguts, how about the alternative, fussbucket?

  17. Fussbucket is awesome too. And my grandparents used to call me a fussbudget when I was cranky.

    By the way, I missed your question about turkey pinatas when I was looking at my comments--my answer is, whatta weird, inexplicable tradition!!! Never heard of it before you mentioned it!

  18. Leah - Yes, we have fussbudget too. For those mystified readers, beating the pinata is an American thanksgiving tradition - you fill a papier maché animal with presents and then everyone beats it to pieces to get at the presents. Weird indeed.

  19. To paraphrase Adlai Stevenson's eulogy of Eleanor Roosevelt, she would rather curse the darkness than light a candle.

  20. Heart - Very good. Yes, there're an awful lot of people like that. What is it about moaning that people enjoy so much?

  21. What tradition of "a Thanksgiving pinata"???
    And the complainer: I feel sorry for her, it is not always easy to see the path when your living the lie.
    fussbudget Christmas

  22. Brighid - The pinata thing must be confined to certain areas. Leah hadn't heard of it either. You're right about sometimes not seeing the reality if you're too immersed in wishful thinking.

    Wordcheck: funboot. Damn, I left my funboot in the car....