It's Not That Big a Deal
May 23, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

I feel like my girlfriend gets too worked up over trivial annoyances. Am I overreacting?

First, I'd just like to get this out of the way: my girlfriend and I are very much in love, have lived together for five years, and have no intention of breaking up over this. It's just one of those niggling little quality of our relationship issues that I would like to resolve, and I'm not sure if I'm the problem or not, so ...

I feel like my girlfriend is constantly complaining about very trivial things. She gripes about things like how loud our landlady is. how loud our upstairs neighbors are. How cold it is. How hot it is. How annoying the next door neighbors kids are. How long the line is at the ATM. How loud people are chewing popcorn at the movie theater. How crowded public transit is. How obnoxious the people on it are. How sticky the floors are. Anything that she could conceivably have something to gripe about, she takes the time to vocalize it.

I find this bothersome because usually I am annoyed by whatever it is as well, but I am much more of the "accept the things I cannot change" mindset. I find that her vocalizing these complaints just frustrates me because they're not worth getting that upset about and she just can't seem to deal. After a while it just becomes unpleasant to be around. It also doesn't seem like she's looking to solve these issues, but that she's complaining just to complain. In many circumstances I've told her I could go address the problem that is causing the annoyance, and she always tells me she doesn't want me to.

Like I said, this isn't a dealbreaker, but one of us is overreacting, and there's a very real possibility it's me. Here are my questions.

1.) Am I in the wrong?
2.) If I am in the wrong, how can I go about letting my frustration at her complaints roll off my back a little more easily?
3.) If I'm in the right, how can I point this out to her in a way that won't offend her/start a fight/might provoke some kind of shift in the paradigm so we're both happier?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Nobody's in the wrong, nobody's in the right. You each have different ways of dealing with annoyances. The trick is to deal with annoyances in a way which doesn't further annoy someone you care about.

She knows you can't solve the problem; that's not why she's complaining. She's just kvetching. Misery shared is misery halved for a lot of people. The problem here is not who's right; the problem is that you're aggravated by her coping mechanism. If knowing it's just a coping mechanism isn't enough to defuse your aggravation, just tell her. "Honey, I know you're just venting, but it's actually getting on my nerves more than the thing itself."
posted by KathrynT at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2010 [17 favorites]

Being around someone who moans constantly about things I perceive to be very slight problems would drive me up the wall too, so if you're overreacting, I would be as well.

Is this a case of her verbalising that she's upset about a sticky floor, or is it a case of her verbalising about a sticky floor to you? If she's just saying that the floor is sticky, just try to ignore it. Don't hear what she's saying as a complaint that needs to have something done about it (which is what I would feel as well), hear it as being a series of sounds that she's making.

If she's verbalising it to you specifically, ask her if she wants anything doing about the problem. If she says no, then that gives you permission to stop seeing this as a complain that needs to be dealt with and just some noise that she's making. If you're of the "accept it" mindset, this shouldn't be too difficult.

Have you explained to her that you're a fixer, not a listener? My friends know to come to me with a problem that needs solving, because I'm capable of doing that (fixer attribute). They know not to come to me for a good moan, because I'm terrible at listening to complaints when the other person has no intention of doing anything about the situation (I lack the listener attribute). It's worth noting that you're displaying the fixer attribute in this question.

I don't think either of you are "in the wrong", because there's no wrong way to look at the situation. It's just a matter of different styles of communication. Sometimes people moan because they feel better for having done it. Something gets inside their heads and it won't go away until they say it.
posted by Solomon at 7:09 AM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

In your mind, transform them to, "I'm bored, let's talk about this or you think of something."
posted by fleacircus at 7:22 AM on May 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

This niggling little quality could end up growing in the years to come. Are you sure there isn't/aren't other things that are bothering her that she doesn't mention and thus gets overly upset about seemingly insignificant things? ... Just a thought.

Otherwise I would say talk to her about it before it (you being annoyed at her being annoyed) grows into something that comes between you two.

The difference in perception is what's in issue here: The guy at the movies is not eating his popcorn really loud just to annoy her. The guy is eating his popcorn loudly and it annoys her.
posted by eatcake at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find that sort of behavior annoying too.

Here's the thing: "In many circumstances I've told her I could go address the problem that is causing the annoyance, and she always tells me she doesn't want me to." For whatever reason -- I can't make any claims to its objective truth -- it gets repeated a lot that when women complain, they are simply venting and do not want the problem solved, but men either interpret the venting as a request for them to solve the problem, or else feel like it's how they can make the woman feel better. Regardless of genders, yes, that gap in understanding is important to realize. What you need to understand is you can't make her stop complaining by offering to solve the problem.

You can possibly make her stop complaining by telling her honestly and tactfully that it's irritating to hear her complain so much. Now, my husband and I are both the type to not make a fuss about things we can't control so this doesn't come up often, but sometimes my husband will get in a bad mood over something neither of us can change. Or I do. The tactful way we communicate this is, "When you talk about it, then I get stressed out too."

Your girlfriend might say that she's venting for a reason and you should be sympathetic and just listen. The thing is, I don't think you're being unreasonable when she complains about little things. For stuff that's actually a big deal, my husband and I don't mind listening to each other vent; it's not an every day thing and it's easier to be sympathetic. Stuff like complaining about long lines and noise and whatever just comes across as so emotionally fragile that it grates. This stuff is subjective, but if she tries to say you're being unfair or something, I would point out that you're not revoking your shoulder to cry on for anything someone shouldn't reasonably be able to handle on their own; someone being loud isn't the same as escalated workplace drama, and long lines aren't the same as parents dying.

Just tread carefully. I dunno, people that complain/vent about every little thing tend to react poorly to being told their complaining is unnecessary -- to some extent, they feel it is necessary -- and exhausting. But it doesn't mean you're unreasonable.
posted by Nattie at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Honestly, this seems like a deal breaker. You two have fundamentally different ways of interacting with the world and hers grates on your nerves. You can't change or fix her even even point it out without creating more problems.

You can not resolve this because she doesn't think it's a problem. Your irritation will grow, this will never be resolved and eventually it'll become a sticking point, as it's doing now.

Ask yourself this: "How much longer can I accept this sort of behavior?" The answer will tell you how much longer the relationship has.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

My wife (also a MeFi member) pointed me to this thread, saying "can you help this guy? I know I used to be more of a complainer than I am now--did you do anything to help me stop?"

Unfortunately, I don't have a great answer for you. I'm not sure I did anything to help my wife change her attitude (slamming the car door in frustration and breaking the latch didn't seem to help, so don't try that one). I will say that I don't think you are overreacting. It can be difficult to be around someone when you feel like their complaining is more annoying than the thing they are complaining about.

My wife mentioned that one thing that helped her change her reactions to annoying situations was having a friend who also complained a lot. When she saw how her friend's complaining would make her more anxious and annoyed, she started to think about how she herself sounded to others. So that might be a little difficult for you to arrange, but you might be able to point out that her complaining affects you in the way that some other personality trait about someone that she loves or likes affects her.

The last thing I'll mention is that I feel like my wife's approach to irritating or stressful situations has changed and become more easygoing as her overall mental health and happiness has improved. If your girlfriend has larger difficulties with anxiety or depression or the like, treating those might have the welcome side effect of making the complaining fade away, too.
posted by bevedog at 7:31 AM on May 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

Neither of you is wrong. It sounds like you have fundamentally different approaches to talking about life, though.

She may see the griping as a way of bonding with you. Do you guys spend a lot of time talking? Is there a chance she's trying to fill uncomfortable silences (for her), and these things are the only words she can think of to say? Is there anything you can do to take her opening line and turn the conversation in a different direction? Don't be the person who hears "Ugh, there goes our landlady, stomping again!" and says "Yes, but let's be grateful we have a place to live." She might see that as holier-than-thou (I saw it just the teeniest bit in your post). But could you turn it into something funny? If these are small problems, they're things you can laugh about together.

That said, I've been in your shoes. I dated someone once who did this and it drove me up the wall. He'd walk in door and I'd ask how his day was and every single day he had something to complain about. The constant griping can feel so negative after a while, like everything you thought was great about life is in fact shabby: the magic of going to the movies ruined by the popcorn chewing you can't not notice now, etc. I couldn't take and our relationship ended.
posted by sallybrown at 7:32 AM on May 23, 2010

"1.) Am I in the wrong?

No, it sounds annoying. No, no, you don't have to tell your girlfriend to stop! I'm just venting.

Okay, bad joke, but my husband is like your girlfriend and I, being a do-stuff-now or get over it kind of person get crabby about it. So I feel your pain. But it is more a way to bond, to talk about how she feels, a habit, than actually asking you for help. If everything were perfect she would find something else to complain about probably, right? Part of her personality.

2.) If I am in the wrong, how can I go about letting my frustration at her complaints roll off my back a little more easily?

It's not a matter of wrong or right--it's just a preference--so try to reframe it in your mind as something that she does, which is OK, and that you dislike, which is also OK.

Also, are you telling her when you start to get annoyed, or just offering to fix it? Try telling her about this when she's not doing it, just to get it out there. Then, the next time she does it and it starts to annoy you, make a cheesy joke like "oy, okay, the complaint department is closed today" or "all complaints must be in writing" and give her a hug or something.

If she doesn't get the hint and you're really strung out by it, just say "hey, seriously, I can't handle any more complaints right now."

3.) If I'm in the right, how can I point this out to her in a way that won't offend her/start a fight/might provoke some kind of shift in the paradigm so we're both happier? "

You're not right! She's not right! You're just two people who have annoying habits and love each other anyway. Just say "You know what, I get annoyed sometimes when you complain but you're so cute I can't help but love you anyway" and give her a kiss and move on.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:48 AM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

+1 fleacircus: change the subject. My wife does this, but it just means she wants to talk and that's the latest thing to cross her mind. She probably doesn't want anything fixed, she just wants to share what she's thinking with you.

I'm the kind of person who can ride a bus for 15 minutes without saying anything, if nothing remarkable happens. My wife will chatter on the whole time. I like her shoes. Do you like that car? This floor is sticky. Are we on the right bus? (when she already knows we are.)

Just take it as "I want you to talk to me right now, doesn't matter what about."
posted by ctmf at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

It has nothing to do with the specific issues. As you state, they are trivial, and she knows it. She's just expressing an emotional state.

I don't have advice on how to change that state, but I would target it, rather than the things she is complaining about.
posted by teedee2000 at 8:07 AM on May 23, 2010

Perhaps she's upset about something more important, and griping about life's little annoyances lets her avoid thinking about The Big Problem? If this could be the case, help her address that problem.

Otherwise, gently point out that her complaining is not the best use of your time together, and why don't we talk about ___ instead? But accept that you may not be able to change this quality, and evaluate whether it's worth your time to be around such a negative person.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on May 23, 2010

My husband does this, and it sometimes drives me up the wall. Irritations I was tuning out suddenly become un-tune-out-able when he starts bitching about them. But he's largely just externalizing his internal monologue because we're close and so he feels like he can give me a running commentary of what's crossing his brain. He doesn't do it with complaining as much as he used to because I've told him how annoyed it makes ME, and he tries not to just gripe gripe gripe. Sometimes when he seems stuck in annoyance mode and externalizing his internal monologue, I just tell him now we're going to find things to be happy about and after a pause to switch mental gears, he starts in on the sky being particularly blue today and the weather being lovely.

But you do have to talk to her about how it stresses you out/annoys you, and does she mind if you redirect her when she's bitching too much?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:17 AM on May 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

She changes, or you change. Or it's over. Which one is more likely/doable/longer-lasting?

Her reactions are disproportionate and the things that annoy her will never go away. So her likelihood of changing must be based on her knowledge of the impact it's having on you, and how soon it will before before you can't take it anymore.

If she knows how it makes you feel, and takes no steps to moderate the behavior (or worse, gets mad when you don't play along), then that tells the story right there.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:18 AM on May 23, 2010

Or, what Brandon Blatcher said.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:19 AM on May 23, 2010

Reading your description of your girlfriend actually reminds me a lot of myself. Not quite to the extent you describe here, but very familiar nonetheless. I have a tendency to fixate on small details and vent about them, until I see that exasperated look in my boyfriend's eyes that clearly says "Why is this such a big deal for you? Are you STILL talking about that bratty kid in the restaurant three days ago?" or what have you. Part of that is my anxious, hyperactive nature. I'm juggling a bunch of things at work right now and that added stress sometimes causes me to get annoyed at the little things.

In my situation, it actually really helps to be made aware of when I'm doing this so I can focus on stopping it. For example, the other day, I was out at lunch with my dad and caffeinated to the gills. In the middle of one of my rants about trivial stuff, Dad said calmly, "Boy, you're wound up today! Do you realize how worked up you're getting right now?" When Dad says something like this to me, it makes me aware of my behavior, in a non-accusing way.

Also, FWIW, the more I exercise and the less caffeine and sugar I ingest, the less this is a problem. YMMV.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

One more thing: This thread and this thread have been very helpful to me.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:25 AM on May 23, 2010

1.) Am I in the wrong?

No, that kind of behavior is childish, selfish and attention-whoring. It accomplishes nothing at the expense of pushing your personal unhappiness on to others solely so they can share in your misery.

3.) If I'm in the right, how can I point this out to her in a way that won't offend her/start a fight/might provoke some kind of shift in the paradigm so we're both happier?

I think you just need to call her out when it happens. There's any number of ways to do this, ranging from sarcastic and not-terribly constructive, ("You're cold? Really? Are you sure? Colder than five seconds ago when you last told me you were cold? How about now? Are you still cold?") to the more Zen, (no response). I usually opt for the Zen, for a couple of reasons:
  • It conveys, through silence, the statement, "Your banal fucking words are unworthy of my efforts to fill my lungs with air to produce sound for a response."
  • It usually really, really pisses people off.
  • They will either get bored of your lack of response and stop, or they will take care of the fucking problem themselves instead of just complaining about it.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:47 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a complainer by nature and my husband does a really good job of shutting me up with humor. Sometimes he feigns shock --"What? You don't like Glenn Beck? That is an amazing revelation." Or he'll defuse my rants by delivering them for me. For example, the other day my daughter asked why I hate summer so much and before I could answer, my husband rattled off: "Number one---it's hot!! Number two--CRITTERS! Number three--no school!" Sure, he's making fun of me a little, but it's always done with a smile and great affection. Plus, the fact that he can predict what I'm going to say shows that he's actually been listening all these years.
posted by jrossi4r at 9:18 AM on May 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

Has anyone suggested Deborah Tannen yet? No?

You really, really should read her book, You Just Don't Understand. It's an entire book on precisely this problem! How many men in Western society feel like their female mates complain too much without taking proactive solutions to solve their problems--and how many women feel like their male mates don't understand how and why they're just venting when they're frustrated. Reading it was integral for my husband and I to reach some sort of understanding about our communication styles.

(I'd also recommend it for those like Civil_Disobedient, who mis-characterize this communication style as childish, selfish, or attention-whoring--because it certainly isn't an accurate or fair assessment of what's going on, and reacting passive aggressively via silence is likely to just escalate the situation.)

My husband is the type of person who keeps his problems in, until he's ready to solve them. That's fine, and works fine for him. I, on the other hand, come from a whole family of kvetchers. As one (male) friend once said, "Your family just loves talking about how horrible everyone is." And I can't say it's not true! However, you should bear in mind that complaining can also be a coping mechanism. When I complain, often I'm increasing my capacity to deal with a situation via decompression. Because I'm not carrying my burdens alone, I can carry them for longer. The reactions of others helps me to gauge how and when to actually take action, and whether that action is worth it at all. For example, if I'm upset with someone in my social circle, it might not be worth the ensuing social fallout to confront the problem head-on (in fact, it often isn't). If I can complain to my friends or my husband, I can let off some of the steam with the conflict without having to make some minor nitpick about someone blow up into a huge confrontation or issue.

According to Tannen, most women communicate this way because they're looking for affirmation that their problems and emotions are normal. When they share a story about how horrible their day at work was, they're not looking for you to solve the problem. In fact, what they're looking for is usually a story in kind: yes, she really does want to hear about your frustrations with your day. This shows intimacy and an emotional closeness between the participants. If you react by trying to solve the problem, which is what many men will tend to do, you discard that intimate connection in favor of something--a solution--that she probably wasn't looking for in the first place. Something I've often repeated to my husband is if I wanted you to fix my problems I'd ask (and when I do, I do!). Instead of focusing on whose style is right or wrong, it's far more productive to try to understand why it's happening. Your girlfriend complains about this stuff because she sees you as a friend, a confidant, someone with whom she can comfortably share life's little annoyances. And that's a good thing!

Really, read Tannen. I think she'd be a huge help.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:22 AM on May 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

(Oh, and I do think that, while Tannen's argument is a bit overly gendered--there are men who communicate like the women she describes and vice versa--it's great at helping to explain the differences between kvetchers and solvers of either gender.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:25 AM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I sometimes complain too much about little things. It's a habit, not a fixed and permanent trait, and I encourage you to consider it such.

I don't remember the exact moment I realized that I complained too much and too unproductively and that it was annoying, but I think it was around the 612th time I told my boyfriend that I hated my job, and he responded for the 612th time that it might be time for me to consider a new job, and I said "nah," and I don't remember whether it was something he said or something that clicked in my head, but the lesson was: either accept the annoyance or fix it. If it's worth complaining about, it's worth doing something about.

Maybe, next time she brings up something that's annoying, reply with "yeah, the guy chewing popcorn is annoying me too. I figure the only things we can do about it are ignore him or tell him to stop. Which sounds better to you?"

And then, later, when you are both relaxed and away from anything annoying, tell her that although you recognize that she feels the need to vent when things are getting on her nerves, it builds up, and when she complains too much, it has the same effect on you that the popcorn-chewing guy does on her. Keep in mind it's not her intention to bother you, and she might not even realize that she's having that effect. Then, perhaps you guys can work out some sort of compromise. If she doesn't want to stop complaining, maybe she can shunt her complaints to a friend who's cool with listening, or a journal. If she does want to stop, maybe you can have an agreement where she gets to voice three complaints a day. The fourth time, you respond with something like "well, go do something about it" or otherwise gently call her out. It's unreasonable to expect her to stop complaining entirely; if she's not used to letting things go, she may bottle them up instead, and she'll start walking around silently fuming and feeling like she can't talk to you.

(Here's what doesn't help me: being called a childish attention whore.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:34 AM on May 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

She's not complaining just to complain. She's just vocalizing her thoughts to share them with you. It's not that big a deal. Honestly, I can't understand some of the comments here that frame this as a deal-breaker. That's the equivalent of "She eats her peas one at a time!!"

Communicate with her. Say, "I don't like it when you complain a lot. I'd rather focus on positive things. Can we talk about something else?" and suggest a topic of conversation. Repeat as necessary. Just be honest and respectful about it. Maybe she will be mad at first--who knows?--but she'll probably get over it and see your point of view. If you never bring it up at all, she'll never know how you feel.
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:44 AM on May 23, 2010

Absolutely do not do anything that Civil_Disobedient suggests. This is a recipe for ruining your relationship. Stonewalling (aka ignoring) is one the worst things you can do to a significant other.
posted by Lobster Garden at 9:47 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're observing someone who hasn't internalized the First Noble Truth, which roughly states that There's Always Something Wrong. We will always be too hot or too cold or too distracted by the birds outside or up to our ears in one thing or another.

Complaining about small shit is an incredibly easy way to make small talk, exactly because there's always something wrong. I agree with the above posters that she probably just wants to _talk_.

If talking about it directly doesn't help, I would recommend trying the Let's Get Anxious exercise with your girlfriend. In this exercise, you indulge the behaviour and push it to its logical conclusion. So you start complaining about things, too. And lots of things. Everything you can notice that isn't exactly comfortable or right with the world. Don't just speed through things, though, really try to linger on them, and use the process of observation to ratchet up the level of discomfort inflicted by the thing in question. You should try to achieve a real layering of unease, each layer both more trivial and more irksome than the last. Search for the absolute limit of discomfort you can inflict on yourselves. Then prove yourselves wrong.

Alternately, you can just try meditation with her, which does some of the same things as the Let's Get Anxious exercise. If it hasn't been established, meditating with someone can also help create the feeling that it's ok not to be talking or doing something all the time when in each other's presence.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:57 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another book you might try is Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. From memory, the whole 'women complain for the sake of it, men complain to get it fixed' is a topic there too.
same disclaimer as Tannen above, that it may be overly gendered, but I think it could be helpful for you
posted by jacalata at 10:09 AM on May 23, 2010

Are you a songwriter or poet? Have you ever thought about transforming her complaints into something beautiful?

I was able to change my perspective about some of the trashy aspects of my neighborhood (eg. derelict shopping carts, discarded fast food bags) by taking 'artistic' photos of them. I'm not a photographer, and never did anything with the photos. However, it changed my reaction to seeing something trashy in my neighborhood from frustration to something more detached- like 'oh look at the sunlight reflecting off the frame of that overturned shopping cart in my neighbor's yard'. 3 years later, i hardly notice those things.

It might be possible to do something like this with your loved one's complaints (without doing it in a condescending way). If you can find a way to transform your reaction, you could find yourself relishing those trivial annoyances. The complaints are a part of who she is, after all.
posted by palacewalls at 10:16 AM on May 23, 2010

Nthing that neither of you is wrong. You're probably not aware of it, but I'm wiling to bet that there are things that annoy you that your girlfriend thinks are petty or not worth complaining about. For example, I've had a habit for most of my life of vocalizing frustration if I drop something, especially if it's something tiny (like the back to an earring) that bounces and then takes forever to find. It's not my fault I dropped it, but I still exclaim out loud. I've done this less in recent years since Mr. Adams started "helpfully" mocking me during such episodes: "Dang it, I dropped my stinking Plaquenil (pill) and now I can't freakin' find it.... How do these things manage to always disappear when I drop them...." "The laws of gravity are out to get you." "You don't understand...this always happens and it's so frustrating..." "Yes, it only ever happens to you, it must be a conspiracy theory!"

Of course, I've noticed that certain niggling things bug the heck out of Mr. Adams as when someone parks in front of our house. On a public street. Where there aren't any "No Parking" signs. And 99.5% of the time we park our lone vehicle in our driveway or garage. But for some reason it is a personal affront to him when someone dares to park for a few hours in front of our house. And don't get me started on his reaction if I accidentally squish the bread when carrying it from the car to the house after a grocery shopping expedition. He cannot abide squished bread; he transports his precious loaf of Sunbeam from car to cupboard as if he were carrying the Christ child in a Chrismas pageant.

Bottom line - everyone has their own idiosyncracies and little things that bug them and you either learn to tolerate/deal with them or you don't. If you don't then that's a cue to get out of the relationship before you buy a house together or get married or have a baby together.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:25 AM on May 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

Along with a fair few other people here, I think that she's vocalising because she wants to talk. The conversation she wants is probably along the lines of:

"Ugh, the landlady is so loud."

"I know! She's always Stompy McStomperson. Do you remember that time she was moving her furniture for, like, four hours?"

"Oh my god, yes! That was so annoying!"


And then a segue into a new topic.

She's trying to initiate conversation by reference to a shared experience (i.e. landlady is currently being loud). Because you'll have noticed she's loud too, she's more likely to get a response.

I don't really know what you can do about it, but framing it this way could help you come to a solution.
posted by djgh at 10:58 AM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

You're not wrong, that's annoying. Most of us do it at least sometimes. I think you basically just need to tell her she's harshing your mellow. We both slip into it in our house and sometimes call it 'drinking the poison' because if you complain enough you start to feel kind of sick.

Tell her she's bumming you out and ask her to ease up. You don't need to justify your request and she doesn't need to justify the complaining.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:01 AM on May 23, 2010

Sounds awful. There is one possibility that I've noticed sometimes in myself. Is she secure about that you recognize and respect her taste and intelligence? Because if not, she has an extra reason for reminding you that she is not meek. Letting annoyances pass would appear as not even recognizing that something is wrong, and thus make her look dumb.
posted by Free word order! at 11:19 AM on May 23, 2010

But he's largely just externalizing his internal monologue because we're close and so he feels like he can give me a running commentary of what's crossing his brain.

Eyebrows McGee touched on what I think is the main reason both my husband and I do this. I'm more of a "It's hot in here. These shoes pinch. Why is that lady's voice so loud?" complainer whereas he tends toward things like "Why don't those teaparty idiots realize they haven't got an internally consistent philosophy? Why was that horrible man on the train was saying such rude, misogynist things about his wife to his friends?" but it's basically the same behavior.

For us, I really think it's that we're accustomed to freely turning on the external speaker to our internal monologues. It's how we communicate because we both generally enjoy knowing what's going on in the other person's head and having them know what we're pondering over in return. And it's not always or even usually griping. We also turn it on for the really mundane stuff like "That's a weird looking tree. I was thinking I'd make a lasagna this week. We've got to remember to buy more hand soap."

But sometimes, yes, this turns to griping and it can occasionally get irritating to listen to the other person go around and around getting more worked up over an unchangeable thing. In those cases we'll usually just mention to the other person that they're seeming to get more irritated rather than less, ask if there's anything we can do to fix the situation, and then try to change the subject. Sometimes when I'm feeling especially vexed I've learned to just announce that I'm cranky and that I intent to take a Five Minute Bitch and then move on.

My point is, I think if your girlfriend isn't a generally negative, downer, miserable person, this is probably just a communication style thing. You can either live with it or you can't. You can very possibly mitigate both her doing it and your reaction by, you know, communicating about it. Use lots of "I statements" to make it clear that you don't want to cut her off, don't no care about what's going on in her life/head, and don't want to discount her feelings or make her feel ignored (you don't, right?). Say it can get annoying for you because you feel powerless to make her feel better and that hearing a lot of small irritants you're trying to ignore vocalized makes you anxious. Maybe have a "safe word" for when you're near the end of your rope.

Simultaneously work on, as palacewalls put it, transforming your reaction. It's a piece of who she is and it may be a signal that she feels like she can talk to you about anything. If she could work on doing it a bit less and you could work on accepting it a bit more, it could likely be just fine.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:22 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nth-nth-nthing that it's a form of making small talk. She's momentary bored and casting about for a distracting thing. She's not identifying a problem, she's just making an observation.

You can just basically ignore the subject of her complaints and take it as a sign that she'd like some chit-chat.

Or if hearing the complaint bugs you enough that you can't shrug it off, you can gently call her out on it with some humor as noted by others above. At some point maybe suggest that she consider focusing her powers of observation on pleasant things.

P.S. As I type this, my SO is startling me with occasional outbursts of sputtering rage over the baseball game. Look, I love watching/listening to baseball games, I also want our team to win, I am also frustrated when they give up three runs, but JESUS CHRIST DID YOU CHOP OFF YOUR FINGER IF NOT THAN WTF.
posted by desuetude at 11:42 AM on May 23, 2010

I don't know. I want to complain about eveything sometimes, but I stop myself because I don't want to sound like as ass.

I have a family member that complains constantly:

"It smells like onions in here!"

"Don't you hate humidity?!"

"I'm so bored!"

It's toxic.

It feels like (when they do this) that they are operating on the level of a twelve year old - or younger. That they want me to do something about whatever pesky detail (that I too have noticed, yet have said nothing because = it's chronically NEGATIVE to complain about everything all of the time). That, instead of acting like an adult, simply dealing wioth all the little annoyances in the world, or doing anything to adjust themselves to the conditions in the world around them (like everyone else) they instead cry out like a baby.

I write this mostly because I don't get how people get away with this or out grow it (via, getting a bad reaction from others about their own lack of maturity)?

Personally, I wouldn't be able to stand it.

If a significat other did this all the time they would get snappy answers back from me about growing up or "thanks for pointing out the obvious" or "so, what are you going to do about that?". And the realtionship wouldn't last very long if it continued.

As with my family member, I avoid them at all costs, and if we weren't related I would never see them.
posted by marimeko at 12:01 PM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Absolutely do not do anything that Civil_Disobedient suggests. This is a recipe for ruining your relationship.

Oh, please. A person that is constantly complaining is ruining their relationship. They walk around with little rainclouds over their head bringing ennui and resignation to anyone that's willing to entertain their moaning. But the fact is, some people are just complainers. Either you find a way to cope with that, you leave, or you stay miserable. Hoping against hope to actually change someone else's behavior is a recipe for ruining your sanity. The only behavior you can control is your own. My suggestions are coping mechanisms for those on the receiving end.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:58 PM on May 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I complain too much. I know this, and I also recognize that my boyfriend is practically on his way to sainthood candidature for how patient he is with it all. In fact, he has mentioned that he thinks it's cute, but I know that won't necessarily last.

Here's the thing though: I do it on small annoyances when I can't seem to vocalise on the big stuff. I can't seem to say "I'm really worried about not being able to find an apartment, and will this job really work, and money is super tight", so instead I say "Oh my god, it's SO FREAKING COLD" or "What the hell is that annoying sound?" It's not exactly venting, and it's not exactly looking to fix something, it's just vocalisation that without the shape of my mouth to make it about trivial things would all sound like one, big, wail.
posted by thatbrunette at 1:14 PM on May 23, 2010

3.) If I'm in the right, how can I point this out to her in a way that won't offend her/start a fight/might provoke some kind of shift in the paradigm so we're both happier?


to the more Zen, (no response). I usually opt for the Zen, for a couple of reasons:

* It conveys, through silence, the statement, "Your banal fucking words are unworthy of my efforts to fill my lungs with air to produce sound for a response."
* It usually really, really pisses people off.
* They will either get bored of your lack of response and stop, or they will take care of the fucking problem themselves instead of just complaining about it.

Maybe you missed the "so we're both happier" part of the request? What you consider "zen" sounds to me like "quietly seething with resentment and smug superiority."

It's futile to try to change someone's personality, but people adjust their behavior in relationships all the time. My SO finds it frustrating for me to vent about work, so I vent about work to my best friend instead. I find that the blaring noise of the commercials during the game drives me fucking batty, so my SO turns down the volume on the radio when it's not actually the game itself. Instead of either one of us wincing and eye-rolling and being crankypants, we each made a complaint and the other found a reasonable way to be considerate.

I think that this is probably more zen.
posted by desuetude at 1:25 PM on May 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Talk to her. This will have better results if you can offer her something else to do when irritated in lieu of kvetching. Because it's really hard to react to suggestions like "don't do x". Better: "Let's do X instead". X could be anything from growling to adding the person to the list of "First people against the wall." Bonus points if it rnds in humour and short.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:53 PM on May 23, 2010

I know I do this a lot... To an extent, it's a girl thing. Or maybe it's just a thing. Some of us like to share when something is bothering us. It's not a request for people to solve our problems for us. For smaller things, a nod and a grunt will do. For bigger things, a hug or some empty words of sympathy. I think we just like feeling like we're not alone, like someone will listen and understand, you know?
posted by MaiaMadness at 3:59 PM on May 23, 2010

It might help to remember that some people gripe and it doesn't signal a desire for rectification, it just sort of is, on its own. Like. Sometimes you want to vent, have zero actual interest in trying to change the situation, but still need to vent for its own sake. For people (cough, boyfriends) who think to gripe at all is a sign something needs fixing, this can be puzzling and irritating. Trust me, it is just as irritating for said griper--a lot of times such folks don't want you to suggest solutions or point out there aren't any because it's not about problem-solving. It's about letting things breathe so you can go on and about with your life comfortably. Really.
posted by ifjuly at 4:23 PM on May 23, 2010

(no, you're not in the wrong, neither is she, but also what ifjuly says, etc...), and

I find this bothersome because usually I am annoyed by whatever it is as well, but I am much more of the "accept the things I cannot change" mindset

So right now, you tell us that you are silently somewhat annoyed by her behavior, but since you're more of the "accept the things [you] cannot change" mindset, you ask "am I in the wrong" instead. Such gentleness and politeness notwithstanding it seems like you actually don't quite allow yourself to gripe and grumble in certain situations. That might blur your vision somewhat as to how much of such behavior is acceptable in other individuals who do not think that grumbling is a weakness.
posted by Namlit at 6:03 PM on May 23, 2010

Namlit, I think grumbling perpetually is a form of weakness. It puts you (you put yourself) in the position of the permanently beset and unfairly treated. And it forces other people to listen and agree to this assessment when they really just want to shout "dude, life is unfair! Deal!"
posted by Omnomnom at 1:03 AM on May 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

First of all, don't get into the habit of Invalidation, which is one of the four Danger Signs of relationships.

A simple "I'm sorry to hear you are uncomfortable. Is there anything I can do to help you feel more at ease?" will affirm her and give her the opportunity to elevate her problem to something actionable if the situation merits it.

Also recognize that it is harder for a man to listen to a woman he loves complain about anything because it triggers his "fix it" reaction by reflex. We guys tend to add an imaginary "...and why aren't you doing anything about it?" whether it's rational to do so or not. Realize that this anxiety, however mild, is from you and you are okay to claim it, name it, and let it go. Of course, unless the complaint really is about you, in which case some clear communication is in order.
posted by cross_impact at 7:07 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

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