“There’s a resort in Colorado with a hot spring and a cold spring side by side. People can wash up comfortably in one and get a refreshing rinse in the other. ‘Do you know how wonderful this is?’ a tourist marveled to a Colorado native who worked at the resort. ‘It’s not so great,’ remarked the employee. ‘Notice there isn’t any soap.’” Grumble, grumble, grumble. (Homilies for the Active Christian, 2006).
Recently in a high school theology class, my students and I discussed the book of Exodus. This well-known book of the Bible contains many significant miracles and events. However, often over-looked among the miraculous exploits is a recurring problem among the Israelites. This problem is common in marriage, and is certain to destroy the relationship between spouses. What is this deadly destroyer? It is complaining.
We all know people who grumble and complain regularly. These people live in our neighborhoods, they work at the same company as we do, and they even worship in the same community. They are often the first to complain and the last to offer their help.
Grumble, grumble, grumble.
Complaining is not new
Interestingly, more than 1500 years ago, St. Benedict warned against such people. In his Rule, St. Benedict cautioned against allowing everyone to join the monastic community. “If during their stay they have been found excessive in their demands or full of faults, … they should be politely told to depart, lest their ways contaminate others” (Chapter 61, emphasis added).
St. Benedict recognized that grumbling, complaining, and constant nagging is like a toxin that infests a community and destroys it from within. Marriage therapists of the 21st century agree. In fact, Elizabeth Bernstein, in her Wall Street Journal article, refers to this constant complaining as a “marriage killer . . . as toxic as adultery.” In addition, Bernstein also notes that marriage counselors warn that nagging is the leading cause for discord and divorce (WSJ, Jan. 25, 2012).
Does this mean that we can’t ever complain? What if we have a legitimate concern or truly need the help of our spouse?
According to Fr. Arnold Weber, OSB, “some discussion about our discontent can be normal and good. It helps us let off pressure, like a safety valve” (Homilies, 2012, p.80).
However, Fr. Weber notices a difference between the occasional complaint and a constant grumbler. Weber says that constant complainers may have good intentions, but their complaints can stir up unhealthy conflict which can result in disaster. In addition, he notes that grumblers focus on the problems without offering solutions. Unfortunately, within a marriage, constant nagging and complaining can be like termites who eat away at the foundation.
Am I the Problem? Am I a Grumbler?
If you have a tendency to see the glass as “half empty,” and you notice (and point out) the problems, mistakes, and shortcomings of everyone around you – you just might be a “grumbler.”
What can you do to save your relationships with your spouse, family members, neighbors, and co-workers? First, try focusing on the positive. If you notice a problem, before complaining about it, offer praise for something positive.Next, when identifying a need, try to fill it. Consider Isaiah’s response, “Here I am Lord, use me.”
In addition, limit the amount of time you spend with grumblers. As St. Benedict noted, their ways can be contagious.
Finally, keep a gratitude journal. Routinely calling to mind our blessings can decrease the stress we feel regarding the problems we experience or observe in life. Wisely, G.K. Chesterton said that “thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” To help us become healthier, and less of a grumbler, thank God and thank others – regularly.
What if it’s my spouse who is the problem?
If your spouse is a grumbler, there are a few things you can do. First and foremost, model healthy behavior. This includes regularly thanking them for all they do in the relationship. If they wash the dishes, thank them. If they take out the garbage, thank them. If they make the bed, drive the kids, mow the grass, or fold the laundry, thank them. In truth, knowing they are appreciated goes a long way to lifting one’s spirits.
Next, if you are married to a complainer, pray for them. In addition, consider adding fasting to your prayers. I am a firm believer in the power of prayer. And, as I have gotten older, I have added fasting to my prayer practices. This combination of sincere conversation with God coupled with a form of self-sacrifice is very powerful.
Last, try to listen to the complaints of your spouse. Many times grumblers have a real concern, yet they do not know how to effectively articulate the problem. Try to find out what the underlying issue is.
Grumble, grumble, grumble
For the Israelites in the book of Exodus, their constant complaining proved disastrous. In fact, even St. Paul warned the early Christians to avoid the same plight as the Israelites when he said, “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer. These things . . . have been written down as a warning to us” (1 Corinthians 10:10).
All marriages face trials – and a complaint now and again is to be expected. However, guard against constant nagging and complaining. Often, these actions slowly erode the foundation of marriage – leading to much discord and distress.
Pamela Patnode will be speaking at the MN Catholic Home Education Conference at the University of St. Paul, MN (June 2, 2018). To register, click the link above.