Complaint Makeover Corner

A.L. wrote the following (some information was omitted for privacy). My wife is addicted to her iPhone. She's on it all the time, checks messages from work during dinner, plays games on it when we're watching a show together on TV. Takes it with her from room to room in the house. I've told her I think she's addicted to it but she says she needs it for work (real estate). I've told her it's like she's married to the phone and not to me! We argue about it all the time. Whenever I bring it up she gets very defensive and we argue but nothing changes. Last night she took it out during a movie and someone seated nearby told her it was disruptive. She put it away but she was angry I didn't say something to stand up for her. No kidding. It bothered me too! Please help! A.L.

Dear A.L.

Finding yourself in a threesome with your spouse and their phone or blackberry is an extremely common problem these days. Your wife might need to check her phone for work but you should still be able to enjoy some phone-free periods where the phone is set aside or turned off. You voiced your complaint several times but doing so only led to arguing. I definitely understand your frustration. However, your irritation led you to commit a number of important complaining errors that rendered your complaint ineffective.

First, instead of discussing the specific incident at hand, you generalized your complaint into a criticism. Accusing your wife of being married to her iPhone is a sweeping generalization that would make most people defensive. Complaining about a specific incident would make the exact same point and it would also make your complaint easier for her to hear and absorb.

Second, accusing your wife of iPhone addiction made your complaint sound too angry and harsh. Angry complaints always make the complaint recipient defensive and cause them to tune out the actual content of our complaint.

Third, you did not use the Complaint Sandwich (placing your complaint between two positive statements). You can find a brief Complaint Sandwich tutorial here.

Following is your complaint made over to be more effective. Feel free to substitute your own words as long as the elements and spirit of the complaint remain the same. And please let us know how things worked out.

“Honey, you have a demanding job with difficult hours and I really appreciate the effort you put into it. I know I get frustrated when you have to take a call or respond to an urgent message from work but it’s because I really look forward to spending time with you. If we could designate times when we both turned off our phones, perhaps during dinner or when we’re at the movies, I would feel much less frustrated and I could be more supportive. I really want us to enjoy our free time together and focus on each other and I know we could figure out something that works for both of us.”

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