How to make a complaint, and have your partner listen

For a period of 3 years I have been teaching couples how to utilize the teachings of Dr. John Gottman. As a Marriage Education Facilitator and Marriage Coach I have worked with over 200 couples, facilitated over 200 classes on marital success, and every time I teach I find the wisdom of Gottman to be spot on.

Today I want to share one tip that I have found to be monumental in helping couples improve their ability to discuss problems and resolve them. First off I want to say that the information I am sharing comes from Gottman’s work, and the insight from there is my own.

In Gottman’s research he found that the first three minutes couples spend talking about a problem is more important then the rest of the conversation. That means how you bring up a problem and how your partner’s initial response is more important then the rest of the conversation.

In the work that I did with couples I taught them how to gently bring up an issue so their partner would listen. When Gottman analyzes a couple he looks for warning signs- one of those signs is criticism. Often times when we want to bring up a problem we begin by blaming and attributing the problem to our partner personally- that’s criticism. For example, let’s say the house is dirty and we are upset with our partner about it. In the heat of the moment we might say, “Damn it Luis you’re so messy. You’re such a lazy slob…” This is criticism because we are calling Luis messy, and making him and who he is out to be the problem. How many of us want to listen to this? Would you want to help with the house after this statement? Of course we don’t like it, and of course it often leads to us being bothered by our partner.

In Gottman’s work he says that if we are able to bring up issues in a gentle way, we invite our partner in for conversation and open up dialogue. So, how can we softly bring up issues? We do it through making “I feel” statements, followed by objective observations, followed by a request. While this may seem too formulaic at first, trust me it works. I would also like to add that this is the same formula used in Marshall Rosenburg’s book, “Nonviolent Communication.”

Here’s how you can utilize the information I used to teach, and Dr. John Gottman teaches for several hundred dollars.

1- When you observe the problem, identify the feeling it brings up in you.  (Example, when I see that the house is messy I feel frustrated…I feel upset…I feel angry…sad…) If you use statements such as, “I feel like…” or “I feel that..” you are not talking about feelings–whatever follows after like or that are not feelings but rather judgements. “I feel like your being an ass.” “I feel that you don’t love me.” These are not feeling statements, but rather judgments and often times make the other feel guilty. We don’t want guilt, we want openness and to create a space for conversation and listening. Use I feel – then insert one word right after feel–nothing else. One word follows I feel, not two or three words.

2- State the problem in an objective manner. (Example: I feel upset when I see that the house is a complete mess– or better–when there’s dirty dishes all over the kitchen). The more specific you are about what the problem is, the more easily the resolution can come about.

3- State your need. (I need you to help me wash the dishes, I need us to be more attentive to the kitchen..I need you to wash your dishes after you eat/cook…) In my work I noticed that women often times had a harder time asking for what they needed, but when they learned to free their voice and ask they felt a cathartic release and often times their husbands did too.

On a side note, this way of speaking may seem awkard at first but it really does help open up conversation and get people on your side. Also know that just because you use this method it does not mean your partner will not oblige, but it will open them up to understanding. If understanding is reached, our partner will likely naturally oblige our requests, and do so happily. The point of this method is more about stating problems in way that allows for conversation, listening, and often times this leads to a solution.

In Dr. John Gottman’s work he noted that 69% of problems don’t have a solution, while 31% of problems are solveable. In my own work I found this to be true–there are problems that really don’t have a solution. For example, couples of different religions might never resolve their issue about their belief system and how they choose to raise their kids with their differing ideaologies. There are many little characteristics that make each one of us unique, and in a relationships there are differences that create problems that don’t have a “solution” –but there is a way to work with differences so more intimacy can be created.

In my next blog I look forward to sharing with you how couples utilized their perpetual problems as a way to create more intimacy, understanding, and closeness. Until then feel free to comment, and share your own insights.

To deepening love, and your intimacy with self and others. Namaste- Luis



I wrote this poem after my first heartbreak. It tore me apart like a fire in a forest. It took away all the life that I had built, the whole story of me. Heartbreak broke me open. It allowed me to open deeper into the emptiness that is Love. Below is a description of where the title is derived from, an essential piece of understanding and really feeling the intensity of the poem.

I have titled the poem, “Kali” because in the Hindu tradition Kali represents destruction. She is an essential part of creation, and a manifestation of god. Kali is a symbol of the woman (goddess) who destroyed my world. An essential part of Love is destruction. In creation as well as in destruction God is present. A Christian example is found in the story of Noah, where God destroys to create better. In a poem by Rumi he says, “Imagine what beautiful flowers God creates with manure.” This poem is about flowers blossoming through heartache. Listen to Love

Her Heart Was Kept in an Oak Chest

I wrote this poem after reuniting with my biological family in Colombia for the second time. I stayed in Medellin, Colombia for 3 months. It took 11 years for me to be able to reunite with my biological family. At the age of 18 I met my biological father for the first time and my older brother too.

The day after returning home I went back to school. In one of my classes we watched a movie about the African women who grow Maiz as a way to live. It showed some of the issues regarding hybrid engineering seeds. How it is making it so that they cannot feed themselves and making them dependent upon engineered seeds that are sold at high prices. This poem puts these experiences together in one emotionally gripping expression. I hope you will take a look and leave me a comment.  Read the Poem

My Son Won’t Stop Playing Video Games. Help!

As a parent I know that a big issue these days is Video Games. Our kids are obsessed with video games, and in my home its a constant battle we have. In my kids’ mind playing video games is the most important thing in the world.

It seems like all my kid wants to do is play video games. Today I learned that this is not true though. What he wants the most is what he says he doesn’t. He says he wants to play video games, and says he would prefer to do that more than anything else. Yet, Keep Reading

I Want More Connection With My Partner

When we’re fighting with our partner life doesn’t feel very good. Yet, often times the solutions to our problems are rather simple. If you feel distant from your partner, or just want to CREATE MORE CONNECTION there two simple tips I want to share with you.

In my work as a marriage counselor my job is to teach people how to create connectedness. Almost all problems in marriages are due to feelings of not being heard and understood. When we feel Love we feel accepted, heard, supported, and valued. Yet most people don’t know what it takes to assure that they have intimacy in their relationship. Issues like parenting, money, and sex can create a big gap in our ability to feel close to our partner. In my experience I have learned that almost all issues can be resolved in the same way.
Create Connection with these TWO Steps