Complaining About the Men In Our Lives

Oct 04, 2019
A friend of mine noted, many older women don’t seem to like their husbands. They complain about them . . . all the time. She noticed these women seemed lonely and loveless even though their partner was still present. Do These Conversations Hurt Our Relationships with Men?

A friend of mine noted, many older women don’t seem to like their husbands. They complain about them . . . all the time. She noticed these women seemed lonely and loveless even though their partner was still present.

My experience with women of all ages is that conversations about the men in our lives often turn to mutual complaining. We seem to enjoy these conversations, as they affirm we are not alone, confirm we are not crazy, and strengthen our bonds with friends, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers. 


Do These Conversations Hurt Our Relationships with Men?

Given what I now know about the power of conversation, I can’t help but think that such conversations are lethal to loving relationships. Here’s what I know about conversation (backed up by research across multiple disciplines):

We influence our relationships with men every conversation about them or with them.
  • We create our relationships through conversation and shared meaning-making.
  • Our internal and external conversations influence our expectations and assumptions, which govern our perceptions of reality.
  • What we focus on grows; what we talk about takes shape.
  • The questions we ask and the images we conjure are fateful: they become our reality.

We need to be asking ourselves: What kind of relationships do we want with the men in our lives? If we want close and loving relationships, then we need to have different conversations. We need to ask questions that deepen our love and affection for one another. We need to have conversations about raising, educating, and nurturing boys in different ways.

But what about all those irritating things they do? OMG, surely, we can talk about those! 

Talk to the man directly instead of talking about him with other women.

You can talk about anything. Just be aware that your conversations are directly influencing your relationships and their overall health. If your partner does things that irritate you, talk with your partner about it, not your friends . . . unless you are asking for ideas. Friends who can share stories of successful conversations about the same issue are valuable! That’s a complaint conversation worth having!


Biochemistry can lead us astray!

Engaging in these conversations is almost irresistable. The reason is biochemical; complaining with other women juices us. The flood of stress hormones associated with thinking about the negative things men do (cortisol, norepinephrine, and testosterone) strengthens us. At the same time, we are flooded with the love/happiness hormones (oxytocin, endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine) because we are safe and fully aligned with our tribe of women. We feel good and strong; and many of us don’t often feel that way.  Still, we might want to consider the price we may be paying for such conversations.

What Can We Do Instead?

How might we turn these conversations into ones worth having? Conversations that support us in creating positive change in our relationship when it’s needed as well as nurturing healthy growth and development. How do we share our success stories around changing behavior (including our own), letting things go, or having valuable conversations with boys and men? How might we turn the dialogue towards understanding? What might we do at the non-personal level to resolve our issues (e.g., family dynamics, school and societal structures)?

From Conversations Worth Having

Here are two simple practices you can use to shift these conversations in your life:

Ask one another generative questions. A generative question shifts the focus of attention; it changes thinking. For example: 

  • What would you like to have happen? What might he do that would be helpful? 
  • What’s going on for you when that happens?
  • How do I help my son develop his nurturing, relational side?
  • How do you and your partner handle this? 
  • I wonder how successful relationships navigate this?

Create a positive frame. Frame conversations around what you want (for yourself, for the other, for the relationship) instead of what you don’t want. For example, 

  • Instead of dirty clothes on the floor, talk about creative ways to get clothes in the hamper.
  • Instead of every little thing that’s bothering you, talk about how you let the things  that don’t matter go. 
  • Instead of talking about how terrible your relationships is, talk about the best parts of your relationship (even if there are only a few).
  • Instead of talking about the men in our society who are predators, talk about how we create a world of caring and balanced men. Where is this already happening? How do we uplift the men working in these areas?

Of course, there are times when it is important to share the negative. If you are in danger, if you are being emotionally abused, neglected, or in a bad relationship, by all means have those conversations with your friends. In these cases, ask questions that deepen understanding and connection and frame your conversations around supporting your friend in being safe and getting appropriate help and guidance. These are also conversations worth having.

The majority of our negative conversations, however, don’t verge on divorce or destruction. Instead, we engage in empathizing and commiserating because it feels good. We are well advised to make this decision consciously instead of leaving it up to whim, as whim is likely to have us growing old and being lonely even though our partner is present.


Cheri Torres is Lead Catalyst and CEO at Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders in organizations and communities to enhance their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement through effective communication. Learn more at

This article first appeared in SOFIA October 2019


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