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Marriage and Family


Complaint Questions



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10/01/2012 - Does the name Richard Dean Anderson ring any bells to you? If not, or if you just can't place it, he was the actor who played the secret agent Macgyver. Macgyver was famous for his abilities to escape precarious situations with every day items he had on hand. Imagine for a second if Macgyver, when in a difficult situation, sat down in frustration and simply asked, "How in the world am I supposed to get out of this?"

Often times, when frustrated or exasperated, we will ask what I call "complaint questions". We have no intention of seeking the answers to these types of questions. Usually, they are "why" questions. "Why doesn't he get this?" "Why does she keep doing that?" "Why can't my child just behave?" "Why do I keep getting hurt?" These questions can also take different forms, but the question is more of a statement expressing frustration.

What if we actually tried answering these questions? When in conflict, stressed or just exasperated at ourselves we often ask these very important questions. If we take the time, they can lead us to helpful answers. Here a few common targets at which these complaint questions are aimed.

1. When in conflict with a spouse, or dealing with a disobedient child

Taking the time to stop and answer your complaint question at this point may uncover some valuable information. One very difficult thing to do, when angry, is to think empathically. To think empathically basically means that you are trying to understand the situation from the other person's perspective. You don't have to feel what they are feeling. You are only trying to see it from their point of view. You may feel misunderstood, taken advantage of, disrespected or a myriad of other emotions. But what do you think is going on with the other person? The complaint question may be "why do they keep doing that?" Ask yourself "why DO they keep doing that?" Could it be they are clueless to the offense because they genuinely don't realize what you are feeling? Maybe your child is rebelling due to deeper problems or could it be a shortcoming in your parenting?

2. When frustrated over external circumstances

¡°Why does this keep happening to me?" The attempt to answer this question may lead to some difficult realities to look at. Some circumstances are a direct result of us. It is not uncommon for people to sabotage themselves due to a deeper issue. Often fears will prevent you from doing what you need to do in a circumstances and the avoidance only allows the fire of the circumstance to burn hotter. Some external circumstances have nothing to do with us. Sadly, our world is full of tragedies and we all experience them in various times and in various ways. We may still ask the complaint question, but it is very important for us to answer that question as a way to reassure ourselves that we are powerless to change it. If you come to the conclusion that you are powerless over the circumstance, you may then begin figuring out what you must do within it.

3. When frustrated with yourself

Often times we may find ourselves falling into patterns we deeply regret but can't seem to break. Maybe it's a tendency to build relationships with toxic people, or fail to maintain work or healthy relationships for any length of time. Maybe you recognize that you are sabotaging your own goals. If you find yourself struggling with depression or anxiety, you may also fall into this category. To merely ask the complaint question and never truly try to answer it will deprive you of vitally important insights. Without answering these questions, you will remain ensnared.

When in the heat of the emotion, it may seem impossible to even recognize when you are asking these questions. I was listening to an economic expert on the news a few days ago and he was talking about how we are increasingly a culture who lives in the moment. He was speaking financially with credit cards and people not saving for emergencies or retirement. Emotionally, we tend to be people who live in the moment. We want resolution when we are angry, but refuse to look at problems when we are feeling ok. When the heat of the moment is over, it is time to play Macgyver.

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