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Nagging and Complaining

Effects Of Complaining On Familial Relationships

Unfortunately, virtually all of the research on complaining and nagging has focused on married or romantic couples. Thus, most of what we know about the connection between nagging and relationship adjustment or satisfaction concerns dyadic, not family, functioning. However, other research indicates that parental satisfaction and adjustment are key to overall family health and functioning (Noller and Fitzpatrick 1993). Thus, when parents manage their complaints effectively, family adjustment is likely increased.

The various studies that have examined relationship satisfaction and complaining have produced several consistent findings. It is known that satisfied and dissatisfied couples manage their complaints differently. One of the most consistent findings (Gottman 1979; Alberts 1988) is that dissatisfied couples are more likely to cross-complain; that is, they are more likely to respond to a complaint with a complaint. In addition, satisfied couples are more likely to complain about specific behaviors rather than general personality characteristics, they are more positive in their affect when they do complain, and they are more likely to respond to their partners' complaints with agreement or apologies. Overall, happy couples manage their complaints more effectively and are less likely to escalate complaint episodes.

Does this mean happy couples complain less? Not necessarily. Alberts (1988) did not find a statistically significant relationship between number of complaints and couples' satisfaction. In fact, she found that both the happiest and unhappiest couples had the fewest complaints. However, the very unhappy couples' lack of complaining was attributed to the chilling effect (Roloff and Cloven 1990). The chilling effect describes the tendency for individuals to withhold complaints due to their perception that they will not be received well or will have little effect.

Although the research on nagging/complaining and relationship satisfaction has not been extended to family relationships, it is likely that similar findings would hold. One may expect that in families where individuals use specific complaints delivered in a positive fashion and respond with agreement or apologies, family members will be happier and more satisfied.


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Gottman, J. M. (1979). Marital Interaction. New York: Academic Press.

Gottman, J. M., and Levenson, R. W. (1999). "How Stable Is Marital Interaction Over Time?" Family Process 38:159–165.

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Macklin, E. D. (1978). "Review of Research on Non-marital Cohabitation in the United States." In Exploring Intimate Lifestyles, ed. B. I. Burstein. New York: Springer.

Noller, P., and Fitzpatrick, M. A. (1993). Communication in Family Relationships. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Roloff, M. E., and Cloven, D. H. (1990). "The Chilling Effect in Interpersonal Relationships: The Reluctance to Speak One's Mind." In Intimates in Conflict, ed. D. D. Cahn. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsNagging and Complaining - Purposes And Types Of Complaints, Complaints And Complaint Responses As Elements Of Conflict, Effects Of Complaining On Familial Relationships