my wife’s complaints about work are overwhelming me

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

My wife and I have a generally happy household, except for after work times: I think of this as the Airing of Grievances hour. And let me be clear in saying that it is my wife who does the complaining. She is pleasant with her coworkers and customers all day, but after work, look out! I have to hear about all the rotten customers she dealt with, all the mistakes her coworkers made, and how she gets no respect from anyone. This is not a time to talk through it — she just wants to complain and wants me to listen.

For years I have just held my tongue and listened and nodded, but I am tired of it. For 2022, I want our dinner times to be complaint-free … or at least, complaint-fewer. My wife needs a work-stress outlet besides me.

I have tried sensitively saying that we should not spend dinner complaining, but this hasn’t gone well. Her response has been that she needs someone to tell about her day. I understand that, but especially in the current climate where Covid has kept social events minimal and we are spending much more time at home, I am the only outlet for the day’s news. And, to be honest, a lot of complaining is really a choice. You don’t have to complain about everything (or anything, really). There’s a difference between talking about the day and complaining. So this is hard. I do not want to deny my wife the opportunity to talk things out but want to get the complaining down. What I am hoping for is suggestions on how to curb complaining, as well as provide more work stress-relief outlets than me at dinnertime.

Do you have any ideas? For the record, I honestly have a pretty stress-free job and don’t have much to complain about, and when I do have things to complain about, I just don’t.

Three quick thoughts from me and then I’ll throw this out to readers:

First, have you clearly told her that the complaining has become too much for you and you need less of it for your own mental health? It sounds like you might have soft-pedaled the message a bit and if that’s the case, try being much more explicit and saying something like, “I care about your stresses but it’s stressing me out to be your outlet for it every night. Can we talk about different solutions?”

Second, some people find success with “we can complain for 10 minutes and then we move on to the rest of our night” agreements.

Third, if things are this bad with her job, it might be time for her to start seriously planning to make a change. (And if things aren’t that bad and she just enjoys venting, it’s not cool to do that when it means dumping a bunch of negativity on you every night.)

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 381 comments… read them below }

  1. TimeTravlR*

    Our complain and vent time is when we take a short walk outside after work. This is the only complaint/vent zone. The rest of our time outside work is work-discussion-free.
    This can be difficult because we work for the same company (different departments). But I’m with OP, I just can’t listen to it constantly. It doesn’t help in our case that I am much happier in my dept than he is in his, so I do allow for some. But we had to dial it back too, and this is our compromise.

    1. londonedit*

      I think setting a time/location limit can definitely be useful. A couple of weeks ago I met up with some work colleagues for dinner – we hadn’t seen each other in person for months, and of course we launched straight into a rant about our various work woes. But then someone said ‘OK, let’s agree that when the wine arrives we’ll stop talking about work’, and we did.

      1. geek5508*

        For my wife, I pick her up after work and we go to breakfast. she can vent about her evening as a Nurse, but we are having coffee and a nice meal together, so it is a less stressful atmosphere.
        Healthcare, especially Nursing, is a horribly stressful job right now, so the least I can do is “lend an ear”.

        for the OP, I agree he needs to tell his wife how much her venting him is a stressor for him

        1. FrenchCusser*

          I used to live with a nurse, and she had to do the 15-minute dump every day when she came home.

          Then she got married and her husband told me it was driving him nuts. I told him he didn’t have to listen, just nod and say, ‘Uh huh’ every so often. She needed to dump, but he didn’t need to absorb it.

          No more complaints after that.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I think this is a good insight–that when done in a limited way (15 minutes, not 4 hours) it can be a stress relief thing. You don’t need to fix the unreasonable sister of the patient in 208B, just agree that she seems pretty high strung and yes that must be annoying to deal with.

            Done like this, it’s sort of like them handing you pieces of outerwear as they come in from the cold: you catch them and bundle them up and set them neatly on a side table, and then both go on with your evening. You don’t have to absorb the stress, just help them unload it. If the complaining goes on and on, or is the only topic this person discusses with you, then it is hard not to absorb the stress.

          2. Tze*

            My husband and I actually ask “is this a pay attention thing or a nod and smile thing?” 80% of the time it’s a nod and smile thing.

            1. Reba*

              This is great! Self-awareness ftw.

              My spouse has a highly technical job and so sometimes I check in like, “is it important that I actually understand this part or…?” I have more to offer on the interpersonal stuff I hope!

              1. PotatoEngineer*

                My wife is the non-technical one, and I’ve gotten better about hiding the technical details under a rug when telling a story, but sometimes, the lump under the rug starts making gurgling noises and sending out exploratory pseudopods, and I have to realize that the story I’m telling really doesn’t work with my wife.

                1. Sonya*

                  “Do you want anything done, or do you just want to whinge?”

                  “Are you solutions-oriented, or still in the feelings stage?”

        2. CRM*

          Having a limit on the time and location works for us! My partner is also a nurse, and our vent time is while he is taking a shower. He comes home and immediately hops in the shower, I drag in a chair and he unloads about his day while washing up (I have been WFH since COVID so I am usually home. Even if I’m still working, I always take a 15 minute break for our shower chats). If it was a really bad day, I’ll bring him a beer or a glass of whiskey to help. By the time he is done, the day is washed off of him and he is relaxed.

            1. Marika*

              Years ago, when I worked in a place with a uniform (Tourism job), I had a colleague who taught me to ‘let the uniform absorb the people crap – then take it off, shove it in the wash, and let it all go down the drain’. It worked, really well.

              When I started teaching full time, I had a really nice blazer I kept in my desk ‘locker’ with my winter coat. When I knew I was looking at a tough day, or a tough meeting, or had to meet with a parent (those were ALWAYS tough), I’d wear that blazer – and then take it to the drycleaner to get all the ‘people crap’ out of it.

              Sometimes, you just need to wash it all down the drain!

            2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

              There’s a lot of mystical practice around running water being able to wash away negative energy or thoughts. Even if Mysticism isn’t your bag, there’s usually some innate psychology built into mystical practice. Running water running around us tends to soothe people.

              1. Roguestella*

                Honestly, I think it’s one of those instinct things. Running water is usually safer to drink. So as humans, it makes sense that hearing that there is potable water nearby would be comforting.

      2. Zan Shin*

        Agree with location and time limit. Decades ago MDH had a job in a tiny company with a boss from hell and a bizarrely hoarding coworker. He wasn’t ready to move on but needed the daily complaint rant. We agreed it would take place right after he got home and go for a maximum of fifteen minutes. And NEVER AT THE DINNER TABLE!!!! I also agree that, if it works for your schedule and weather, a fifteen minute walk is ideal.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Yeah, this is similar to what we did when we both had terrible jobs. I needed alone- time for an hour, then we could rant for a set time, and DEFINITELY not at dinner! It made me feel trapped because I didn’t have any other things to do (phone, knitting, fidgets) to take the edge off listening. (Eating doesn’t work the same way.)

          The ultimate solution was actually to ditch those jobs. Now, when rants need to happen, we preface with “is this a good time? I need to vent. I don’t/ do need help with solutions.”

        2. Verthandi*

          When I was a teenager and angry at the world, I’d hop on my bike, ride until I was tired, ranting all the while, to no one but myself. By the time I got back home, I felt better and fooled my family into thinking I was extremely even-tempered.

          I swear by the occasional rage ride. Or rage walk. or rage (fill in whatever solo activity).

          1. CatLady*

            This is the downside to no longer commuting. I used to use the commute home for the same thing. I made sure to not let it transfer to the driving (stayed in the right lane, kept to the speed limit) but OMG the swearing and telling-off that I did. Got home and felt right as rain.

            Fortunately I have a better job now, so ranting is limited but the cats are great listeners!

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              I swear my job is a full 40% less stressful in the summertime because I can bike commute. Somehow commuting in the dark snow doesn’t have quite the same effect. But in the summer time, I am so much calmer by the time I arrive home.

          2. RedFraggle*

            Best rage relief I’ve ever had was the ability to break things. In college, we had a brick wall right next to the pottery kiln, and concrete under the kiln. It was a perfect place to break all kinds of glass things where it was already known to have sharp pottery shards on the ground.

            Second best is a rage drive, with REALLY LOUD MUSIC.

      3. wittyrepartee*

        The location/exercise part seems like a really good idea too. Need to vent more today? Walk more. Get that physical activity in, it’ll make you feel better.

    2. Viki*

      Seconding this! The hour after my spouse gets off work is the time he can vent/complain/not talk about work as he wishes. It’s the work topic zone. Otherwise we can get stuck in it all night.

    3. Super Admin*

      I try and set a five minute rule for complaining about work. Husband NEVER talks about his work – when he’s off the clock, he doesn’t think about work – but I do sometimes need to vent, and as I’m not in the office these days, it does tend to fall to him. He hasn’t really complained about my venting, but I know he probably doesn’t want to hear it. So I have a strict limit of 5mins to air my grievances to the world, then move on. It seems to work ok for both of us :)

    4. Cheap Ass Rolex*

      A short walk is a good idea, because you’re getting fresh air and light exercise while you’re venting, so you’ll inevitably end up a little happier by the end, even if your problems are the same.

    5. Marie*

      I came here to say just this! My husband and I are both WFH, so the walk serves as a way to get out of the house, get moving, and have an away from the house space to vent about work- which keeps the negativity out of the house entirely!

      1. dozinoff*

        I find this to be true too. My husband and I do the complaining while walking the dogs. We make a loop. He gets to complain the first half of the loop, I get the second. By the time we are done (about 30 minutes), the dogs are tired, we feel a little lighter, and the exercise helps.

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think this is brilliant. The endorphins from walking probably burn some if the anger. And hell, you can pick up the pace and “hate walk.” It’s a million dollar ide.

      1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        And in bad weather get a toddler plastic bat and hit your mattress over and over while ranting :D

        1. SarahKay*

          Interestingly, I read some research that this may be a bad idea. Apparently your body gets some sort of benefit (endorphins, possibly?) from the more physical expressions of anger, which creates a link in your subconscious of ‘anger = feels good’ which then makes your brain want to be angry more to get those benefits.
          The article I read said that actually, the whole ‘take a deep breath, count to ten, then let it go’ is a better strategy long-term because your body / brain don’t get any rewards from being angry, so it becomes less-inclined to be angry.
          Unfortunately my only recollection of the source is that it was probably the BBC News website reporting on some research, probably about 4 years ago, so I can’t link to it for anyone interested.

          1. BubbleTea*

            It’s so interesting how fast our brains can form that kind of association. I had a stressful situation one summer and I got into the habit of buying and eating a pack of five large white chocolate chip cookies every day as a way of coping. Even now, years after I gave up dairy and 10 years or more since that summer, I still think of those cookies when I’m under stress.

    7. Polly Gone*

      My former husband and I were in the same occupation for several years. We had a ten-minute rule for right when we got home — then no more talk about worky stuff.

    8. tw1968*

      Years ago someone recommended the Mars & Venus book and author said, IIRC, sometimes your partner needs to just vent to get it off their chest and be able to relax. They don’t need the partner to try to “fix” things.

      While I understand that, if I have to hear every day how *badcoworker* dumps extra work on you bc s/he’s lazy and unmotivated and you continue to do the work and never tell your boss about the problem, then YES, that’s a situation that needs fixing. Stop bringing it up daily and tell your boss so s/he can fix this, because if boss fixes the problem by making coworker to their own work, you’ll be happier and won’t need to vent every day.

      (I realize this doesn’t apply in all cases, health care workers probably need to vent every day…but I also think they deserve much higher salaries and much lower workloads among other things)

      1. LPUK*

        Yes, My sister hasad a job that was really miserable – working for Avon! she was on the phone to me (WFH) sometimes twice a day and often weeping down the phone. I would console her and counsel here, and tell her not to take her job so personally and she would agree… and then never do anything about it… and the next day she would be crying down the phone to me again. I think I stood this for about 18 momths, trying everything I knew to make her feel better at least temporarily, but in the end i said to her’ I cant do this anymore – I think that fact that you vent to me keeps you just stable enough to stay in this shitty job of your’s instead of focusing on a way out, which means I’m actually making things worse for you. It makes me miserable as well’. There was a long long silence on the phone before she said goodbye. Three weeks later she had a new job

        1. tw1968*

          I like the way you put that:
          “I think that fact that you vent to me keeps you just stable enough to stay in this shitty job of your’s instead of focusing on a way out, which means I’m ***actually making things worse for you***. ***It makes me miserable as well***”

          1. cosmicgorilla*

            In addition to the time limitation suggestions, the complaining spouse can journal. If she doesn’t like writing, she can record a video with her phone or laptop. Venting doesn’t have to be to another person to be helpful.

            1. BubbleTea*

              Or it can be someone who is paid for the emotional labour – aka a counsellor or therapist. I’ve had periods in my life where my counsellor definitely got the download of all my stress. But I paid her an hourly rate and she had a supervisor to go to in order to deal with the fallout of people’s second hand trauma. There’s a reason it is an actual job, it’s work to hear people’s struggles.

    9. Constance Lloyd*

      We used to have a Customer of the Day policy. We each got 10 minutes to tell one story. It helped keep work complaints in perspective, gave us the outlet to word vomit about the verbal abuse we suffered, and kept catharsis from taking over the rest of the day.

    10. Annie E. Mouse*

      We do kind of the same thing, but playing with the dog in the backyard. We call it our “commute” because it’s really our time to decompress from the day and shift into at home mode. It’s kind of cathartic to chuck a tennis ball with all your strength while complaining about frustrations.

    11. RWM*

      +1, I think limiting it to while you’re walking outside helps a lot; it feels like you’re not just sitting around complaining (because you literally aren’t!) and you at least get some fresh air and are able to move your body while doing this thing you don’t really like doing.

    12. D*

      This is such a good idea and it keeps the stress outside the house! OP didn’t mention children and so it’s probably not relevant but for a while when I was a kid around 2nd grade both parents worked at the same dysfunctional workplace. They would dump about work at the dinner table every night (quietly, calmly) and it was soooo stressful for me. I ended up crying one day and asking them to stop talking about work…they were kind of confused but did. Having that type of constant negativity can be really hard to deal with in the background of the house all the time even if everyone is speaking calmly and respectfully to each other.

    13. Majnoona*

      I was just going to say the same thing! We go for a short walk before dinner. I don’t know whether it’s the fresh air, the possibility of neighbors within earshot but even his complaints aren’t … as bad? His tone mellows a little. Complaints are interspersed with a funny thing happened at work. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better

    14. GlitsyGus*

      When I used to go out to Happy hour with my colleagues in the before times we used to set a timer for 30 minutes. We could talk about work as much as we wanted until the timer went off, but then no more work talk. It helped a lot, because it is good to talk things through outside the office setting, and get that transition time in, but it prevents the social event from becoming extended office hours. I would think something like this could help here a lot too.

      As far as the, “I have to get it out!” feelings the partner is having, I feel that. I’ve been there. Maybe buy them a nice journal so they have a place to put all those feelings on their own time. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but it is an option. Or maybe gently suggest talking to a therapist for a few sessions. They are paid to listen to you and help you through all those feelings!

  2. CCC*

    Is this really about work? I think for a lot of folks complaining is a habit, and while work is a popular topic, people who complain about work a lot usually complain about other stuff too. Does she complain only after work, or does she, say, complain after running errands, visiting family, etc.? If it’s just work, she likely needs a new job. But if it’s everything then it’s not really a work issue.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      My mom is a habitual complainer. Her knee-jerk reaction to everything is to say something negative–the house looks much better repainted . . . but she thinks they used the wrong color on the end (no, Mom–that’s just the only part of the house that’s in full sunlight), etc. There is always a catch. Unfortunately, she’s also not great at taking feedback so we haven’t been able to get her to dial it down.

      1. no longer working*

        My father was the same way. He complained about the neighbor’s car parked in the street – in front of their own house!

    2. Rocket Woman*

      I agree with this, some people just complain constantly. A few months in to dating my current partner, I noticed he would complain a lot, and about everything. At the time he wasn’t happy with his job and was making some changes so I gave him some time to see if it would get better. When it didn’t, I had a frank but kind conversation with him that his constant complaining was wearing on me and probably him as well. We implemented a rule where when one of us needs to vent, the other asks “Do you want me to listen or do you want me to help?” If they just want you to listen, they get 5 minutes. If they want advice we talk out for however long it takes. OP, perhaps suggesting a rule like this could help place some boundaries for y’all.

      As an aside, I also didn’t meet his family until after a year of dating due to covid and his Dad complains about EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding when I say 90% of what he says is a complaint about something. It’s exhausting and what is really sad is his family just doesn’t listen to him. I think this is a bit of a learned behavior from my partner because he grew up around it. He has gotten much better now and has helped me improve my complaining as well. Approach the topic with kindness, set some boundaries, and see if your partner needs a new job or would consider therapy. Good luck!

      1. Too Many Dogs*

        You are right about it being learned behavior. My better half’s mother is a lovely woman, but the most negative person in the free world. When we are around her, he becomes just as negative. All the energy is sucked out of the air, and, as many others have mentioned, it IS exhausting. I either sink into their gloom, or become so chirpy that I don’t recognize myself.

      2. Lurkyloo*

        I’m with you on the ‘listen or fix’. I tend towards trying to fix everything, until I saw the video ‘it’s not about the nail’ (highly recommend!). Now, in my circle, if someone is venting we ask ‘is it about the nail or not about the nail?’ Often it gets a laugh and defuses the situation or allows the venter to clarify what their needs are.

      3. Artemesia*

        A lot of negative behavior is habit and when people sit down and hash it out and decide to have a different climate, they can do it. I am a bit of a blamer — when my husband and I first got together we decided that we would have a ‘no fault’ marriage. And because we reflected on it and decided, it has worked. And now that we are old and make stupid mistakes regularly, it is nice to have that grace.

        Constant whining is a habit; people can decide to be different. The two of them need to hash it out and see if there is some way to zone the whining, adopt the ‘take a walk’ after work habit and make that the only complaint time, or whatever other approach will make this less onerous. And absolutely make a rule that dinner time is pleasant and not a time to whine at your partner. Once people understand what they are doing and its impact they should be able to moderate their behavior. (speaking as a catastrophiser, I know that I can avoid sharing the anecdote about someone who ‘did that’ and suffered terrible consequences every time someone in my family makes plans)

      4. MsM*

        “Do you want advice, a sympathetic ear, or do you just need to get this out of your system?” is such a helpful framing question. Even if the follow-up to “a sympathetic ear”/”venting” is, “Okay, I want to be supportive, but it feels like a lot of these complaints are things that keep happening and aren’t getting better, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’s not time to consider looking for a situation where you won’t have to put up with them as frequently.”

      5. Allison*

        I used to be a constant complainer, and while people did talk to me about it, I didn’t realize how truly irritating it was until I met other negative people, and then and only then did I understand the impact. Not only is their energy draining, but they’re stressful to be around because they’re never satisfied with anything, they’re super critical of others, and nothing anyone does – for them or just in general – is ever good enough. If you dare to find joy in something, they smack it out of your hands and tell you how stupid it is, and how stupid you are for liking it. For me though, I think I saw complaining as a way to bond and connect with others, I thought we were commiserating but that’s not how everyone likes to socialize.

        Not that no one should ever complain about anything, but there’s value in knowing your audience and picking your battles.

      6. Say Something Positive*

        Reading this and the following comments was really nice, because I am married to a reformed complainer. It’s in his genetic make-up and I actually married the most positive person in his immediate family BY FAR. Gah. Luckily, he’s generally self-aware about it (the rest of the family is so oblivious to their negativity). If he is going on a bit of a negative rant for a bit too long, I say “now say something positive” and he’s forced to find one positive thing to say, however random it may be. It’s also a gentle reminder that he’s on a bit of a rant and to wrap it up. He now sometimes reminds himself to say something positive and he focuses on the positive much more.
        I find that that the “say something positive” approach has been super helpful for me too when I get in a bit of a funk. If I just brainstorm as many positive things I can, however miniscule, it sometimes shifts my mindset enough to reset it to positive. I really am excited to make brownies tomorrow, and I’m glad my new mascara came in the mail! Love the idea for walks on really bad days.

    3. dresscode*

      For me, I used to complain a lot about one particular person in my job. She truly was a terrible coworker and was just baffling that she still had a job. My husband pointed out that I used to vent about her a lot, but once she was FINALLY …’resigned’ my work complaints went way way down to almost zero. It was just that one person causing the issues. I’m not a ‘complainer’ type so this was more of a one off, but I’m glad he pointed it out to me, she took up a lot of my mental space considering I had no hand in managing her or dealing with her.

    4. Anon for this*

      I found that 20mg of Lexapro a day made living with a chronic complainer and fault finder much easier. I just don’t react to it anymore- or at least not as often or as deeply.

      1. Generic Name*

        Oh, man. I have a lot of thoughts about this. What interpret from this is that you need to medicate yourself to make living with your partner tolerable, and that makes me sad. Hugs, if you want them.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Great observation, CCC. I’ve distanced myself from a few friends who would complain about work, and then go on to complain about…well, everything. The food, the temperature of the restaurant, the smartass look someone gave them on the bus, their families, their pets, their mail carrier, the sermon their pastor delivered a month ago…sheesh. Group get-togethers or one-on-ones, it was exhausting to listen to endless complaints.

      After a while, I became ‘too busy with work’ for those get-togethers. The irony was lost on the chronic complainers, too.

    6. ecnaseener*

      I was thinking the same thing, the way LW describes their wife sounds like it might be a bigger personality clash…did you marry a kvetcher, knowing this about her and thinking of it as a minor flaw you could live with? Does she have any idea that you don’t bond over kvetching?

    7. Sue*

      I agree it’s a habit and sometimes people seem to resort to complaints because they’re not mentally stimulated or motivated to talk about other topics. Kind of a lazy go-to for conversation.
      I was also recently told that negativity is a stage of dementia. I’m dealing with older relatives, one of whom has become a terrible Eeyore. It should make it easier to deal with, knowing it’s part of their condition, but it’s still exhausting and hard to take. Especially these days.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        This is hard and I am sorry you are dealing with it. I dealt with this with my grandmother. And while intellectually you understand its the disease, emotionally it is hard and extremely draining! Hugs and good thoughts to you and your family!

    8. Distracted Librarian*

      Ugh, this. I have a close family member who complains more than anyone I’ve ever met. Being around him is exhausting and can ruin my mood. People respond negatively to his behavior, which just drives him deeper into his misery and leads him to complain more. Plus, I find I don’t fully listen or take his complaints seriously, which means I’m probably being dismissive when I shouldn’t be. Chronic complaining is a toxic habit with so many negative repercussions. And yes, I call him out on it, which makes him mad and usually causes him to leave–only to return later with more complaints. *sigh*

      And now I realize this entire comment is a complaint. *double sigh*

      1. Sue*

        Well, it made me laugh so that’s something..
        For a reasonable person, I think a conversation about their negativity (not necessarily that they complain too much because that is easy to rationalize, they have so much to be upset about..might help. None of us wants to be seen that way and it’s easy to fall into patterns. If I was told kindly that it was an issue for me, I would work to change. A comment about me complaining is more apt to elicit a defensive response though so the wording is key, I think.

    9. Rose*

      From what OP wrote, yes. He specifically said their household is otherwise happy. I think if she was someone who’s on planned this way about everything, he would have noticed and not explicitly stated that hints are otherwise good.

      A lot of people love to complain but a lot of people are really unhappy with their jobs right now for legitimate reasons.

  3. awesome3*

    I’d take it as an opening for a conversation to see if she needs to change jobs. It’s normal to debrief on your day when you see your partner, but if there’s a chance it’s more than that and specifically this job that’s causing all this stress, it’s worth looking into.

    1. Penthesilea*

      I agree about this suggestion. In fact, last summer, my husband one night said to me “You complain about your job a lot. I don’t think you realize how much you do it. And the things you complain about are things you can’t change. It sounds to me like it’s time for you to seriously consider a new job.” And him saying this (in his kind and supportive way) was the nudge I needed to seriously look at new opportunities.

      This is the third week of my new job.

      1. indubitably*

        Congrats on the new job! I’m glad his kindly-worded observation helped you see what you needed to do.

    2. Rayray*

      I had the same thought. I don’t love my job now but I definitely don’t feel the need to vent about it ever either. I have had jobs that I did need to vent or complain about or even scream in the car on my way home and I’m definitely better off at a job that doesn’t cause me enough stress to warrant complaining.

      I may be a bit apathetic honestly, but I do think the grass is probably greener elsewhere.

    3. cubone*

      yeah I can only speak from my one personal experience but both my partner and I could’ve each written this letter about each other at different points in our lives. I can’t say if quitting was the only doable option, but it was the option we both took (separately, at different times) and …. we no longer needed grievance hour to rage at everything. It’s remarkable (and quite sad) how quickly our stress levels and general attitude towards life changed.

      I do believe that venting can be helpful if it’s getting something off your chest to let it go. And that some people just maybe have a more “pessimistic” or tendency for complaining. But I will always now see this kind of daily RAGE (because it is rage) and spiralling and circling anger and frustration as a massive, massive red flag for extreme stress, burnout, and a need for a big big change.

  4. ThatGirl*

    I agree with being clear about how this is affecting you. It’s really tiring to hear constant daily complaints from people, no matter how much you love them.

    In your shoes, I would say look, I can’t be your only outlet for complaints, it’s getting to be too hard on my mental health. Maybe she needs a friend, a journal, a twitter account, a therapist, and/or a new job. And if she does start to complain, after a few minutes you could say “I hear you, that sounds hard — what are you planning to do about it?”

    1. Juneybug*

      I love using that line on complainers! Especially the toxic folks that never want to change their situation (not saying that is the letter writer’s spouse).
      I accidently shut down a complainer who was constantly complaining about her job with my rudeness. Previously, I tried to avoid her but it was a small church. After listening to a lengthy rant about her job, I interrupted her and stated loudly, “Sounds like you need to look for a new job, when are you going to start putting out resumes?”. She stopped talking immediately with her mouth opened like a goldfish gulping air, then mumbled something and walked away. For whatever reason, no one had called her out on her whining.
      I felt horrible being rude to her (did I really need to be blunt and so loud that it echo in the church?) but darn it woman, shut up about your terrible job that you had during the recession that paid you well and provided medical insurance for your family. And honestly it really didn’t sound that bad of a job.
      After that, she avoid me. But still kept that job and complained about it to anyone who would listen.
      But this is not the advice I would give to the letter writer!!

    2. Generic Name*

      100% agree. Spouses to some extent, do have an obligation to provide emotional support to each other, but this is moving beyond support because it’s harming your mental health. I don’t think it’s healthy to rely solely on your spouse in this way. There needs to be reciprocity, and each spouse needs to have other sources of support. From experience, it’s really no fun (at best) to feel like you’re somebody’s emotional dumping ground.

    3. Lizzo*

      I’ve tried the “I hear you, that sounds hard — what are you planning to do about it?” with some chronic complainers in the family, and it frequently brings the complaining to a grinding halt. This can work with gossip, too, at least in terms of me not having to listen to it!

    4. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      I admit this may be different for chronic complainers, but I have to admit I find “what are you planning to do about it?” super grating. If I’m complaining, I have already worked it through in my own head, probably for a long time, and determined that there’s nothing I *can* do about it for the moment except try to endure. And that kind of unfixable situation occurs a lot more frequently than our society likes to admit, which makes me kind of sympathetic to complainers in general.

      1. ThatGirl*

        I do not recommend it broadly! But in circumstances where you’ve made how you felt clear, and nothing changes, or the person truly only seems to want to whine endlessly.

        Also, you can phrase it differently – for MY spouse I have been saying “that sucks, you deserve a better job” – but truly, I’ve been in this sort of situation, and whining endlessly with no plan to do anything about it is very grating.

      2. Margaretmary*

        For me, it really depends on the complaint, which may be unfair to those saying it. It can be helpful if my problem is one that CAN be solved, but well, I got it recently when I was worrying, rather than complaining, about medical test results. Thankfully, they were all fine, but…there was very little I could do other than wait for the test and if they were bad…well, that was out of my control too. So what am I going to do? I’m not really sure there’s much I CAN do and you KNOW I’ve spent the last six weeks frantically trying to think of anything I can do to deal with the worst case scenario (which was unlikely, but also really bad if it did turn out to be the case). So I’d say a lot depends on the scenario. If there are options she can take, this might help, but…if she really hates her job and there are virtually no employment opportunities in the area and she has spent the last two year applying for other jobs but nothing is coming up, “what are you going to do?” might going to just rub in how limited her options are.

        I do think it can also help to soften the phraseology a bit. “Have you thought about doing x?” for example.

    5. Esmeralda*

      OMG, please, don’t use that response with your wife. If she’s venting, then that is going to be *infuriating*.

      I agree, you cannot be the complaint dumpster. It’s exhausting. You want to have nice times with your partner! You want to enjoy each other! Find a time that is not right after work (when she’s complaining) to talk it over. Letting her know that it is hard on your mental health and stress management, and ask her what ideas she has for taking most of the complaining off of you.

      BTW, I think calling it complaining may sound a bit dismissive? So maybe don’t use that term when talking with your wife. Venting is a more neutral term, to me anyway.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Phrasing can and should vary based on your audience, but sometimes, people need to be pushed a little into “maybe you should DO something about that…”

    6. Distracted Librarian*

      Someone said that to me once when I was complaining. Stopped me cold and made me more aware of how I was coming off and how negative I’d gotten. It was weird in the moment, but I was grateful later.

  5. H.Regalis*

    She can need someone to vent to, but that doesn’t obligate you to be that person, every day, forever. I would get sick of the same complaints over and over again too. I’m willing to listen to my friends and partners vent, there are a finite number of times I can listen to the exact same thing before being like, “It’s put up or shut up time.” There’s are some good posts on Captain Awkward related to this. Specifically, #143 “I lent an ear to a friend, how do I get it back?”

  6. Annie Oakley*

    OP, your wife does need a place to vent about her day, but nothing says that place needs to be your dinner table every day with you as the sole audience. I hope you are able to have a productive conversation where she is able to explore more avenues of support.

    At my old job we would schedule Zoom meetings for the supervisor team that were just an excuse for us to complain and vent to each other to spare our families – I ended up taking a new role and there’s much less need for that type of outlet. Would she be able to do that with her coworkers now?

    Good luck!

      1. Sc@rlettNZ*

        I guess it depends on the co-workers, but at my last job, yes. We had gone through a major restructure and our jobs went from interesting to boring as all hell. The only thing that saved our sanity was venting to each other.

  7. Lydia*

    Does she see a therapist? They both might want one. Though if this job is so stressful, it’s probably time to leave.

  8. PizzaDog*

    how does he think she feels? it’s mentally draining on her as well to feel like she isn’t treated right at work, and that’s 9 hours a day. I’m in a customer facing role also, and it feels like customers have gotten so much worse lately, so I feel her pain.

    if it’s available to OP’s wife, I agree with Alison’s suggestion that she needs to plan a change in work environment. sooner rather than later.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      But the OP can’t fix that for her. She has to be willing to change that herself. If she’s unwilling to look for a different job then, yes, she should figure out how to deal with the current one in a better mindset. Those are both choices with consequences.

      1. A Wall*

        Okay, but: Who the heck says he should “fix” any of this? This all sure takes the assumption that this is a capital-p Problem that wife needs to solve, which I think is kind of a leap. If it’s supposedly so easy and (also so necessary) for her to change this, then it’d be easy for him to do the same and stop getting so riled up by hearing it, right? Listen to his wife “in a better mindset” ?

        I think it’s pretty unfair for a partner to say they have a distaste for the concept of complaining as an outlet, therefore their partner must take efforts to not use that mode of expression anymore. Yeah hearing your partner’s stress can be stressful, but you’ll notice that is not actually among the concerns he has in this letter. We can assume that’s underlying it to some extent, but first in his mind is that he does not like to have to hear complaining as a general rule. If her job is a real strain on her and she wants/needs to express that, it is both unsupportive and kind of mean for her partner to come back with “I think complaining is a stupid choice to make, therefore you must stop expressing yourself to me when you’re having a hard time.” So if anyone here can or should change how they’re looking at the situation, I don’t think it’s all on her.

        1. Matilda*

          I agree and am kind of irritated at how many people are saying she needs to fix everything bothering her or can only complain for five minutes or how hard it is to listen to complaints. I worked customer service where I spent eight hours a day being sworn at, had things thrown at me, followed to my car after work, sexually harassed by customers and coworkers, and had to deal with it all with a big ole fake smile on my face. If I came home and heard “you need to stop complaining” or “complain in a certain kind of way for my benefit,” then I would be pissed. I’d feel like I’m still on the job. Still fake smiling and pushing all the bullshit down deep inside me so that no one else has to deal with it.

          Like other than finding a new job, what can she do? She can’t ask for customers to treat her with more respect, she can’t positive mindset her way out of being insulted twenty seven times a day. She’s struggling and she wants just one person in her life to hear what SHE has to say about it all. It’s not gonna be her boss and it’s not gonna be her customers.

          I get that it’s exhausting to listen to someone complain but it’s exhausting to work customer service jobs. And it’s just not possible for everyone to up and find a shiny new job without the same problems like some commenters like to suggest. Why doesn’t the letter writer try thinking more positively about her instead of asking she think more positively about her terrible job?

    2. dresscode*

      I hope she also considers therapy. I was complaining a lot and it turns I needed a new job, but I felt like I couldn’t. Therapy helped me see I wasn’t as stuck as I though and I was able to get out.

    3. Mockingjay*

      In the interim (while job searching), if her work offers it, OP’s wife could use the EAP benefit for counseling or other services. If the job causes that much stress, she might as well use the remediation that the company provides. Or whatever counseling or job coaching she has available. But she needs a neutral third party to get to the root of her discontent.

      I kindly suggest that she consider what kind of culture or work environment she would really be happy in, aside from the usual role and skills matching. Does she want more structure and defined steps? More independence to pursue a project? Team or lone performer? Was she denied a promotion (directly or implied)? Is she frustrated with same stuff, different day? Define what thing(s) about Current Job that make her miserable so she can screen those out in her search. What would make her happy? Same role, different environment? Complete new role? Figure these things out and she’ll be set for a targeted job search.

    4. anonymous73*

      How is this helpful to the OP? You can’t unload all of your daily frustrations on your partner all the time without it affecting them negatively as well.

    5. Eldritch Office Worker*

      They have – I transferred out of customer facing work last year and the relief was immediate and intense. But still, this isn’t a sustainable solution.

    6. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, I get that it’s a downer for OP but I do really feel for her. It’s so hard in a lot of customer-facing roles because it’s like you’re constantly playing the part of a Happy Helpful Smiley Person, no matter how horrible customers are to you, and it’s a whole different situation than a bad day at a non-customer-facing office job. I remember an old manager of mine who talked about how at her first job doing customer service at a luxury hotel, they had a sign over the mirror in the break room that said “REMEMBER: YOU ARE ON DISPLAY”, and they meant that both in terms of grooming and the happy helpful smiley demeanour they expected from you no matter what. Depending on the place you’re working you might not even be able to vent/commiserate with your colleagues, if you’re super visible and can’t be seen chatting or if you’re stuck in a booth by yourself or just too busy to talk to anyone. And honestly it probably is hard doing that and then coming home to someone who can’t relate to that experience at all. It does sound like the venting has gotten to be too much but idk, I get it.

      1. Parakeet*

        Yeah. “playing the part of a Happy Helpful Smiley Person [as part of your job]” is what the term “emotional labor,” which people often misuse to mean anything where their family or friends are expressing emotions to them or they have emotions about another person’s behavior, ACTUALLY means. I feel bad for the OP’s wife (not because of the OP, but because I work in a job which, while I mostly like it most of the time, involves a lot of emotional labor too), and cynical about all the comments suggesting that she’s probably just a super negative habitual whiner who should make better choices.

        That said, the OP shouldn’t be the wife’s only source of emotional support on this! It really is hard to meet all someone’s emotional needs, especially when they have a lot. If you have a lot to vent about, it’s important to have more than one outlet, and to be reciprocal with people, and to be careful about not using people as emotional dumping grounds. Perhaps she has close friends that she could have reciprocal chat-and-venting conversations with on Zoom/FaceTime/etc (if she can’t meet them in person). If she can afford and access a therapist, or if the job has an EAP, that might be a good option. If none of those are options (or even if they are), she might benefit from journaling. If she really needs to know a person is hearing her, and there are no other options, maybe the Crisis Text Line or another hotline would be useful?

        1. Edith Cranwinkle*

          The suggestion of having a Zoom/Facetime/However It Works meeting with friends or a therapist is something I’ve used starting during the pandemic and holy crap it helps SO MUCH. My spouse doesn’t get overwhelmed with me, I get to catch up with a couple of close friends with our online happy hour, and get some venting out and done with!

    7. Burger Bob*

      I also work in a customer facing job, and they ARE worse lately, and it IS really hard and stressful, and you DO need to vent sometimes. But you can’t make just one person your sole dumping ground, especially this frequently. She needs to find someone else she can also vent to sometimes, a friend, a therapist, a family member, whoever. Just not him alone, every day, for much too long. It’s wearing to hear someone’s complaints, even when you know they are genuinely stressed and just need to vent. It still gets wearing. I try to consciously remember to limit how much I dump on my husband. It’s not always easy, but you’ve got to consider that there’s a limit to how much one person can hear before it becomes burdensome to them.

    8. Middle of HR*

      Seconding this. If you can find one that takes your insurance, assuming you’re in the US, it can be affordable.
      If not a therapist, ask if she has friends who can take on an after work vent, or she can try journaling it out.
      I speak to my husband about work but on occasions I need to vent I ask if it’s okay with him, then cut myself off at ten minutes.
      And venting every night is too much.

  9. MG*

    I very much do not think OP is being selfish. Wanting a boundary on this and wanting his wife to find other resources is healthy. AAM’s advice is sound. Be clearer with what you need and perhaps offer or help her find resources or another job.

    1. Commenter*

      Agree – it must be tough to hear similar complaints day in and day out and not be able to weigh in/make suggestions (sounds like OP’s wife wants to complain, not ‘talk it out’ – I totally get that and like a lot of other commenters here, appreciate the articulation of ‘I’m not looking for a solution, I just want to complain’). That works for a bit, but after hearing similar complaints without much change, it much be hard!

  10. Kaichu*

    I think your ideas are fab. I’ll add this: OP’s wife would benefit from a therapist. Someone professional to whom she can air her grievances, and who could offer her strategies for mitigating the stress and negativity.

    1. Me Again*

      I second this! My husband was unhappy with his job and actively interviewing. His complaining was hard on both of us! He was hesitant to see a therapist, but we found someone who did executive coaching and it was a life changer.

  11. Xavier Desmond*

    I have some sympathy with your wife as I like a good moan too and I find it cathartic to let off some steam. However, Allison’s suggestion to be explicit about how the complaining negatively effects you is spot on. My guess is that she has no idea if, like me, doesn’t mind a good moan when she’s on the receiving end too.

  12. LifeBeforeCorona*

    As soon as your wife comes home, suggest that the first hour is her time. She can read, watch trash TV, play games, take a nap, make a cup of her favourite beverage along with a little snack. She can call a friend or take a walk around the block. The point is to break the habit of using you as her dumping ground. By changing the dynamic and giving her alone time especially if she is “on” all day then she has a chance for a real break between work and home.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is a great idea. It not only cuts off the complaining it replaces it with something positive.

    2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      ohhh, this would really hit me wrong if my partner suggested this to me. All of my time after work is *already* my time. Unless there are kids in the mix who need lots of immediate care (which it didn’t sound like) this would come across really badly. Like being given a “gift” of something that’s already mine and being expected to be grateful for it. So OP only deploy this if you think it would work well for your wife. This would go over TERRIBLY in my household.

      I empathize a lot with the wife – I am the kind of person that needs to process my stuff out loud. I need my partner to be supportive and listen to me processing/what is going on in my life. A time limit as proposed upthread would work *much* better.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I don’t think this went as far as expecting the wife to be grateful for it–I think it was only intended to give her space to decompress without feeling like she had to cook dinner, clean something, pay attention to spouse, etc. It’s more assurance that she has no other obligations/nobody has other expectations of her during that time so she can use her full headspace on whatever she wants. Which, yes, she technically can, anyway, but realistically we all know that that’s not how life works when you’re part of a couple/family/etc.

        1. I would appreciate this*

          I really appreciate stuff like this – it frees me from wondering if I “should” be doing something else. My partner never tries to control my time, and if I just said “hey I want to zone out and play on my phone for an hour” he would say “sure that’s fine” or maybe if he needed something “sure that’s fine but can you help me move this heavy object first” or whatever. But having the expectation pre-established and not having to ask really helps me relax about it. (Note: I am autistic and trying to figure out what other people are thinking/expecting occupies a tremendous amount of my brain space, so any relief from that helps.)

        2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

          I’m not saying that’s how it’s being framed, but rather how it would feel to me. I would feel like I’m expected to be grateful for being given the gift of my own time – which is already mine to begin with.

      2. KittyCardigans*

        I would also absolutely hate this. Like, oh, you’re giving me permission to use my time as I see fit? Unless you’re pairing the suggestion with “and while you do that, I will prepare dinner, clean up, vacuum, and make the bed,” this would be just a further frustration (because it’s telling me to use my time on stuff that’s just going to push my overall relaxation further into the evening), it would feel condescending, and it would definitely make me feel brushed-off and uncared for. It’s a know your audience thing, I guess.

        I also need to process stuff aloud, and my husband and I generally do walks/errands/outdoor time after work which serves as the bulk of our venting time (for both of us, but mostly me. Education has not been an easy field lately). It is helpful to be able to get any feelings out of the way shortly after the end of the work day so they can be put aside and we can focus on other things.

      3. Esmeralda*

        Maybe something like, Honey, I’ve got dinner under control, you go do something relaxing or fun til 7 pm.

        Or, Argh I had such a day…I’m glad you’re home, let’s take a walk!


      4. EventPlannerGal*

        If my partner generously suggested after I’d finished a full day of customer service while they did their stress-free job that I could have a whole entire hour :) that’s my time :) and maybe have a little snack :) I would probably throw something.

        1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          EVP, this, exactly! I’d definitely throw something at his head — it’s so condescending… like sir, I’m not 5, knock it off before I knock your head off!
          It would also tell me that my spouse expects me to be on for him,too, and to change my personality (which isn’t bubbling with positivity at all (I am definitely more realistic by nature, which people read as negative, also annoying as hell) trying to change that made me miserable as hell). Fastest way to find himself looking for somewhere else to be — permanently.

      5. Margaretmary*

        Would it help if it was phrased differently? Like instead of saying “this is your time, you can do what you like,” saying something like “it sounds like you need a break. Why don’t you go…*insert something he knows she enjoys* while I start dinner?”

    3. Edianter*

      I understand Pumat Sol’s point, so approach this delicately, but I think this could really work well! Especially if one of the options on the menu for her is to vent for X minutes. You could kind of combine this idea with everyone else’s suggestion of setting a timer on the complaints.

      I especially think it could work if you both instituted a 45-minute solo wind-down time when you each get home from work (to do solo activities like LifeBeforeCorona suggested). THEN, use the last 15 minutes to check in with each other, share anything that is “headline news” about your respective work days, and then move on into your evening together.

    4. Alexis Rosay*

      This is a great idea. I was struggling during WFH with my husband’s intense complaints about his work. After ever single bad meeting, he would debrief with me since we were in the same space. Everything was so fresh in his mind that he was processing it very intensely, in front of me.

      Now he’s gone back to the office, and it’s helped a lot. His commute is 1 hour+, but he doesn’t actually mind this–he decompresses on the bus by listening to his favorite podcasts and chatting with his hobby group. By the time he gets home, he’s distilled out the most salient points about his day in his mind, and we discuss them. It’s a totally different energy than the ‘dumping’ that was going on before.

      This is just from my perspective. I’ve also gone through periods of a lot of venting about work while being reluctant to change jobs, which I’m sure were also very difficult for my husband to deal with, but thankfully we’re both in better places now.

  13. Tuckerman*

    I do this sometimes, and it’s hard to turn off during stressful times. I find I need to vent or have time to myself to decompress. And I don’t have time to myself to decompress after work. I’ve definitely been making an effort to vent less. Something that adds to the frustrating is that we rely on my income/benefits and I’m paid much above average for my area, I can’t afford to change jobs. I’d need to take a huge pay/benefits cut to do something else, which we can’t afford. So I do feel stuck sometimes, and venting is how I manage. Is your wife feeling stuck in her role? Does she have other options?

  14. stk*

    I think OP’s within their rights to not want to hear it that often, but in that case they have to say so. Their wife presumably has friends or something (and if not, that’s a very different problem). It’s okay to say “I can deal with ten minutes/can we only do this twice a week rather than every day/can you do this particular kind of venting at someone who’s not me”.

    Or if their wife is really struggling with this particular job, I agree it’s worth checking if a change of career is a good idea. It might be that the wife doesn’t properly realise how much venting they’re doing, and asking seriously “Do you think you need a different job?” could shake that up and get them to realise either that they DO need a new work life, or that it really isn’t so bad.

    1. CatBookMom*

      “I think OP’s within their rights to not want to hear it that often, but in that case they have to say so.”

      This. An admin co-worker at a previous job was a constant irritant, in large and small ways, and my bosses wouldn’t do anything about her attitude, her lousy work ethic, yada, or the ways it made my job more difficult. So I’d carp and complain and bitch to my spouse. My spouse is a mellow guy, but he finally said “Enough! I don’t want to hear about her every day!” And, it worked; I managed to figure out how to be less vocal about a thing I couldn’t change and my bosses wouldn’t. Karma happened to her, eventually, and I got several substantial pay raises along the way.

  15. Halae*

    Years ago I came across the concept of “Rose, Bud, Thorn”, a thinking exercise where you sum up the day by picking out the rose (the highlight of the day, like positive feedback or something), the thorn (the worst thing that happened, like John was being a smarmy jackass in the Widgets meeting again), and the bud (something you’re excited about).

    I don’t have a great script for broaching the idea to her, but as someone who used to complain a lot and got sick of being a whiny negative person and resolved to fix it (I am still a work in progress), this is one thing that I have found helps reframe your day from “ughhhhhh all these THINGS happened” to hunting around picking roses and remembering to be excited about things.

    1. mli25*

      We have family with small kids that use “2 Goods and 1 Bad” to talk about the day. It allows for highlighting good/positive things while acknowledging that life isn’t perfect. This feels like a reasonable paradigm to try and see if shifts the focus off work and off the negativity

      1. Rayray*

        I’ve also heard of doing it as a “peach” and a “pit” where each kid take about a good thing and bad thing about their day. I really like it and want to use it if I ever have kids.

    2. Noblepower*

      thank you for this ideal, I’m totally stealing it and will send you mental thank you’s every time I use it. I especially like the visual as I think it will help me remember to do it.

    3. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      It can be even less structured than that. As she’s drawing breath, jump in with a positive question: “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” “What was your most positive interaction today?” “Tell me what you’re proud of about today.”

      1. NN*

        I get the value in redirection of energy without laying it out as an exercise, but think reception of this depends a lot on whether she generally thinks there is anything positive or to be proud of at all there. I trend towards worry and depression and someone jumping in like this can be useful when I’m clear-headed enough to seek out silver linings or a pathway through a difficult time myself, and a quick reframing of the day is good. But other times it can feel condescending or a minimizing of problems (or worst case scenario, like the person is just trying to shut me up), especially if I feel “trapped” or helpless in a situation, or something actually big went down.

        Maybe listening enough to figure whether it’s “Kent still hasn’t figured out reply-all” or “layoffs are imminent and inevitable” sorts of things can help with timing this.

      2. Batgirl*

        Or even just “tell me about why you’re still so invested in this job. Why do you want to stay there with all these problems?”

    4. GalFromAway*

      We do apples and onions – what was good, what was not so good about your day. It really helps around the supper table.

    5. Chocoholic*

      I used to do this with my kids when they came home from school – they each told me a good thing about the day, a bad thing about the day and a funny/silly thing about the day. Its a little way to ask how the day was and not get “fine” in response.

    6. Lulamae*

      It’s a nice idea but personally, I would be extremely upset if my spouse suggested this to would feel very condescending to me and additionally… in jobs like hers there are lots of days that don’t have a single positive thing about them. Not for a lack of looking, but because a lot of days in restaurants and retail are Just Bad. Having a cup of coffee is a nice thing, but not when I didn’t get a chance to finish it because I had to cut my break short because a customer started shouting at me for not handling her problem.

  16. BlueberryFields*

    I have lived with a roommate like this, as well as a former partner. It is EXHAUSTING. Your wife needs to be in therapy, looking for a new job, or some combination of the two. I am having a physical reaction just thinking about it. Not to be dramatic, but if my partner refused to stop emotionally dumping on me each day, I would probably separate eventually.

    Otherwise, you need to start thinking of ways to protect your mental health. Do you suddenly have an interest in a hobby that starts around dinnertime and unfortunately you can only eat dinner together 3 times a week? Maybe.

    1. Been there*

      Yes, it can be incredibly difficult to be on the receiving end of the constant complaining and negativity. With my ex-husband, it also started to feel like enabling after a while- he hated his job, and would complain about it endlessly, but always had a reason why he couldn’t/wouldn’t change jobs. And of course after we separated- he started a new job. I always wondered why he didn’t make the change while we were still together- was it because he used me as his outlet for his stress and unhappiness? And after I was gone, he realized it was up to him to change the situation?

      OP, I’m really sorry that you’re having to deal with this. Please take care of yourself, and remember that your happiness matters too.

      1. Lurkyloo*

        Funny, I was thinking of my ex too. He used to complain and rant non-stop on the drive home (we worked a couple of blocks from each other). He was holding on for retirement…7 years down the road! I finally told him that I was going to bus home because I needed some peace and quiet before getting home. He thought it was funny and that I wouldn’t do it. Shocker on him when he called me from the car asking where I was and I told him I was already most of the way home. lol

    2. WomEngineer*

      I think they both could redirect energy towards a hobby or other fun activity. If work is the biggest thing that happens in your life, then of course it’s going to be most of what you talk about.

      Go on a walk. Meet up or do a Zoom call with friends. Build something. Make art. Take exercise classes. Go on dates with each other. Any of these can be done together, and it doesn’t have to take more than an hour.

  17. Antilles*

    If she’s been complaining about her job every night during dinner for years on end…she needs a new job, full stop.
    Sure, some days are just really miserable where you need to vent; that’s normal. But that shouldn’t be an every week (or more?) kind of thing. There’s no reason she should be this unhappy at her job – especially in the current hot labor market.

    1. Xena*

      Maybe, but she might have also simply gotten into the habit of grumbling and now can’t stop. CS Lewis put it masterfully: “[It] begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine.” I’ve met people like that where the grumble is so ingrained that they can barely say anything nice about anything. It’s sadly too common and it’s not pleasant to be with.

  18. bunniferous*

    She needs a time to vent, that is true. But it needs to NOT BE DINNER. It’s bad for digestion !
    You need to pick a time that is not right after work and not dinner and just set a boundary. She may not even realize how stressful this is for you. Also, honestly, focusing on negative all the time isn’t great. If it is that bad she needs a job change-but I’m guessing she is more making conversation than anything else.

    I would give her ten minutes-set a timer! and let her vent about whatever the worst thing was. And then no more complaining if you aren’t seeking solutions.

    (Personally tho assuming she doesn’t just need to change jobs-can she use this as an opportunity to see humor in this stuff? Laughing about it beats complaining!)

  19. cityMouse*

    Families are so complicated. A formula I have found that works, is, When you X, I feel Y, because Z. When you come home from work and complain about your day, I feel sad and upset, because I don’t want to see you suffering, because I don’t know what to do, and because … I have found that when dealing with family and feelings, being able to express things in that formula helps you to understand your own feelings and express them clearly. Also, you’re not ‘attacking’ the person, you are addressing the behaviour you want to see change.

    By explaining in that way it helps you to understand exactly what you are feeling, and what you want them to understand. (I learned this from one of Suzette Haden Elgin’s books on “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense,” which are fascinating reads.) I hope that helps a little…. sometimes people can fall into a habit of just negatively venting about things to one particular person, not realizing what a burden that can be. I’ve done it myself with my former mentor! I was embarrassed to realize it. Now that she’s retired, I try to keep things light and just ask her lots of questions about her life, rather than vent about mine.

    Good luck, LW! It sounds like she doesn’t realize what an effect this has on you.

    1. In Celebration of Feelings*

      That script (When you X, I feel Y, because Z) is exactly the (relationship experts) Gottman’s approach, and I have to say, I kind of rolled my eyes when I first heard it in a workshop I took with my partner because it seems so simple! I was sure I was doing already because isn’t it obvious? But no, it turns out it’s both very useful for solving problems AND difficult to do. I agree it could be really helpful for the OP!

      Another helpful habit is summarizing what someone has told you not only to validate them, and also of course to really understand what the issue is from your partner’s eyes — however, it’s easy for them to feel defensive if you just say something like “So your problem is X?” or “What I hear you saying is X annoys you” instead of phrasing it this way, which is a very subtle shift: “Do I understand this correctly, that what you’re saying is when X happens, you feel Y?”

      It makes all the difference in the world to hear what I’m saying is a problem reflected back to me, but for it to happen with an invitation to correct someone if they think I’m complaining about something minor and what is really bothering me is this major pattern that really hurts me. Or the opposite! And it prevents me from talking in circles trying to get that validation.

      I feel for you, OP, and 100% think that you sound like a caring and wonderful partner, and you don’t deserve to feel overwhelmed by your partner’s problems. This may not apply to you, but I want to share something else that has been helpful for me: when my partner complains, I have shifted to realizing that I need to allow her to feel the frustration, anger, hurt, or sadness (etc) without feeling like it’s a problem to solve because her problem is actually feeling *alone* in the feelings, not the feelings themself.

      This is incredibly hard if you didn’t get a chance as a kid to experience negative emotions without your parents immediately trying to solve them for you or minimize them. Once I stopped feeling like I had to change the way my partner felt about something the easier it got for me to listen to her complain about something. Before I would feel so incredibly stressed out because any feeling other than happy or neutral were something that my family didn’t allow and here my partner was just…not playing by those rules! And that was not okay for me to do as a child so it felt so stressful as an adult!

      Like I said, that might not be helpful to you and I don’t think you can simply work on your reaction to the complaining without your partner also working on how much she complains! I just offer these things because they’ve really helped me when I’ve felt like I was in your partner’s shoes AND when I have felt like I was in your shoes.

  20. irene adler*

    This was my parent’s dynamic for about 9 years.
    Pops would listen patiently to all the griping my Mom did about her workplace (“so behind the times”), her co-workers (Greg-baby who fudged his college degree), management, etc. To me, it was very intense stuff. I often wondered why she didn’t look for a new position. Pops was wise enough not to offer up suggestions or remedies. He knew she just wanted to let off steam.

    I think there did come a time when Pops suggested that rehashing things too much only results in reliving the anguish. Maybe put a time limit on the griping and then turn to happier topics. Mom was receptive.

    Fast forward a couple of decades. Mom has NO recollection about the things she griped about. Just remembers it was a very good job with excellent benefits (paid for her Master’s degree).

    1. Ope!*

      This highlights an important caveat – my partner and I have found we’re both much more receptive to venting about something that we know is temporary. Weeklong all zoom conference with minimal breaks? Obviously that sucks, can’t wait to get back to normal scheduling. Mega project with short time line and unsupportive management? Totally blows, how can they only give you a month to do that?

      If it’s more general, nebulous venting with no end in sight, it’s much more fatiguing.

    2. anony*

      I was the kid in the situation for my entire childhood. It suuuuucked.

      I have since learned that ANY job would have had the same dynamic, which was helpful to realize.

      If I had any power in the situation, I would have had a meta-conversation about the dynamic and my limits, and recognized that both parties had conflicting needs, and forced a resolution that would meet both sets of needs. I highly doubt that 10-minute limits would have worked (it seemed to call for nearly an hour each night) but I do think pairing it with other activities may have — walks, exercise, doing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom…

  21. Naomi*

    Can you ask that she find someone else to vent to? COVID may have limited social outings, but presumably your wife has access to a phone, or an Internet forum, or some other venue where she can complain without putting it all on you.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Be careful about complaining about work in writing on the internet, if there’s any chance, no matter how remote, that it might get back to the employer.

      1. ThisIsTheHill*

        100%. I’m a venter married to a venter, so we have to be careful not to let it take over. I work, & have worked, in companies with very strict social media policies, so if I ever post anything job related, it’s a funny, no-names-included wholesome anecdote. What I have found to be useful for the way my brain works – I type up a status update or tweet. Don’t publish, simply type whatever rant I’m feeling. Walk away. Just the process of getting it all out without worrying about grammar or explanation takes a lot of the steam out of me.

      2. AnonInCanada*

        This 100%. If you need to find a way to vent somewhere, put it in a diary or a journal or something offline and password protected. Even if it gets in the wrong hands, you won’t have to worry about it getting into your employers’ hands. Unless you used monkey123 as a password. :-)

    2. anonymous73*

      I honestly think she just needs to make a change or find a different outlet (like a journal…when I write things down it puts them in perspective). I wouldn’t want to be the friend who had to hear it every day either. Once in a while, of course. But every day? Nope. Being in a constant state of negativity abut something is not healthy for anyone.

      1. irene adler*

        Journal is good. I have very ‘intense’ conversations in the shower. I can say whatever I please and no one is really gonna listen.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I used to write rants and email them to myself. I found a few old ones not that long ago and can hardly recall what they were about now that I’ve been in a different line of work for years, but I assume they were cathartic at the time. But emailing them to yourself keeps them away from a wider audience.

    4. Starbuck*

      My friend group has bi-weekly chats and that’s definitely part of what the time is really good for, I think. It’s usually limited to the first 20-30 minutes of the call (there’s a handful of us and we can go for hours). Also since there’s several of us, if someone is getting to extreme BEC-ness in their griping, it’s easier to gently redirect them into perhaps a more constructive mindset if things are getting out of hand.

  22. JustJess*

    I would suggest she find a therapist. It’s a lot to expect any friend or family member to be the sole outlet for stress and frustration. A good therapist and listen and provide suggestions to reduce the stress and anxiety she seems to be feeling, while also reducing the burden on the OP.

    1. coffee*

      100% this. Even a few sessions with a therapist would be beneficial – sometimes we think of therapy as being quite long term, and it can be, but it isn’t always.

  23. i feel you man*

    Your advice is perfect, Allison. Husband, be firm that your own mental health sometimes needs to come first, and also that you love her. I might add that if the wife really is struggling to decompress and needs to talk over things that are happening at work, therapy might be an alternative to endless bitching at a drained spouse.

  24. Critical Rolls*

    When I had a time in my life that I had a ton of negative thoughts and feelings that I needed to get out, but I didn’t want all my interactions with others to be complaining, I did journaling, which is not a usual thing for me. I did mine on the computer, and I would just sit down and type until I had purged it and I could move on with my day. It also helped me clarify my thoughts on what was really bothering me, and whether it was actionable, and whether I wanted to take the action.

  25. Find a New Position!*

    I was the complainer several years ago. I was miserable at work, was being asked to do different duties than I was hired for, and my attempts to discuss my growth opportunities were glazed over by my manager. It got to the point that my husband told me I should seriously consider quitting my job- my negativity was affecting our relationship and my mental health. My immediate reaction was to shut that down, because I couldn’t POSSIBLY quit without another job lined up.

    But after some planning on our side and adjusting our budget, we were fortunate enough to be able to make that happen. Just KNOWING I was going to quit after a certain amount of time really helped me lift my mood and look at things differently. It did take me a while to find a new position, but that’s because I wanted to make sure I found the right fit. I know I was/am extraordinarily lucky that we were able to plan for and accommodate the financial hit. I’ve been in my new role for several years now, and though every job has its annoyances, it’s nothing like before!

  26. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    Have you considered asking her what she wants to get out of the venting? Is she looking for comfort? Validation? A listening ear? When/If you do have a conversation with her, starting with this question might put you both in a better spot. It comes across as, “I’m trying to think about and work with your needs too,” while also giving you better insight into what might work.

    Also, this might just be a me thing, but even as an adult in my 30’s I see nothing wrong with venting to a stuffed animal if all that I really need is to get something off of my chest.

    1. cityMouse*

      It does help! I was yelling at my kitchen yesterday, and my grandson started laughing. I hate my kitchen, it’s 7 feet by 7 feet, and I was frustrated and told it I hated it and why. When he started laughing, I played with the idea and had my kitchen respond, saying, but, but and we ended up laughing. Now I don’t hate my kitchen quite so much. Funny how humour and perspective help.

  27. allison*

    My husband has recently voiced that he doesn’t have anyone to complain to AT work – and I think this is huge. When I am annoyed about something at work, the best person to vent to is someone else at work, because they know all the players and the nuances of the situation. When I complain to my husband, it’s usually a lite or abbreviated version of the actual complaint because he just doesn’t get it. OP’s wife needs an outlet at work!

    Barring that, I have another friend whose husband pays a therapist so he can have a venting outlet because my friend couldn’t take it anymore. So that’s another option.

  28. Mollie*

    A couple things that have helped at our house:
    – Therapy for the complainer (me!) to identify what the complaints are really about
    – Designated times to discuss it
    – My husband being more involved in the conversation- really hearing and validating my experience, and also actively bringing up other topics besides work
    – Hobbies outside of work (both together and individually)
    – Designated days to focus on the positive- everything that needs to be complained about has to wait until the next day

    The biggest thing that helped us was for my husband to lovingly explain that this wasn’t helping bring either of us joy (and was driving us apart) and for me to read Alison’s posts about how complaining really makes it worse. I started looking for the positive when I realized that was true. It’s had a positive impact on my whole life. (A new job didn’t hurt the situation either, but if I hadn’t made the choice to change myself, a new job alone wouldn’t have done it.)

    1. Box of Kittens*

      “– My husband being more involved in the conversation- really hearing and validating my experience, and also actively bringing up other topics besides work”

      This! Sometimes you just need to feel validated in a complaint, and that in itself can help take the burden off.

  29. els*

    I feel this; my spouse complained about their job constantly, and I tried explaining to them that I’m happy to listen… up to a point. I gently suggested that, since they used the “I just want someone to vent to” tactic, they call their EAP, or perhaps reach out to a therapist, and they did, a couple of times, but nothing really stuck. (I probably should have reached out to a therapist of my own.) They’ve since gotten a new job, thank goodness, so things are better.

    I would second (or third, or whatever number we’re up to at this point) the “your ten minutes starts now” idea, and then, when the ten minutes are up, if she’s still going, you can leave. I realize it’s dinner, so maybe it’s awkward, but calmly pick up your plate, say, “I am leaving now,” and go. Finish your dinner in the basement, or on the back porch, or in your car.

    Because it’s not about changing her behavior. It’s about enforcing your boundaries. You have the right to not have to listen to constant negativity if it’s taking a toll on you. You have choices, and so does she; she can choose to reach out to a professional to complain, or call a friend or relative, or scream into a pillow, but she’s choosing you and only you. You can choose to take care of yourself, and she can choose to take care of herself in a way that doesn’t come at your expense.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      I realize this is likely just my own personal Stuff, but if my spouse ever got up and walked away from me mid sentence to go eat their dinner in the car to punish me for struggling to rein in my venting? Whew.

  30. Khatul Madame*

    Time limit is good, but if the complainer exceeds it, maybe a “stop-word” could help.
    I love the suggestion to bring humor into this. However, this is a solution and the OP’s wife is not looking for solutions.

  31. Casual Librarian*

    My partner and I have found success in actually outlining a complaining framework:
    1. New situations–partner gets full background
    2. Ongoing situations–“dealt with the X Situation again today. Still annoying”
    3. Updates on ongoing situations–provide an update without background

    This allows the complaining/venting process to go faster when we feel we need it. We also have the typical “Do you need a solution or just to complain? Because you complain about Y a lot, so it seems that we could find some solutions for you.”

    We also have a hard-and-fast rule about not complaining if it’s a situation that we have the power to fix. This has resulted in lots of discussions that end like this, “I know that I could just find a new job to not deal with Z, but I like this job, and I just don’t want to deal with Z aspect of this job and it’s annoying to me that it’s a part of this job that I otherwise like. Ugh.” or “I guess I could just talk to [relevant person at job] about this…”

    1. CanYallShutUp*

      I like this a lot. I don’t mind being on the receiving end of some venting but it can get Groundhog Day like when it’s the same stuff every time with no action.

  32. Helen W*

    I was in this exact position for the last 3 years. I worked AND lived with my mother. Venting wasn’t limited to dinner time and it took a massive toll on my mental health. I realised that she wasn’t going to change so I would need to be the one to make the changes, which I did and our relationship is so much better for it.
    I think your wife needs to find a new job if she dislikes this one so much. I definitely agree with Alison that you need to talk to her abut the effect the constant negativity has on you. Lastly, I think it may be a good idea for your wife to see a therapist to try and work on altering that negative mindset.

  33. Elsa*

    LW will know best about this, but if she’s not a contant complainer by nature, and if she has this much to complain about every day, the problem is the job. Time to find a new one.

  34. miss chevious*

    I strongly recommend a time limit on this, and maybe even a frequency limit. I used to have a friend/roommate who was Very Into some stuff that I just could not care less about. At all. So we instituted a rule that she could talk to me (and I would pay attention) about her Thing for up to 30 minutes a day. That might be too much for the OP, and OP might want to set other limits like “not during dinner” or only on Monday/Wednesday/Fridays but it made my friend feel heard, and it wasn’t too much for me, and it encouraged her to find other outlets for the rest of her energy about her Thing.

  35. Numb Little Bug*

    My wife works in hospitality, and so has similar complaints to your wife. Her commute home is around 25/30 minutes and each day she calls me on her drive home, and this is her ‘venting time’. A lot of the time I am doing something else such as cooking dinner or gaming, and so it’s easy to listen to her. Much like your wife, she doesn’t want or need my advice, she just needs to feel heard and to get it all out !

    By the time she gets home, she’s ranted out all of her frustrations and we can have normal conversations.

    I know this might not work for everyone, but it really helps her decompress from work on the drive home, without taking up all of our dinner or evening with the ranting.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This is brilliant.

      Pre-pandemic, I bussed to work and rode home with a colleague. We both got to rant in context AND confidentiality, and then we walked into our separate homes with the anxiety vented out on the open road.

  36. Lady Danbury*

    I emphasize with OP bc my mom can be the same way sometimes. Her current job is very stressful, so whenever I give her a ride home from work, there’s usually at least one vent about something that happened during her day. I suck it up because my mom usually limits it to one story. As Allison suggested, it would be beneficial to set a limit to her venting time. Focus on how it is impacting you, not making it about her. We’re living in stressful times and hearing other people complain can definitely add to the stress. Putting a time limit will also hopefully help her to focus on her biggest gripe, not just a stream of complaining about any and every thing that went wrong.

  37. Gnome*

    A few thoughts…

    Has she always been this way? If not, it may be worth talking to a doctor – at the very least, I know of multiple people who were tipped into depression (or had a relapse) due to covid, so it’s worth considering if this is an indication of something.

    Can you try to direct things in a positive way? Like maybe, “I love to hear about your day, but I also like mixing things up sometimes. How about we both share the best part of our day and the weirdest thing somebody said?” If you can help her reframe the negativity into “Wow – people are so stupid/dumb/annoying that it’s funny!” kind of mentality, that might help (note: I’m not advocating making fun of people, but this is a strategy to move the complaints into a more positive light and possible help OP).

    Another alternative, make sure you get a chance to talk about YOUR day. She complains about X – “oh, that reminds me – did I tell you about what happened in the Teapot Meeting yesterday – you won’t believe it!”

    Good luck!

    1. anonymous73*

      A caveat to your first suggestion…while depression or some other medical reason could be the cause of the venting if this is new-ish, it seems to me that if her job is that bad, she needs a new job, not a doctor.

      1. Gnome*

        Yes, exactly. That’s why I say consider. It could also be medical and something else. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. :)

  38. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    She needs to find a counsellor to talk through this with and perhaps even who nudges her to find a profession she can handle better without burning you out.
    You need to tell her this is unsustainable and you can’t be her sounding board forever, you are near your breaking point, and that also means your marriage is in trouble.

    You cannot and should not force her to see a counsellor, but you should suggest it when you are explaining the facts of life. Try to avoid a shouting match, you need to tell her this is the problem, your falling apart, this cannot continue, counselling is what you recommend and most importantly your marriage is now in trouble. She may not take it well but don’t get into a fight, just repeat calmly and sympathetically and if she tries to fight, leave the room. Add as much distance as necessary to protect yourself. Not to punish her but the minimum necessary to safeguard your mental health.
    There is a big difference between punishing her and protecting yourself, don’t cross that line or it makes things harder to resolve to mutual benefit.
    Ultimately she has to make the decision herself to get help but you should explain your boundaries clearly that this cannot continue. You should look out for yourself and she has to deal with the consequences and find a better path forward.

    This may end your marriage and you need to be prepared for that and not be willing to go back to how things were to protect the marriage. Again not as a threat, but to protect your mental health.

    Also consider some counselling for yourself, this is not easy to handle on your own.

    And i hope you have coverage for this because i know how bad healthcare coverage is in America.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      While not quite as foreboding, my advice runs a similar vein.

      OP, how much do you talk about work? A self-exam might be a good thing before initiating a conversation.

      How’s married life overall? Are you two routinely setting goals as a couple and achieving them?

      Before you jump into conversation take a serious, hard look at what it is like to be your wife. Not what you think her life is like, but what her life actually is like.

      So a friend of mine married a good guy. The kind of guy that goes to work every day, makes sure all the bills are paid, you know Rock of Gibraltar type person. My friend went on and on about her job. At some point, I started thinking, “What else is going on here?” Turns out Gibraltar worked 14 or so hours a day and only got paid for 8 hours, leaving my friend home alone to deal with all the stuff on the home front plus work her own job. When Gibraltar came home he had to tell my friend every. single. thing. that happened all day long. This unloading, while it was not complaining, it still was very time consuming and exhausting. As the years rolled by my friend reach a point where her response to the stories were , “Yeah, SO WHAT, WHO CARES!” See even when the spouse was at home, his mind was at work, so it’s almost the same as he wasn’t home.

      My friend felt that her coupledom had ceased to exist. There was nothing going on at home, no goals, nothing to look forward to, there was nothing but talk about work.

      When my friend tried to make a work-free time zone, conversation STOPPED. Conversation was over. They were losing each other…
      For my friend all that was left going on in her life was her job. Unfortunately she was in a crappy place and had lots of crappy stories.
      It turned out that all her complaints about her job were actually about her unhappiness in her marriage. Sometimes you can be married and be more alone than people who are single.

      The really hard question here is “Is your spouse happy? And if not, what will it take to get to a happier place?”

      I think that part of your conversation with her should involve, “Let’s be US, again, let’s find US under all this and invest on what we have as a couple.”

      Maybe you feel your participation at home is solid. I can believe that. But is the way you participate meaningful to her??? Double check and be prepared for surprises. I was married over 25 years before I learned that all my effort in pairing up my husband’s socks were meaningless to him. (The socks were dark colors and hard for me to see.) I thought I was doing a good bit of work by making sure they were correctly paired. He thought it was a waste of time.
      We are just talking about socks here. But this goes into bigger and more time consuming things. Are you putting hours in to doing X for the two of you, when she would actually prefer you do Y? What about likewise with her?
      There’s participation in a marriage then there is QUALITY/meaningful participation in a marriage. Aim for the latter.

      You know how flood waters come into an area and just fill in all the empty spots? Our lives are like that. If we don’t fill our empty spots in our lives then life stuff will fill them in for us. Marriage, just like life, requires deliberate forethought and planning. Remember feeling like a team? Remember pulling in the same direction and reaching goals- big goals, little goals, medium goals? Work your way back to that. Tell her that you want the two of you “to make US a priority again”. Ask her to join you.

  39. Here For The Beer*

    She may be unaware how much complaining she’s doing. By mutual agreement, set up a recording device and record 5 consecutive post-work evenings. Over the following weekend, ask her to play it back in full, alone. She’ll get a better idea of just how much complaining, repetition, and exhaustion takes place each night. She might give consideration to changing jobs, but at a minimum she’ll be more aware of how the OP sees the situation.

  40. Erin C.*

    My mom spent 20 years in a dysfunctional government office where she was overworked and underappreciated. She would complain a lot. I moved out and went to college, but my sister was around for all of it. So she now has a mild case of PTSD whenever someone starts complaining about work, flashing back to years of mom coming home late and being unhappy. So now whenever I start complaining about work to her, she just flat out says to me, “Stop talking about work” or “if it’s that bad, go to HR, not me.” So now I instinctively stop myself from complaining about work when with her or my parents, and only share the good stuff.

    I know that doesn’t really help OP, but I understand where they’re coming from.

  41. CG*

    Some jobs are just hard (or not quite well-suited for us!) in ways that involve a lot of bottling up. I’m glad your wife sees you as a safe space and glad that you’re being thoughtful about how to respond to her, but totally agree with Alison’s advice to be extremely explicit with her about how this is impacting you and what you’d like to change. The first thing that jumped out at me in this letter was the need for you and your partner to communicate more clearly and openly with each other! (Venting and hinting are not always the same as communicating!) Part of that could be talking with her about what she wants. Maybe something like the following, tweaked as suits your situation?

    “Wife, I am having a hard time spending dinner every night complaining about work, and I’d like us to change the pattern we’re in so that we can both relax and unwind when we’re together at home. I am happy to declare the first X minutes after work each day as venting time, but then I’d like us to find something else to talk about so that your work stress isn’t just transferring to me. It sounds like this job is really wearing on you, though. If you would like, I’m happy to help you update your resume and start a job search for something you’d enjoy more///help you plan a regular ladies night and make myself scarce a few times a month so that you have more chances to talk to friends – along with me – about your life///declare the 10 minutes before dinner “back rub time” to get some of the stress out///help find a therapist that you could go to for a few sessions to talk through the stressors of your job and how to reduce the impact that other people’s mistakes (or meanness) have on your mental health///help cover both of our expenses for a few months if you need to take time off to recover from burnout///find really great journals for both of us to spend some time each night writing out our thoughts and feelings for the day – I’ve been thinking about journaling for a while and think it might help here. I can’t continue our current pattern of vent sessions, because it is creating too much stress for me, but I’d be love to do something that makes things better for us both and takes a load off your shoulders. What would do you think?”

    …and then protect the boundary that you’ve set. If you ask your wife to cut off the daily work vent after twenty minutes, then remind her that you’d like to talk about something else AND change the subject. Keep changing the subject at the twenty-minute mark, and hopefully that’ll help set a new pattern. (Also, for a while, you may need to supply different subjects to talk about. Wife’s brain might be stuck in work rage mode even if she’s trying to change the conversation, so if you can bring her onto a different track of thinking, that could help.)

    1. CG*

      Also, someone else mentioned walks. When I exercise for a bit, I tend to lose a lot of my stress of the day. Maybe a post-work, pre-dinner walk, yoga class, get-it-all-out cardio kickboxing session, etc. could help too?

  42. Lady Danbury*

    I empathize with OP because my mom can be the same way sometimes. Her current job is very stressful, so whenever I give her a ride home from work, there’s usually at least one vent about something that happened during her day. I suck it up because my mom usually limits it to one story. As Allison suggested, it would be beneficial to set a limit to her venting time. Focus on how it is impacting you, not making it about her. We’re living in stressful times and hearing other people complain can definitely add to the stress. Putting a time limit will also hopefully help her to focus on her biggest gripe, not just a stream of complaining about any and every thing that went wrong.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      My mom used to call me up and tell me every gross medical detail (and I gag easily) about my dad’s illness and when I told her I needed her to stop, her response was that her need to tell me was more important than my need to say no. I just ended up holding the phone away from me and then periodically going “uh-huh” into the phone and then holding it away again.

      Unfortunately not an option for OP in the home :/

      1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

        Yeeeeh, no. Hang up; that’s disrespectful of her. Nobody wants to hear the gory details, and I say this as someone who can watch surgeries and other gory things all day without batting an eye.

  43. Box of Kittens*

    I used to be this person. I was in a public-facing job and would get the same mind-numbing scenarios and complaints from customers all day, every day and then would come home and rant to my husband – the same exact rant, basically – every single day. I know he got sick of it. I got sick of me and didn’t like who I was at that time, to be honest. It only got better for me when I moved into a different job at that company that wasn’t public-facing. I still had complaints that we discussed, but it *was* actual discussion rather than a rant and we would naturally move on to other topics after a few minutes. It really improved our marriage, to be honest.

    I really do think that when your work affects your life so much that you have to rant to someone for hours every day, something’s wrong. Maybe she does need a new job. Maybe she needs a therapist to rant to instead. Maybe she needs to start journaling or something – that helps me sometimes because then I’ve “said” all I need to say (but I do have to be careful not to get myself more discouraged by writing myself into a slump). Maybe you both need some therapy to help with communication. I’m realizing this probably isn’t super helpful but I just know that, when this was me, I needed a big shift to get out of the complaint rut.

  44. urguncle*

    Hi, I used to be your wife. I would get done with my day and just vent to my wife for the rest of the evening. It was really exhausting for all of us!

    My angel of a partner was tolerant but there was a “rock bottom” for me: a bad experience with a customer that snowballed into a huge issue with my boss and realized one of the things that was making me miserable was working with customers. It didn’t give me the purpose and the excitement that it had before and it was zapping my empathy and trust. At the time, she offered me the start of an out: the first payment of a course that I could use to change my career path. It took some time and effort on my part: 12 weeks of courses twice a week, plus months of interviewing, but moving out of customer-facing has made SUCH a huge difference in my misery level day-t0-day.

    I honestly wish her the best. It’s not easy to find a position that is is better fit, and it’s very scary, but it will improve everyone’s life.

  45. Mrs Hoover*

    My sister had a similar conversation with her husband awhile back. She let him know that she understood he was having difficulties at work but that she needed a break from the complaints about it. She recommended a therapist who could help him work through some of the issues he was having and he decided to do that. It was helpful to my sister and I think it also helped my brother in law get some clarity on his work situation, but also gave him a neutral outlet, someone who he literally paid to listen to him and provide personalized, thoughtful, and constructive feedback. (He’s in a new job now)

  46. els*

    ((Tried to post this earlier but I think it got eaten, so apologies if something like it shows up twice))

    I very much recommend the “I will listen to this for ten minutes” approach. And once the ten minutes are up, you leave. I understand it’s awkward, but you pick up your plate, go to the basement/your car/the back porch, and finish your dinner there.

    You can’t necessarily change her behavior, but you can set and enforce your own boundaries. You have choices, and you can choose not to be embroiled in long complaint sessions that take a toll on you. She has choices, too–she could choose to talk to a friend, a relative, a therapist, her EAP if she’s got one… but she’s choosing to dump everything on you, and you are allowed to say, “I’m done for today” and enforce that by leaving.

  47. The Prettiest Curse*

    During the most miserable/stressful times at my previous jobs, I found it really helpful to have an hour or so to decompress and take my mind off work before going home. In my case, it was swimming, but if there is something that the wife can do that either gets her out of the house or gets her to focus on something else after work a few times a week, that might be useful.
    But as others have said, a new job might ultimately be the solution here.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Agreed re the time to decompress – I found this easier while working in the office because in the time it took to get from office to home, that allowed me that decompress time, but while WFH, that decompress time was gone and it made things harder. It’s not clear from the letter whether this wife works from home and that could be an issue?

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Re: commuting being a time to decompress – I was thinking of the interview that Alison did with the EAP person, where she said that walking around the block for 10 minutes before and after work helped her to create mental separation and decompress from her stressful job while working at home. So there are strategies for that kind of decompression if you’re working at home, you just may have to get creative because they’re not as obvious.

  48. BugHuntress*

    This was me for a while. My story was, I was in a toxic job environment with unrealistic expectations, and it wounded me deeply, but I wouldn’t leave. I got more and more stressed out, and complained nonstop to all of my friends, but quitting felt like failure, admitting I couldn’t hack it.

    It was like a toxic relationship. I kept hoping it would get better, even though it was only getting worse and worse.

    I’ve done some work on myself via therapy and reflection since then and realized I’ve been acting out the same relationship that my dad had to work—believing in meritocracy to the extent that you refuse to see you’re not being rewarded, feeling ashamed if anyone helps you, being unable to protest poor treatment without shame.

    I have no idea if this applies here, but wanted to share. As my boundaries have become healthier, my body has been calmer about anything work-related, and the sound of the Slack ding doesn’t make me literally jump to action.

  49. MissDisplaced*

    Oh dear! Part of being in a committed relationship is to be supportive and sometimes just to listen. But you don’t have to listen to it constantly either!

    I like the idea of setting a post work, pre-dinner vent zone for 10-15 minutes. Even better if you can make that something active like a walk outside. Set a timer even and wrap it up. You’ll both be better to let it out then have her move on quickly.

    But if you don’t want to hear it at all, you need to speak up that this is distressing you too much and that while you care, you also need to disengage from the venting. And yes, if she is that unhappy, it might be time to explore other job options.

  50. Kaiko*

    Here’s a technique I’ve picked up over th last year: if I have a stressful day that’s now just sort of sitting in my brain and body, continuing to make me feel stressed, I need to complete the circle of stress. All that means is that I need to express the stress in some way – punching a pillow, screaming into a pillow, furious dancing, vigorous walk, sometimes even a cry – so that the stress I’m feeling internally gets out of my body and I can start to calm down. (Did I pick this up during a pandemic homeschool/lockdown/work surge? Reader, I did.)

    OP, encourage your wife to complete the stress circuit before she launches into her complaints. Then, set a time limit. Ask her to spend one day a week not just complaining, but thinking through what is possible for her to change about the situation. Encourage her to journal. And be firm: “we have done ten minutes of after-work processing, time to turn off the tap” is a super reasonable request. Good luck!!

    1. anonymath*

      That book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” by the Nagoskis has some good ideas here! It might be a good read for the OP.

  51. Another person again*

    I’ve been the wife in this situation (I don’t think quite to this extreme, but there were some days!) and I was so wrapped up in my misery from the work day I genuinely didn’t realize what a negative toll my complaining was taking on my husband. Once I finally understood that (and it took more than a hint) I sought out therapy and another job.

    My point is, absolutely the husband needs to be direct about how this is impacting him, hopefully as gently as possible, because she sounds really miserable about her work and probably is not going to get the hints he is dropping. And also let her know he is there for her and willing to support her in any way he can. (Other than just listening to the complaining of course).

  52. Karia*

    She needs an outlet after work. Often when I’m stuck in a negative thought loop interrupting it with a walk or run helps. It could also be a sign that she needs a new job, or that she’s unhappy in general. I find that when my depression bites, everything is annoying, even trivial things such as “Jane took my pen”.

    1. Midwest Manager*

      I refer to this status as “an Alexander day” – reminiscent of the children’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. If you haven’t read it, the book is effectively an unending rant about all the “terrible” things that happened to the kid that day. It’s a treasure, helps me keep things in perspective.

  53. Briefly Anon (she/her)*

    Yes, hello, I had this exact issue with my husband this year. I tried gently asking what I could do to support him through his problems and the answer was similar to your wife: “I need you to listen,” i.e. “I need you to let me vent at you as much as I want to vent at you and I need you to soothe me endlessly.” I tried suggesting that he talk it over with other people. Or go to the gym, or take a shower, or go for a walk, or get a therapist, but it just never got better.

    The outcome became that a) there was no room for me to talk about my problems because his took up so much air; by the time he was done complaining I really didn’t have energy to share my own feelings, b) he never got any happier because surprise, spending most of your outside-of-work conversations on work and what’s wrong with work and how miserable you are at work doesn’t actually make you feel better, and c) I was getting burnt out. And then we had a baby and I was on mat leave.

    What ultimately worked for me was literally saying over several conversations, “I need you to complain less,” and “I am EXHAUSTED. I cannot be the primary caregiver of an infant and also offer you endless emotional support,” and “I feel that there has not been room in our marriage for me to share my feelings,” and, “I am burnt out,” and “This isn’t good for me and it isn’t good for our marriage” and “The only person who said anything nice to me was the clerk at the grocery store, that’s not great.” The whole process was deeply unpleasant. He got angry at me and then he got really sad and felt guilty and awful and cried (a lot. Loudly.) I held firm. Things have improved!

    Boundaries are hard and they can feel bad, but it doesn’t mean that they are wrong. I would not allow my husband to damage our relationship by making me miserable in an effort to alleviate his unhappiness. That’s not good for our marriage, even though it might be what he wants in the moment.

      1. HannahS*

        Thanks. It was hard and unpleasant for both of us, but once the hard feelings and things improved, we both started to feel happier.

  54. SomebodyElse*

    So several suggestions…

    First, my spouse and I strictly adhere to ‘cocktail hour’ after work. It’s just a time to sit and and tell each other about our day, talk about family business, plan stuff, and vent (Oh yes and have a cocktail). Sometimes the venting takes center stage, but most times that’s over and done with in about 10 minutes and we move on to other topics. Sometimes it goes longer, but it’s over before cocktail hour is over. Then the rest of the evening can be vent free.

    Second, we have a firm rule that only one of us is allowed to hate our job at any given time :) Look, we all go through stressful, annoying, difficult times in our jobs. 2 people trying to out-vent each other is terrible. 2 people getting sucked into negativity is not productive. If it’s not your turn to hate your job, it makes you reframe all of the things you’d normally be complaining about. It really helps put it into perspective and keeps you from a negativity rut. lol nothing like getting wound up for a good old fashioned bitch session when your spouse says… “Nope, it’s my turn, you hated your job last week” it weirdly takes the wind right out of your sails.

    Third, similar to the first two. Put some gates up and stick with them. “New rule! We each get 15 minutes a day to bitch about our job, then we move on to more pleasant topics” make it a bit of a game… “Setting the timer, and go!” At the end of 15 minutes then do something else. If you have an Alexa, start a game of Jeopardy, or play a song that you both like, or ask her a really stupid question “If you had 10 minutes to hide a paperclip in the house and if not found you’d get a million dollars, where would you hide it?” “What do you think is the best transportation in the zombie apocalypse? ” “Who was your favorite HS teacher?” “Where should we go on vacation next year?” “Do you remember that time when…”
    -BTW these are real life examples of some of my cocktail hour discussions

    Last, I’d encourage you to encourage your wife to get out more, socialize more, or find a focus in her spare time that isn’t work, you, or venting. It’s probably all consuming for her at the moment because she might not have a lot of distraction and outlets for non work stuff.

  55. Graeme*

    Yeah, another vote for option 3. It’s likely she doesn’t realise she’s doing it so much, or just considers it part of normal “work stress”, so possibly needs your help to realise that a job causing an hour of venting every night isn’t something that should be considered acceptable.

    Next time she starts, use that to initiate a serious conversation about if she thinks she’d be happier in another job. If yes, take that serious and offer to be supportive in making that happen in any way you can. If no, use some combination of Alison’s points 1 and 2 to try adn get her to at least reduce the amount of complaining you’re exposed to. It’s entirely possible that you putting on your serious face and going “I’m worried about how stressful and frustrating you seem to find your job” might be enough to trigger a fresh evaluation.

  56. Rosie*

    I do agree with Alison’s advice, but, if someone is really struggling with work (or anything, for that matter), it can be hard to hear from a partner about the toll on *them*. That shouldn’t be the case because your concern is completely valid, OP, but it could make it harder to have a productive conversation. It sounds like your wife is burned out and, in that case, it can be difficult to focus on how to extricate yourself from the situation. At this point, are you open to having conversations with your spouse about her work concerns if they are constructive ones? If so, then have you tried being very clear that you’re willing to discuss these issues when they are from the perspective of: “How do we improve this situation?” (You mention that you wife feels “this is not a time to talk through it,” but it’s hard to tell from your letter if/how much you’ve pushed back on this.) If you can be firm about steering the conversation away from complaining and toward discussing actionable steps, that could be helpful in the long run to help your wife see how to get out of a job that is overwhelming her every day.

  57. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I used to be this person. My husband and I commuted (car-pooled) together, over an hour each way. The drive home was my daily venting time, when I would have a long-winded non-stop gripe about all the annoying work stuff. So, eventually, my husband bluntly told me that he didn’t want to hear that every day. So I stopped doing that daily, but would still *occasionally* vent about something of greater significance–like a normal person–LOL. It wasn’t hard to break that pattern.

    I was venting because, at the root, I dislike my job. It is a never ending source of stress, frustration, burn-out, etc. And venting was a way of letting go of some of that stress. And it’s not always as simple as – “well, change jobs if you hate it so much”. Sure, if only we all had jobs that we liked! Anyhoo, I had not actually realized that the daily venting had become so regular, and very annoying to my husband. But my husband made me aware, and of course I didn’t want to torture him by forcing him to listen to the vent every day. So I stopped.

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Adding: I wasn’t expecting any feedback/advice from my husband when I used to vent like that. It was one-way spewing. Getting it off my chest, so to speak.

      1. my experience*

        I think this is interesting too. Some people vent because they feel better afterwards. For me, I usually feel worse after venting (because now I just brought all my work frustrations into free time! I’d rather not spend more time on them). I wonder if OP and the wife have a fundamental mis-match of whether or not venting is relieving.

    2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Exactly. I can’t change jobs easily, jf at all, because my skillset is so weirdly specific: monitoring animals as a group to spot trouble brewing and prevent it if possible, or mitigate damage if a fight does happen between dogs (I work at a dog daycare). While this is happening, there are five dogs jumping in me, wanting all my attention, and two who are trying to open the catch gate so they can leave because they don’t want to be there, and oh, someone is yelling over the walkie for a dog who is going home, so I have to gwt that dog out while literally hauling 30 OTHER dogs back. Did I mention it’s loud and smelly and I’m constantly having to pick up poo while chasing dogs who like to eat it away?

      I don’t even know how any of these skills transfer anywhere that isn’t a daycare or vet clinic, or possibly a daycare for kids.

      I do have very solid writing and communication skills, because I do have to talk to clients about their little fanged pests when I bring them up, but that’s hardly going to be a stellar resume point, anyone can do that.

      Just an example of how you can’t always just leave.

  58. anonymous73*

    You mention that you’ve asked her to cut down on the complaining, but WHEN did you ask? I sometimes need to vent as well and can tell you that if my husband asked me to stop complaining so much (no matter how sensitive he was) it would just piss me off. So the main thing here is to have a conversation at a time outside of the complaint window.

    As Alison mentioned, do focus on how it’s affecting YOUR mental health. And point out that if she needs to do this much venting every single day after work, she may want to start looking for a new job because that’s not normal. But if she’s not receptive to your feedback and is unwilling to try and modify her behavior to help improve your mental health, maybe your household isn’t very happy after all. Nobody is perfect and no relationship is easy all the time, but I know if my husband told me how unhappy I was making him with my negativity, I’d do whatever I could to remedy the situation.

    1. PB Bunny Watson*

      I had the same thought. Is it a prolonged vent because OP keeps trying to change the subject? Sometimes you just got let the storm whirl and wear itself out. Trying to correct me or redirect me at a time like that just adds fuel to the fire and makes the storm last longer.

      I was also interested in the OP’s comment that they just don’t vent when they have a complaint. I wouldn’t just suggest therapy for one but maybe for both of them. There are times when I hear complaints from people, and my thoughts are, “Shove it down and bury it like a grown-up!” I’m half-joking when I think that… but it also points to a very real issue of not wanting to let things out, which can be just as bad as letting too much out.

  59. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Did my husband write this? :p

    In all seriousness, he did have to have a word with me several years back that my near constant complaining about something or another was wearing down *his* mental health and could I summarise things into a shorter time slot and write the rest down in a journal or something?

    That was a dash of cold water – I had no idea I was putting so much stress on him.

    Additionally, the act of writing things down actually helped me realise that some of this stuff was either a) really minor and would blow over or b) was something that wasn’t going to be fixed no matter how much I complained.

    We have a ‘10 minute how was your day’ slot in the evenings then we play co-operative games on the computer. Far less stress.

  60. ThinMint*

    One of the ways I went about addressing this with my spouse was to point out, at a different calmer time, that when they complained to me I didn’t see if bring them any relief. It seemed to work them up more and I worried about the additional stress that rehashing/complaining brought on. For my spouse, appealing to the ‘I can see the negative effects of the stress and the complaining isnt’ helping’ helped me get through to them a bit.

  61. New Mom*

    I have had both roles that OP posted about. My partner rarely complains about work, he lets most things roll off him and I think I went into hyper-drive complaining during the pandemic because we were spending so much time together. He just stopped showing interest in my rants (which I saw as “conversations”) and I called him out on it once and then he let me know that he wasn’t interested in hearing me complain about work so much. In the moment I was really offended and annoyed but after thinking about it, I realized how much I was burdening him with the groundhog-esque issues (same frustrations and complaints on loop).
    I think I also became more sympathetic to my husband and tried to vent less after someone very close to me started to have severe mental health struggles during the pandemic and was using almost daily ranting and venting sessions as their only coping mechanism. It was so draining being on the receiving end of constant ranting and when the person’s situation got better I did set some boundaries and they were not received well.

  62. my experience*

    I think sometimes people vent because they want to talk about something, and it’s what they have to talk about. If the only thing that happened between seeing your wife in the morning and seeing her in the evening is work (and work is bad), if she doesn’t talk about work, what else can she talk about?
    So, perhaps part of the solution is filling in that “what else” bucket for both of you. Is there a hobby you can discuss? Movies you love to watch together and analyze?
    This might also help you to start conversations that are more the kind you want to have instead of asking her to stop talking about what she’s talking about.

    1. Ozzie*

      This is a really good point! Especially thanks to COVID, people just have less going on with their day. I talk about work way more than I want to just because it feels like there’s nothing else to talk about. (I can only excitedly tell people I cleaned off my desk so many times)

      Finding a joint hobby may help here – even if it’s just a show to watch together or movies or something – to create something else to discuss. It can also provide a bonding thing, and a distracting from work stress.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I think this is part of my mom’s problem. She’s alone at home most of the day, in her own world, and isn’t going anywhere because of the pandemic. So she wants to talk about something but all she has is what she ate for lunch and how her online language lesson went (and they always go well). I am so tired of hearing about calories and carbs I could just about scream. She’s also the kind of person who processes ideas out loud, which would be less of a problem if they weren’t the same ideas all the time (she’s fine, she just doesn’t have much going on in her life right now).

      She used to have hobbies. I don’t know where they went.

    3. ferrina*

      Yes! My husband and I got into this loop. Complaining about work was a form of trauma bonding, and when I realized what a toll it was taking on my mental health (and I was the complainer!) I asked that we limit it. We discovered that we didn’t have anything else to talk about.
      Make plans to do something else. Play board games or video games, watch a movie, plan a hike, do a puzzle.
      If she used to have hobbies and doesn’t now, can you encourage the hobbies again? Make time for her to do the hobby, go with her to a class, etc.
      (This is in addition to possibly her doing therapy and/or finding a new job, depending on the situation)

  63. IndustriousLabRat*

    I live alone with my dog, who is a good listener, so I can’t speak from current personal experience to the subtleties of managing this interaction in your current relationship- and all relationships have their own nuances anyway. It’s good of you to try to listen, and care enough to ask for help in navigating how to set boundaries. That all being said…

    I can tell you something that works for me. And let me tell you, my job is NUTS. Like, regular crying in the boiler room level of stress. Leaving isn’t an option, so managing the built-up steam really is important! I have two good old friends who also have crazy stressful jobs in wildly different environments, and we make a point of getting together at least every couple weeks for a dedicated Vent Session, where we basically all sit around eating chicken wings and beer and tell each other, “Wow I could NEVER do your job, you’re a freaking ROCK, rock on!!!” and basically commiserating and patting each other on the back and being encouraging to get through whatever the next couple weeks throws at us. Mutual support group :)

    I understand that a daily inundation of one-sided dumping of grievances is definitely a lot. I empathize with wanting to bring more calm to the dinner table- I grew up with parents who WORKED TOGETHER and that was literally dinner conversation every day lol. My brother and I got to hear way more about the dramas with their workplace than a couple kids ever needed to know!

    It sounds like your wife may not have much of a support system of buddies who are receptive to venting; though I have to emphasize that without it being a mutually encouraging two-way street, it’s not something just to dump on friends, either! I’m also curious whether you feel like you can dump work/other problems on her ear at dinner and get a good listener or shoulder to cry on. Because if the answer is no, it complicates the advice.

    I think the best you can do is continue to be encouraging and supportive, including, if appropriate, the encouragement to spread her wings and find a job that appreciates her more. But with the caveat of kindly saying that support does not automatically equate to being on the receiving end of all the venting all the time, and push for limits on how much and when. You can truly support her and STILL not be comfortable with that level of verbal dumping of the workplace misery. If you think that the expectation of vent-absorption is one-sided, maybe the two of you can talk to someone about better patterns of communication. I know with things the way they are, social opportunities for venting with peers and buddies aren’t nearly what they used to be, and totally understand that you would feel under pressure carrying 100% of it. Maybe your wife might even benefit from talking to a career coach who can help her break the cycle of feeling trapped or beat down by responsibilities. That is a very common feeling in high -pressure jobs… “I can’t leave because I’d let my team fail, therefore I have to set myself on fire to keep them warm”. The problem-solving approach might really help. “How do I transcend the current pressure, or how do I break away to something better?”

    I wish you both luck in finding a new level of understanding and peace!

  64. Former Gremlin Herder*

    I live with a close friend and my partner, and last year all three of us were in education (in the middle of COVID! in a state that doesn’t care about science!) and we spent a lot of time navigating these types of boundaries. The affectionately named “bitch timer” was really helpful for my roommate and I; we’d set it for ten minutes and then move on with the evening. We also tracked how much we talked about work with a silly pie chart. Trying to form a habit of checking in before starting to vent was also super helpful; some nights one person may have a lot of bandwidth to hear the negativity, but another night it may be too much. As other commenters have said, the first step to directly and compassionately describe the problem, which it doesn’t sound like you’ve done.

    I will say that your comment about how complaining is a “choice” concerns me. While it *technically* is a choice, a lot of people process their feelings best verbally, and it isn’t a moral failing to do so. It sounds like you have a different level of stress and a different way of processing your frustrations, and that’s fine too. Not respecting your boundaries IS a choice that isn’t okay, but you first have to discern and communicate those boundaries! I hear the other commenters that are suggesting your wife needs therapy or other outlets or even a new job, and while you can make suggestions and support her in those things, I think it’s best to lay out the problem and let the other adult come to their own conclusions of how to handle her stress.

    Good luck-I really feel you on how much the shrinking of our social circles due to COVID excaerbates these problems and I hope it goes well!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I think the problem here is that the wife is processing the same feelings verbally day after day after day. Either they’re processed and she’s stuck in a rut, or they’re still not processed and she’s spinning her wheels ranting, and needs help getting over that obstacle. It’s entirely fair for other people to set a limit at some point on how much verbal processors can fill the air with repetitive talking.

      1. Former Gremlin Herder*

        I agree that it’s totally reasonable to set limits on how much verbal processing a person can take! LW should absolutely set some limits for himself. I will say that I’ve been in jobs or sitautions where I was frustrated about the same or similar things day after day-things that consistently came up but weren’t enough to make me quit my job. It’s just more within the LW’s control to set those boundaries rather than figure out how to get his wife over the repetitive complaints-something I tried to articulate in the first comment but didn’t quite say.

  65. AnonInCanada*

    Why does OP’s wife remind me of Al Bundy from Married with Children when he comes home from work complaining about all the customers at the shoe store that day? And Peggy’s reaction? Usually just ignores it, or comes back with complaints of her own.

    When OP should first do is have a serious talk with the wife letting her know how we feels about her continuous complaining. “Yes dear, I know you want to vent out your frustrations, but it really wears me down when you turn this into a 20-minute rant.” And if that doesn’t work? Whenever his wife complains excessively, start complaining back! Put the shoe on the other foot and complain about every little thing as well to see how she likes it? Fight fire with fire! Maybe that’ll work. Or maybe not.

    1. PB Bunny Watson*

      I know you’re joking… but there is some merit in agreeing with her. Sometimes when someone starts complaining like that about a coworker, a response like “how dare she… I hope you put her in her place!” will often result in the other person calming down and saying things like, “Oh, no… she’s not so bad… at least she means well.” It’s funny how often that works.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        That’s another good point! Or, as someone else upthread suggested, have the wife make an offline journal of all these issues she wants to rant about, and go back and re-read them one day. Maybe she’ll see how frustrating it would be to have to be on the other end of that all the time and will keep her complaints to that journal.

      2. Ali + Nino*

        Yes! Did I read this in “The Dance of Anger”? (Someone more knowledgeable please correct me…) When you “take on” the other person’s anger, they tone their anger down. Not sure this works with all personalities/dynamics – I definitely know a few folks who would double down and feel emboldened by the agreement! – and I think the book was highlighting that this isn’t necessarily *healthy,* but in a couple who’ve talked it out and can joke about it, I could see this lightening the mood. Maybe more for “Jane took my pen” versus “My boss is screwing me out of overtime pay.”

      3. Middle Aged Lady*

        I have a friend who has complained about work for nine years! She starts every time we get together and my husband and I have to stop her by finally saying, so tell me again why you don’t use the job resources we sent you and your network and get the hell out of there? You have been miserable for nine years! And we won’t engage in any work talk unless it’s job hunting.
        People have to learn to self-soothe; write in a journal, verbally process alone. I do not exist to be the recipient of anyone’s rant recipient, spouse or no. Maybe once a year at budget time for five seonds: “they cut my department and I may be a little distracted while I scramble to adjust” but that’s all. I agree with other posters that they ought not to use venting as an excuse for inaction.

  66. Ozzie*

    I’m definitely the complainer in my relationship, and it is important to be conscientious of the recipient of that. However, if you work customer-facing all day (as I do, and as it sounds like OP’s wife does), being “on” all day is exhausting and can easily lead to this pent up frustration that has to go somewhere. That being said, if it’s taking over dinner every evening, yeah, that’s a bit much.

    I overall agree with Alison here though, and that’s how my partner has kind of, handled me about it, hah. He’ll let me rant and vent, and unless it’s something particularly serious (an issue with a boss or worker beyond daily annoyance, work culture stuff, etc), after 10-15min he’ll usually gently direct my energy elsewhere, and point out that well, now I’m on my time and can do what I want, so why let that stuff ruin my evening as well? That way I get all the pent up frustration out, without getting into a self-perpetuated angry tirade that doesn’t actually serve any purpose aside from making me frustrated. It’s really easy to continue ranting once you’ve started, and not realize how long you’ve been going, because you keep yourself riled up. Venting is productive to a point, but past that it can actually have negative effects on mental health, undoing the positive that it can do in short bursts.

    Definitely talk to her directly though. Telling her what she NEEDS to do (stop venting at you over dinner) probably don’t have a great result though. Talk about it in a more constructive manner with a suggestion at a solution (10 minutes before or after dinner, maybe? Before would probably make it easier to get through dinner without it though, if that is feasible!), but with an empathetic tone. When you’re working a stress-free job and she’s not, it can be easy to lose sight of how work frustrations can get to you, which isn’t to say you’re not sympathetic, but if she’s getting that upset, it miiiight not feel like it to her.

    But also, yeah, if she’s ranting and venting every day, I have to wonder if this job is terribly good for her mental health. Everyone gets annoyed/frustrated, but if you’re that angry every single day… maybe that’s not a great job to remain in.

  67. Raven*

    Captain Awkward had something about this on her site a while ago. IDK if we’re allowed to leave links, but, OP, Google “Captain Awkward cold November wind” and scroll down to #7, “I am so tired of hearing my husband complain about his job.” Everything she wrote there is great.

    1. LawBee*

      Her recommendation about creating rituals to end the workday feels really good for this situation. Work is over. OP and Wife get to breathe separate and alone for a while and process their day. (OP’s job may not be stressful but that doesn’t mean it’s not occasionally irritating.) Then re-engage as a family and reclaim Home Time from Work Time.

  68. Murphy*

    I was going to suggest the 10 minute time limit as well.

    Maybe make it into a game: Ask for the one most egregious thing she saw that day and see if you can limit it to that? Instead of a laundry list of all possible complaints.

  69. Rocco*

    I understand and support boundaries.

    But I cringed when I read that she has a stressful job and you do not. She is carrying a heavy load. Is there a chance she feels any pressure from you, even unstated, to stay in this job? Does it pay well or have really good benefits? Are you willing to make lifestyle changes to help her get out of this job?

    I realize there are a lot of assumptions here. I fully realize some of them may be off base, so feel very free to ignore me if none of this applies

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      Rocco, that is a very kind response and I completely agree that LW can stand to ask themselves if THEY might be putting even an unspoken pressure on her. Even if the answer is no, the act of asking shows support!

  70. mlem*

    “We shouldn’t complain” wouldn’t (and clearly didn’t) land well. She wants (and possibly actually feels the need) to complain.

    Stick to what *your* boundaries are. “You need to complain, but I need it not to be over my dinner” or “I need it not to be to me for a while” or whatever. You’re burnt out! Say that! Don’t make it about how she “should” manage her stress. Lay out your boundaries and offer to help her find alternatives, sure. But don’t expect her to intuit *your* needs from your suggesting changes to *her* process.

    1. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

      This is what I came here to say.
      OP, you’re not the arbiter of how things “should” be, neither for your partner specifically nor in general.
      You’re in charge of communicating what *you* need, feel, expect, or will/won’t do.
      Try addressing your differing needs from that angle, setting aside “should.”

      1. A Wall*

        Agreed. I appreciate and understand why hearing your partner complain a lot can be very stressful, however that doesn’t appear to be what he is focused on. He’s focused on not liking complaining or venting as a method she uses to decompress, and there is no chance of them getting anywhere if his attention is entirely on correcting her behavior like he is the arbiter of propriety in the household. It has to be “here is my boundary, here is what I need,” and then asking her what she needs and how he can meet it without the endpoint being right inside his boundaries.

  71. And so it goes*

    Spouse and I have had a lot of success using techniques from the Gottman method, as taught to us by a marriage counselor. One technique is the “Stress-Reducing Conversation,” which allows each of you to vent to one another in a way that promotes intimacy. I’ll link to a summary, but note that one cardinal rule is that EACH partner shares for 15 minutes, total. It’s not an hour-long rant, and it’s not one sided.

  72. Anony Here*

    I am the wife! No… not really, but definitely I complain about my job quite frequently and at times rather lengthily. My hubby has expressed before it can be too much and I try to dial it back.

    As usual, I like all of Alison’s suggestions. Your wife might not know it’s taking such a big toll on you (and it’s reasonable that it does! Constant negativity, even when constant for 10, 20 min is a pretty long duration of negativity). I also like the timed aspect: I want to try that. Set a limit and get the complaining out. Lastly, absolutely she should see what to do about fixing the situation, including finding a new job! Best of luck, OP.

  73. Mental Health Manager*

    A lot of people feel that “venting” is helpful, because they feel better in the short term. (And almost all of us do it to some extent) But there’s actually a lot of psychological research that shows that it leads to increased negative feelings and stress overall. I suspect that might be part of the issue here. Not that I would say that to your wife, but to back up your resolve that setting a boundary around how long you listen is likely to be helpful to her mental health as well as your own. Like others have suggested an activity based limit about how long to listen could be really helpful. A walk in particular is a great idea as the rhythmic exercise may help her to regulate. But if that’s not enough, then maybe she would benefit from therapy with someone who can listen compassionately and neutrally while pointing her toward ways to manage or change the situation.

    1. Sherald*

      That was my experience, I thought the venting would be a stress relief but when I decided to stop venting, my evenings definitely were more enjoyable. I think if venting were done with a goal of brainstorming solutions to problems it can serve a purpose but otherwise, it sure seems to just prolong the negativity. I think some of us vent in lieu of trying to find strategies that might actually help because venting/complaining is easier.

  74. tinpantithesis*

    With my partner, I try to say something like “I can listen if you need to vent, but I can’t listen for a super-long amount of time.” Then, I set a 20-minute timer on my phone. If the timer goes off (sometimes they finish before that!), I ask if they need to talk more. It definitely helps me, and I think it helps them.

    The other thing I do sometimes is ask a question I think I saw on Captain Awkward: “Are you looking for advice, or do you just need to vent?”

    And sometimes, if I also had a hard day, I’ll say “I cannot be the audience for this right now; let’s talk about something else.”

    1. Ozzie*

      Big fan of “are you looking for advice, or do you just need to vent?” Works great with pretty much all topics of venting. People don’t want advice when they don’t ask, so getting the intention out of the way first makes it way easier to be an active participant in vent sessions, even if actively participating simply amount to “ugh that sucks” every so often.

    2. New Mom*

      I’ve used the timer approach too. I think its necessary with someone who may be a repeat offender and can go on and on.

  75. Chris*

    Lots of good advice here, but I’m going to suggest something a bit off the wall: rubber ducking.

    The idea comes from the concept of “rubber duck debugging” in software development. Often, just the act of explaining a difficult bug to someone is enough to prompt you to see a solution, without any feedback from the other person. So why take up someone’s time explaining it to them? You might as well explain your problem to an inanimate object, like a rubber duck.

    For some people, venting can work the same way. Saying the things that frustrate you out loud is enough to help process them and get them off your mind. It doesn’t work for everyone; some folks need the feedback/sympathy of actually talking to someone. But if it works for the OPs wife it might help her deal with the frustrating aspects of her job without weighing down the OP.

  76. Midwest Manager*

    My spouse and I have a code word we use with each other when we’ve hit the limit for hearing the other’s stressors. We have agreed that simply saying “I’m full” to the other means that no more venting/complaining is allowed that day, the recipient’s limit has been reached.

    Some days, we are both “full” and unable to bear the mental load of the other person’s venting – and we’ve agreed that this is acceptable. Other days, we are both able to hear the other one out. By having the discussion about it outside of the usual venting/complaint time, we were able to come to a reasonable agreement and also brainstorm acceptable conversation topics for those times when the other person has reached their limit.

    This worked very well for us when we both were underpaid in toxic jobs and desperate for some relief. This is not so much of an issue any more.

  77. Peppercat53*

    I was in the wife’s place for a number of years. I worked for a large alcoholic beverage manufacturer and the corporate culture with super toxic, the work I was doing was itself very stressful. I tried for years to move to a craft company but they couldn’t compensate me enough and we lived in a high cost of living area. My poor mental health was affecting my husband and his mental health. The ultimate solution for me was to find another job and for me that meant a move out of state (to a lower cost of living area) and a much less stressful job. I know that is not feasible for everyone. We are grateful that the area we moved to was one we were very familiar with due to my husband’s parents growing up there and they were currently living there. It made the transition easier. For both of us the mental health aspect improved and then unfortunately the pandemic happened. I would encourage her to find another job and do whatever you can to help her achieve that goal within reason. My husband helped me revamp my resume and my Linkedin profile and helped me write strong cover letters and just offered good support in general.

  78. Itopian*

    Yeah, I’m team ten minutes, and NOT during dinner. I’m more on the side of “get heard while still in your work clothes, you get five minutes to talk about your day, then I get five minutes, then we change, and take the resentment off with our work clothes.”

    PS: from what she’s doing now, she’s not getting her resentment out; she’s reinforcing it.

  79. Rock Prof*

    I’ve been through this with my spouse, and for us it can be tied to both external and internal influences. After years together, at least for us, the major venting sessions tend to fluctuate with their seasonal depression, so it’s often a clue that they need to ramp up therapy, exercise, or medication. But it can be so annoying and frustrating when it’s happening, particularly when i want to share positive work news or accomplishments. It can feel like I need to tread carefully, otherwise my good news gets ignored and all the bad stuff from their work comes out.

  80. Lynca*

    My sister and I are verbal processors so we lean on each other to vent. That works well for us. She works in healthcare so it’s been really hard for her lately.

    I try not do that with my husband because I don’t want to test his saint-like patience.

    But what I have found also works is journaling. Just getting all the emotions out on paper helps so much and there was a time during the pandemic my sister could not listen to other people vent. She wasn’t able to cope with it. So I turned to that for my outlet. It worked better than expected.

    But the other thing is your wife should respect your boundary. If you’re not mentally up for it she should not force it on you.

  81. Sherald*

    I highly recommend the book “Positivity” by Barbara Frederickson. I have felt stressed out and overwhelmed for longer than I care to admit, and people issues at work are a big part of that. This book has had an immediate impact on my stress level, making me more aware of my reactions and choices and I have started incorporating positive exercises into my daily routines (like gratitude and uplifting self-talk). I am normally pretty cynical about positivity related self-help, but this book stresses that it has to be heartfelt to see an impact and it can vary to suit your own authentic style. I have mentioned the book to my boss and another supervisor and they are interested in getting copies too. We can’t get rid of negative things in our lives but we can strive to reach the tipping point of the positivity ratio (3 to 1) to reap the benefits (more openness, creativity, connectedness, serenity, etc) Maybe OP can read the book and his wife will be encouraged by his example to read and try as well. Personally, I made the decision a couple of years ago to stop venting so much to my husband and found that the venting was keeping me mired in the negative emotions- didn’t miss the venting after I stopped, it was nice to come home and not re-live the frustrations of the day.

  82. Graeme*

    I absolutely 100% get that this must be exhausting and draining and stressful for the letter writer. I’ve been in similar positions in the past and oof. I agree with Alison’s idea of having an explicit conversation about the problem, and my suggestions for this conversation is to a) have it outside of the times your wife typically complains (so that she’s in a headspace where she’s more able to understand you), b) really focus on “I” language when you explain how the complaint dinners are making you unhappy and c) work together to find other ways to meet whatever need your wife has that’s currently being met by complaining.

    Maybe it becomes a conversation about how right now the job market favors job seekers and she could use a change! Maybe you agree to limit the complaining to 10 minutes. Maybe you try spending an hour or so in relative silence upon arriving home so you can wind down. Whatever works for y’all.

    I’ll also offer another bit of insight which might be entirely extrapolation, disregard if that’s the case: in the letter you say that you don’t have much to complain about (which is wonderful) but that when it does happen, you choose not to. Is it possible the effort required to do this makes you feel resentful that your wife isn’t controlling her urge to complain in the same way? In general in my life I know I’m EXTRA annoyed at people who do things that I make a point to avoid doing myself. Maybe being more lenient with yourself could help you feel better in this situation.

    Some closing thoughts on complaining: I know I was raised to never express anything negative ever, and it took me a long time to understand that complaining can actually be good, because it’s, well… honest. If my day sucked and I’m not saying anything, or if I pretend it was good, I’m hiding how I feel. While I might think I’m shielding others from negativity when doing that, what I’m actually doing is hiding how I feel and missing an occasion to be seen and understood (AKA to connect emotionally).

    This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be bothered by the level of complaining you’re receiving, of course! Nor that you should become a complainer. That was food for thought mostly.

    1. Zelda*

      “While I might think I’m shielding others from negativity when doing that, what I’m actually doing is hiding how I feel and missing an occasion to be seen and understood (AKA to connect emotionally).”

      Yes! You & I were typing at the same time, and you did a better job of expressing this than I did. I suspect that one part of what’s happening here is that OP and Wife don’t perceive the purpose of the complaining the same way.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve tried to dial back my complaining by differentiating between normal-level annoyances and above-normal-level annoyances. If the day was full of annoying stuff but it’s the same annoying stuff that it’s always filled with, I mostly shrug it off. If something uncommonly annoying occurred, that gets a controlled rant. All jobs have exceptional annoyances sometimes. Getting in the habit of complaining at length about the same annoyances every day doesn’t accomplish much beyond tiring out everyone around you–it doesn’t reduce the number of annoyances or the degree to which they are annoying, it doesn’t get your coworkers or your manager to shape up, it doesn’t make your clients nicer/smarter/less frustrating, it doesn’t sent out resumes, it doesn’t do any of the things that would actually make the situation more bearable.

  83. Frances*

    Not much advice aside from put your foot down for your own sanity’s sake. See a counselor if you can. Ask her to as well. You are not your partner’s therapist and a daily deluge of negativity is eating away at your relationship whether you both know it or not.

    She says she needs someone to tell about her day, but she doesn’t get that what she is doing is relieving herself of negativity and placing it squarely on you. It’s not ok. She needs to be able to self-soothe. It’s a skill all of us need to have.

    My ex’s constant complaining was one of the things that broke up our marriage. She wouldn’t listen to my pleas to stop and just kept going every day about everything. It poisoned the good times we had because I dreaded when the negative talk would come. We have friends who have been in a similar boat where one member of the couple said if he could help he would listen to his wife’s complaints, but if it was just day after day ranting for no other reason than to let off steam, then he couldn’t do that. She listened to him, backed off of the daily complaints, and now he has the emotional energy to be there for her when she really needs it.

    Your wife has a choice on what she wants for her relationship with you (as do you!). She likely doesn’t get how badly this is impacting you. Good luck!

  84. Zelda*

    “This is not a time to talk through it — she just wants to complain and wants me to listen. […] You don’t have to complain about everything (or anything, really). […] I do not want to deny my wife the opportunity to talk things out but want to get the complaining down.”

    I admit I don’t love the level of judgement here. OP is pretty much telling their wife she’s processing her life
    Wrong, and only certain kinds of processing would be Approved “Talking It Out.” Is this a classic situation where one partner wants to vent and be heard and validated by someone they love, but the other partner thinks it’s supposed to be about “fixing” things?

    OP absolutely has a right to limit the incoming negativity and protect their own mental health. Lots of awesome ideas above for moving the venting to someplace outside the house/ outside the dinner hour and limiting its duration to what OP can handle. I also love the suggestion to ask for something positive about the day as well, and for OP to get a chance to talk about their own day.

    But, while it is true that there is a fine line between venting and dwelling on the negative, I would urge OP to consider that they are not their wife’s parent, and do not need to tell their wife where that line is for her.

  85. Elsa*

    I came here to echo to time limit! I think as a partner you have some responsibility to allow her to vent to you, but I know that unlimited venting can destroy partner and familial relationships because the negativity just SPIRALS and yet because you are their partner or family member, you want to be supportive. I say let her know how much you love and support her, and want her to healthfully let go of her feelings but that you also need to look out for your mental health. Suggest a time limit and some other healthy coping mechanisms. I just finished listening to Rising Strong by Brene Brown on audiobook, twice, and it’s been life changing for me in learning to just let a lot of ‘ish go…so I might recommend that too. Along that line, when I find myself getting worked up over stupid vent-y type stuff I have a mantra, “Be like Elsa. Let it Go!”

    1. New Mom*

      Yes, and enforce it even if awkward. Someone really close to me was going through a tough time and was calling like 3-5 times a week to rant and vent. I started telling them at the start of conversations that I had a hard stop time in 30 minutes, which they sort of comically and defensively said that did as well, but I would set a timer and then have to interrupt them 30 minutes later to say I had to get off. I don’t think they liked that, but if I didn’t set a time limit it could literally go for hours with barely a chance to get a word in. Exhausting.

  86. Katie*

    To note, one of the things I appreciate about working from home is my ability to vent to my husband. It makes me feel better to rant about the stupid report doesn’t produce the right results if you put in a date range but if you put in a specific day it does (!!??).
    I vent and feel better. I don’t even expect to hear a response. I just need to rant to someone.

    Perhaps a different time to let her rant, like while you are watching TV? So you hear it but you are also doing something else.

  87. Seeking Second Childhood*

    For a moment I thought my husband had written in. Except my issues are with management not customers.
    OP, I’m at the “planning to make a change” stage and resent that situations out of my control have made it necessary. I’ve explained why it’s taking me so long to actually cut the cord, and that I’m also trying to stop venting about it. He’s clearly said he will support my giving 2 weeks notice even if it’s before I find something new, and listening to my concerns about the changes. Good luck to all of us.

  88. AvonLady Barksdale*

    As Chris Rocks says, “Women don’t want you to talk TALK, they want you to listen-listen!” I remember that every time my partner vents to me about his job. I find it super annoying, but… he’s my partner and he deserves my ear. We do our venting while we walk the dog. I can pay attention to other things and nod and say encouraging words (per Mr. Rock: “No! She didn’t! She’s trying to DESTROY YOU”) and go on about my day.

    She needs a sympathetic ear, not a problem-solver. You don’t have to fix her issues or even care that much. Give her a time limit. Ask that she vent before dinner.

  89. Gracely*

    This might sound crazy, but do you have a pet? Sometimes when I want to vent but know my spouse is already dealing with too much (we work at the same place, different dept/jobs/buildings, but same great grandboss), I take my most talkative cat and have a venting session with her–she’s great at meowing back at me, so it feels like I’m being listened to, and I can get things out without worrying about anyone but myself (and she likes being talked at, so we both win).

    It helps keep things in perspective (purrspective).

    I otherwise second all the advice for her finding a new job/therapy/limiting venting time/location.

  90. Jennifer*

    As the former complainer in my relationship, I went to therapy! I wasn’t in a place financially where I could quit my job (I was taking educational reimbursement, the primary money earner, etc.), and that compounded my unhappiness. Complaining was my only feeling of control over circumstances that I felt like I had no actual control over.

    I was mad when my partner first told me that they just couldn’t listen to me talk about it constantly anymore, because it felt like (in my emotional state), that they were saying my feelings weren’t important. Looking back I know that isn’t true – I just needed a more productive outlet to tell a therapist my frustrations, and then learn to control what I actually could in my life instead of getting stuck in “no control at work” rage spirals. 10/10 would recommend – but tread lightly when suggesting therapy to your partner!

  91. Everdene*

    I’ve not had time to read all the comments so apologies if this echos other comments.

    Oak was in a very stressful job, not the work itself but the environment. We both knew he needed a change, and was looking, but approximately 2 years ago everyone in his industry stopped hiring suddenly.

    He was stressed and needed to vent, at this we were both flung into WFH and he couldn’t grab a coffee with a coworker, I was the support network. My job was similarly stressful but the work not the environment, which I think made it easier. Anyway… after a couple of months of misery we agreed to go for a walk after work (if possible to the beach and back) and while we were walking he could vent all he wanted but once back in the house he had to stop. This worked really well for a while and allowing him to vent and me not to take on his stress as well as my own.

    Unfortunately this was just a sticking plaster and as his employers became more unreasonable, his stress exploded. BUT because I’d set these boundaries and he was trying not to transfer it all to me (there had been *discussions* where I said I couldn’t cope with this stress behaviour from him) he tried to keep it in and ended up opening his laptop one morning and realising he couldn’t go on. No amount of venting could dispel how he was feeling.

    After several weeks off work sick he went back and threw himself into job hunting. We worked out how much of a pay cut we could afford for him to take and/or how long we would manage on just my salary. And this is the bit I keep meaning to send in for Friday good news; rather than take a pay cut he was offered a role with a 20% increase in an adjacent industry with an amazing team.

    It has all worked out really well for him BUT I am worried that my good boundary setting actually prevented me from noticing the moment Oak tipped from ‘venting about work’ to ‘verge of mental health crisis’. As a result I would set your boundaries to protect your own mental health BUT also encourage speaking to a neutral third party/professional in case it is more than venting. And also send your partner Alison’s interview guide – he was a cynic but it worked!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Please don’t be too hard on yourself! That you didn’t recognize when Oak slid from vent to verge is less because of your boundary setting and more because you are not a mental health professional. And honestly, if you were, you would be bad at your job if you took on that role for your partner.

  92. Office Manager*

    Lots of great suggestions here!

    OP, one other thing I might mention is that this is probably a way that she’s connecting with you. After she’s had time to vent maybe ask her some questions like:

    -What was the best part of your day?
    -What did you have for lunch?
    -What would you like to do this weekend? I was thinking we could….
    -How’s going with Hobby You Enjoy?

    Also, make sure you share with her about your day in the way you’d like her to share with you! I know that doesn’t always come naturally to some people, and it might feel a bit pointless. Your wife, however, will probably appreciate you sharing with her, and she’ll probably be less negative.

  93. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I think that OPs wife could benefit from a therapist for the sole purpose of being able to have one person and one time devoted to her need to get this stuff out.
    Because there is a need. If that’s her process, then that’s it. But she’d benefit by taking control of it instead of letting it control her. “I have to do this now. I can’t NOT do this now.” That’s not healthy.
    Like this person: I can’t remember where I read it, but a woman shared her after work stress relief ritual. She would go to a store or restaurant after work and “take it out on the staff so I didn’t put my husband and kids through it.”
    Like that was a noble sacrifice. Instead of, hey, I can control myself and not victimize/abuse/take advantage of other people.

    1. Victoria, Please*

      Dear lord, that’s what gyms are for; barbells and treadmills don’t have feelings! (obligatory-not-everyone-can-gym-but-figure-it-out)

    2. Zelda*

      “take it out on the staff so I didn’t put my husband and kids through it.”

      Eyebrows, meet ceiling. I hereby sentence that woman to read all 6542 pages of NotAlwaysRight dot com.

    1. Ozarth*

      Hey now, that’s not very charitable. Hearing constant negativity can really take a toll on you. In general this comment is really not helpful for the OP, the other readers, nor even his wife!

      I don’t have concrete suggstions besides trying to put a firm limit on venting-time (20 minutes tops, I say). And also having a clear conversation about it like Alison suggests.

      1. PT*

        Removed. Once I remove a comment, please do not return to repeat it. Your point about privilege is perfectly legitimate, but criticizing someone for not wanting to hear a slew of negativity every night of their life is not allowed here. – Alison

        commenting rules

        1. SimplytheBest*

          Being treated poorly in your job doesn’t mean you get free range to treat other people poorly outside of your job. If the wife’s barrage of never-ending negativity is affecting OP, they get to make that call and say this is not something I can deal with.

        2. PT*

          Removed. You are ignoring direct and repeated moderation instructions, so I am putting your comments on pre-moderation going forward. – Alison

    2. Pinecone*

      I disagree. If it’s five or ten minutes, that’s one thing, but the whole dinner every night is excessive. My mother-in-law lives with us and to hear her litany of complaints, with no positive interactions is absolutely draining and I dread spending more than a couple of minutes with her.

      If this woman’s job is that bad, she needs a change.

      1. Lizzo*

        Try this technique with your MIL, mentioned in a thread above (which I have also used with great success): “I hear you, that sounds hard — what are you planning to do about it?”

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      OP is having every dinner of the workweek hijacked by complaints and venting that presumably are just word vomit and not problem-focused. They deserve an opportunity to set a boundary around something that is causing frustration.

      I have found that naming the content of the conversation can take some of the anxiety away — “Yikes, that sounds like an awful day. Is this venting steam, or would you like suggestions or problem-solving to reduce this frustration?”
      If it’s venting, then putting a limit on it is likely healthier in the long run because the complainer doesn’t get caught up in a feedback loop of negativity.
      If the partner is actually looking for solutions, then the couple can make a plan to problem solve after a nice quiet dinner, and probably point her to this site for ideas about changing to a better work environment.

  94. Mr. Cajun2core*

    Been there.

    Part of the trick and this is very hard to do with a significant other, is just turn off your empathy! Seriously, just nod and smile with an occasional, “that is awful” or “uh-huh”. It can be tough to fake sympathy but I had to.

    To be clear, by sympathy, I mean actually taking on the emotions and stress of the other person. Yes, you still have to care but you don’t have to take it on yourself. There is a fine line here and it can sometimes be hard to tell where it is.

    That is how I handled it. Good luck.

  95. PattM*

    Similar situation: I am the uber-complainer and my husband, who doesn’t work due to anxiety/PTSD disability issues had to put up with my constant griping and hours of kvetching about all the stupid I would deal with.
    He finally told me that hearing constant negativity was increasing his anxiety to the point that he dreaded it when I would come home. I’ve had to make a VERY conscious effort to pick and choose what I share and how it effects him.

    I don’t have any great advice for you because the lightbulb needs to come on for your spouse before she can change. You can’t manage her emotions; she is fully in charge of them. One thing he started to do was (unknown to me) was give me 5 – 10 minutes then tell me that he would not listen anymore and insist that the subject be changed. Harsh, yes, but it was what I needed to make an emotional change within myself. Best of luck to you both!

  96. JTP*

    “And, to be honest, a lot of complaining is really a choice. You don’t have to complain about everything (or anything, really).”

    Something about this statement really rubs me the wrong way, but I can’t articulate exactly why. At the least, it seems very un-empathetic, especially coming from someone who admits they have a less-stressful job.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Not just you. People should always have room to complain. Sometimes it’s about petty stuff, sure, but just because someone else has it “worse” or it’s not nice doesn’t mean it needs to be completely shut down. I tend to believe people know where the line is between complaining and whining, you know?

    2. LawBee*

      I wonder if it’s only the job OP’s wife complains about, or if it’s everything, all the time. One of those is situational, the other would require a lot more of a mindset shift. Absolutely we all need the space to get things off our chest, but there comes a point where the other person in the conversation is just exhausted, which is what it sounds like here.

      Honestly, she’s probably burned through a lot of his empathy – it’s a limited resource, especially these days. Doesn’t make OP a bad person, or his wife a bad person! Just that they need to change how they’re interacting in this regard.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      Yeah. One the one hand, I can hear it in the voice of utter frustration of someone at their wit’s end and I sympathize. On the other, I can hear it said kind of dismissively. Or both!

      OP, I think there are some great ideas here. Set a time limit, protect a pleasant dinnertime, and have some alternate topics ready to fill in the conversational gaps. During the 10-15 minute dump, periodically check in with yourself and make sure you’re listening and not just waiting for it to be over.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think it indicates OP has hit his limit. He is losing it lost compassion for his wife.
      Indeed, he is not empathetic. He feeling is harsh. I’m glad for their relationship that OP wrote in because he’s not able to function as a partner right now.
      “You don’t have to complain about everything,” means OP hears all or most of what his wife says as a complaint. He no longer has a dialogue with her. It’s just her complaining his listening-from his perspective.
      She may feel they have the perfect synergy. He feels done. So again, good that he wrote in. He needs to find a way to tell her what he needs without this level of raw emotion.

  97. Lora*

    I was the miserable spouse for a couple of years, but unfortunately the economy in that particular area was such that I couldn’t quit and find something else very easily, and also my then-husband was still in university and wouldn’t graduate for another 2-3 years, so we couldn’t move somewhere with better job options for me. I had to take about 2 hours after work to decompress – but without complaining to him, just relaxing in the bathtub or emailing college friends or writing a journal. There’s certainly ways to decompress without venting to a human.

    Definitely worth asking, why is she still in this job, or why does she feel unable to quit. Is it due to finances, location (e.g. wanting to be near family), the whole field is like this and in order to improve things she’d need to retrain for a different field?

  98. KellifromCanada*

    Of course, you want your wife to be able to vent to you about her problems. You both want to be there for each other, especially during a pandemic when we’re so closed off from other people. But how much complaining is too much?

    My husband used to complain about his job every night, and it was very wearing on me. Finally, he changed jobs, and things are so much better for both of us now! It sounds like your wife is really unhappy with her work, and rather than both of you having to suffer through it, it might be better to just leave and find a job she’d be happier in.

    I also wonder if she is generally just a complainer? Does she complain constantly about other aspects of life … health, money, politics, etc.? Because if so, she needs a whole attitude shift. One thing we all should realize is that although there are lots of things we can’t control about our lives, we can control our attitudes and our response. We can choose to be as happy as possible, to put a good spin on things, to not be miserable, to vent only when we need to rather than constantly. Is she able to do that in other aspects of her life? If not, a direct conversation or series of conversations about that could possibly help, or maybe some therapy.

  99. River*

    Brene Brown talks about common enemy friendships. We tear something/someone down to build the friendship up. I think this is a learned behavior from childhood. Your wife is stuck in this pattern. I think there’s a ton of suggestions above that are amazing but maybe also gift your wife with some Brene brown books. Brene has really opened up my eyes to why these patterns exist, how these patterns do not serve me and also gave me some ideas on how to flip the paradigm and what to replace it with. I think these books helped me more than counseling because they gave me the “why”Also I do a ton of listening to positive self talk to retrain my brain on how to talk to myself. (there is a corresponding book to explain the science behind it). It’s one thing to diagnose a problem, it’s sooo much better when there are alternates proposed.

  100. Could have been me*

    Oh man, this could have been written by my husband, except he actually does work a wildly stressful and highly scrutinized job where he could complain, but doesn’t. Ultimately I did end up leaving the job I complained about a lot and things are much better. For my part, after COVID hit and I went remote I missed the normal hallway griping I’d normally do with coworkers. Instead I found him in our house’s hallways! I’m now at a job where I am far more connected to my coworkers, more confident in my work and overall just – happier. I don’t have much to complain about anymore. Also if this is accessible to your family: therapy. I have a great therapist who actually used to work in corporate America, and she’s been a wonderful sounding board (or echo chamber for complaints when I need it!). Good luck!

  101. YogaSloth*

    I was the wife in this scenario about 7 years ago – constant complaining, very unhappy with work, and it was turning me into a very grumpy and frustrated person. I needed a new job. My husband asked me one day what I was going to do about all these things I was complaining about. He started the conversation about me getting a new job. I didn’t want to leave my university, because I have really great benefits here, but I definitely needed to move to another department. Part of that conversation was about the things I was afraid of losing if I moved to a new job – I had a lot of fear of the unknown, and I didn’t want to give up the things that were important to me, so it was causing me even more frustration, and in turn, complaining. I was also hanging around certain people at work that complained all the time, and it was rubbing off on me. He lovingly pointed these things out to me, and after talking it through, I figured out what I was looking for in a new job, what my non-negotiables are, and started looking. It took a while because I was being very picky, but I did get a new job that was much, much better. But just the fact that I knew I would leave at some point helped me relieve a lot of the stress and fear, and I was able to manage my venting a lot better.

    One thing I struggle with is being very long winded in my explanations, and that was part of what was draining on him when I complained. If I kept my vents short and simple, they were much easier to absorb. I worked on being more efficient with my language, so when I did need to vent, it wasn’t so draining to listen to.

  102. LMB*

    When people—especially women—complain a lot it as often dismissed as just being an overly negative person who likes to complain. But I actually feel bad for the wife in this situation as its clear she is trying to tell her husband she’s not happy but maybe just not doing it in a super productive way. Offering specific solutions is just not what’s needed here. She’s burned out and can’t see a way out of the cycle. I think she is looking for permission to try to be happier, which could maybe mean looking for a job where she doesn’t directly deal with the things she dislikes most about her current job or taking a long vacation to regroup. What may help is suggesting journaling after work. That can take whatever form she likes, but writing down the things she hates most about her job in one column and the things she likes about it (or what’s keeping her there) in the other might help her see things more clearly and potentially eventually develop a plan for changing it up.

  103. Jolene*

    I’m a complainer myself, and these are my suggestions –
    1. Pick a time to discuss how this is affecting you that is not after work, and not when she is in the moment of thinking about how much she did not enjoy her job that day. Maybe a nice time on a weekend, when everyone is in a good mood. Otherwise, this conversation will be doomed to fail.
    2. After work, try to direct the conversation in ways that are more positive. Don’t ask open ended things like, “how was your day?” Because you know the answer. Or, “was your a-hole boss better today?”Because you know the answer. Maybe talk about how you’re excited for the upcoming weekend plans, or start planning what you want to do on the weekend. Take control the conversation right out of the gate. Or, if you are going to ask about work, try to ask first about positive things, that you know will be a more positive reaction. “How was the left over linguine for lunch?” “How was [co-worker or client she likes] today?” If she’s just a talker, which is what I am, she will happily start discussing the positive things that you’ve talked about.
    3. She may just be an emotional extrovert. Who processes things by talking through them. In which case, you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that you’re gonna have to hear some of the negativity. So, it’s more about cutting down and not eliminating. You should have that expectation.
    4. This may not be what’s happening, and I mentioned this only because this happened with my wife and I, and it took a while for us to figure out the problem. Are you finding yourself trying to solve her problems, and offering solutions for her? And then that her reaction is to double down and explain to you how none of the solutions will work? So that the conversation ends up spiraling into darker and darker places? Stop offering solutions. She doesn’t want you to solve her problems, she just wants you to listen. And validate what she is saying. That change may actually dramatically shorten these conversations, because she won’t feel like she needs to convince you that it really is as bad as she is saying.

  104. Curmudgeon in California*

    Ooof. I feel this in so many ways.

    I used to have a roommate that got home from work ten minutes after I did. I’d be sitting in my living room, reading the news, and she’d come in and start complaining about everything, for at least half an hour or more. Now, back then, a complaint meant to me that I was being asked for solutions. So I made suggestions. I was met with “Yes, but, ….” I got really tired of hearing the same supposedly insoluble gripes every day. So I just went into my room, because my living room was no longer a quiet place.

    Now, when *I* end up needing to vent for more than ten minutes a day about my job I know it’s time to start looking for a new job, because my spouse doesn’t need to put up with an extended gripe session every day. Also, if I’m griping that much it means that I’m under too much stress. Sometimes they need to be the one to point it out, because sometimes I can get wrapped up in my own head.

    So, if there is nothing she can change, and the situation leads to more than 15 minutes a day of griping, I would suggest that she might want to evaluate whether she should look for a new place that didn’t stress her out so much.

    YMMV, of course.

  105. Victoria, Please*

    Ooooof, I feel for you. For a while a couple of years ago, my husband, my sister, and my best friend all HAAAAAATED their jobs. I felt like I was awash in gloom, and since none of them whined *too* too much individually to me, it was hard to justify asking any one of them to dial back.

    Then, thankfully, my husband and sister both retired. Heh.

    My best friend still complains constantly and bitterly, so I’ve stopped answering those texts and emails and only answer ones that are not about work or have at least a slight positive note.

    For the OP, Alison’s three options are very wise and practical.

  106. Just a Thought*

    I like the suggestion that you own the impact on you. You don’t need to complain to your wife about her complaining. Rather, you can say that it is affecting you in ways that the two of you are not accounting for – and that you need her to understand the impact on you. And yes, solutions instead of complaining can be great – a new job, a new compliant format (time limited, with a healthy walk, etc). But let yourself into the mix without blaming your wife. This is your limit and boundary – not because your wife is “bad” but because it affects you.

  107. Holey Hobby*

    It is tough. Self control comes at a cost – so every reaction you stop in the nanosecond before you express it (rolling your eyes, voicing an objection), every time you have to force yourself to be patient while feeling frustrated, every time you have to be pleasant and professional to someone when you are feeling hurt or disrespected…. you’re drawing against a bank of self control. It sounds like the OP’s spouse is ending the day with those accounts completely overdrawn. With their spouse, they feel like they can safely let that all go, turn off the filter, let it flow out.

    You can say on the one hand, that someone controls these reactions all day long for the sake of coworkers, so they should do at least that much for their partner in life.

    But longer term, it might be better for the OP’s spouse to change things up so that every workday is not so costly to their executive functions.

    1. Mamma Llama*

      It is an interesting thought that the wife needs an outlet to complain because they are holding it in all day and then the spouse is trying to hold it in regarding being over the complaining. Maybe this is a way to broach understanding: “you know how you use me as an outlet for work frustrations? well now I’m starting to feel how you feel when I keep hearing about the work frustrations and I can’t keep it in any longer. if I keep quiet than I’m going to need a complaining outlet too.”

      Haha, then it will just be a whole complain chain: wife complains to spouse, spouse complains to friend, friend complains to their hair stylist, etc.

  108. Tuna Melt*

    Does she need you to respond? I wonder if it would be helpful to her to journal (it might be too slow, so maybe not) or vent to a nanny cam or something else where she needs to just get it out of her body, but you aren’t the recipient. Maybe start a YouTube where she can just vent it all out. Perhaps joining a gym where she can release some pent up energy might help.

    I sympathize with the wife. It sometimes feels like you are about to physically explode with how upset you are with being forced to be in a work situation you loathe for 8+ hours a day. You physically NEED to get it out of your system, and talking is way better than some other options. Unfortunately that means someone else, people like the LW, is receiving that stress that is being released. It’s not fair or right, but I think this might shed light as to why someone might complain so much.

    So my suggestion is to help your wife find a creative outlet, whether it’s blasting music in her ears, talking to an effigy, creating a YouTube channel, joining a crossfit gym, throwing paint at a wall, or something else. She needs to release it, but it shouldn’t be to you.

  109. Teapottotaler*

    My partner and I had a similar issue (one of us is naturally chatty and one of is naturally quiet to add to the mix too). In talking about it we realized that part of my partners frustration with my work venting was that they grew up with a family member who did the same thing so they felt extra annoyed when they would hear it from me. Also having low patience didn’t help either. Knowing that the venting was extra annoying to them and them knowing they were getting extra annoyed because of their history helped us both re frame how we handled the situation. I realized I should try to rein it in a little and they realized they should try to chill out a little.

    But other things were helpful too – therapy (an outside 3rd party to vent/talk to about anything is great!), re framing how I thought about work (if I talk about it negatively then that makes my view of it negative), having clearer boundaries around venting/helping (like saying “okay I just need to vent about this crazy thing at work” or “can you help me figure out this situation” or having an agreed upon way of noting that the other person needs a break ), having agreed upon ways to engage in the conversation (for example if I say I need to vent it’s nice to hear the other person say something like “thats crazy!” just so I know you’re participating/hearing me and i’m validated and then we can move on. otherwise being met with silence means I can either keep filling up the space with talking or become frustrated that you’re not listening), and also appreciating that it can be frustrating to hear complaining with no action (putting myself in those shoes helped because I too would eventually get annoyed and want to say something like “okay, so what are you going to do about it?”).

    I think also finding ways to refocus the venting can help like taking a walk or working out. Usually a physical outlet of some kind helps with frustration. Or some meditation time to recenter. This could either be your partner’s time to do these things on their own. And then this could help them filter which tories that they tell you. Or you two can do it together – I always enjoy walking and talking, it gets you outside and moving and helps free up thoughts.Or if you work out together you can both do stuff like “grrr that does sound really sucky” as you toss the medicine ball around. Side note, I think walking and talking also works well because you’re usually side by side and there’s that idea of the best way to talk to someone: sitting straight across a table from each other can feel adversarial, side by side feels less intimidating, and sitting at ninety degrees is a good compromise- close enough to talk but you can also look out straight and not at the other person. Then you can set the dinner table as the chat zone (pre or post work decompress time) instead of the unload zone.

    It is hard to balance work life with our partners when it is such a big part of our lives and our social lives have gotten so much smaller. I think it’s just another aspect that is unique to each relationship how partners determine what and how those discussions end up into their lives.

    Also, i think there was a post on AAM about venting to colleagues (or something like that) that could be applicable here too.

  110. Aerin*

    My spouse is the same way. His company is not run well and is descending into chaos, and it’s hard for him to handle. I’ve tried some of the nudges in other directions (dwelling on this isn’t helping, maybe you need another outlet for this, what are you going to do about it) but they haven’t really done much. He’s a complainer and a verbal processor, and with covid and both of us being stuck at home there aren’t really many outlets.
    Some things that have made it easier for me:
    – He’s actively looking for a new job. He’s also tried taking some steps to improve his work life, like being very rigid about limiting his hours (successful!) and asking to get taken off projects that are causing the most stress (not successful :( but he tried). I’ve also let him know that financially we can swing it for a few months if he quits his job without anything else lined up. (The next time his job has a major meltdown I might press that point more strongly…)
    – He’s also in school, so he doesn’t have a lot of free time to decompress or to address some of the personal stuff like housework that contributes to general stress levels. But that means there’s an end in sight–even if he doesn’t get a new job, he’ll be done with his degree by the end of the year. And he’s not taking classes over the summer, so we’ll have a break where school is off his plate. Right now I’m in a place of “we can muscle through the next three months and then see which problems resolve themselves without school in the mix and which ones don’t.”
    – I’m a Fixer by nature so listening to this venting was really draining because I was trying to actively listen and problem-solve. I’ve been trying to nod and “mm-hmm” my way through more of these, especially if it’s just more of something he’s already talked about. It can be an outlet for him without necessarily being an inlet for me, if that makes sense.
    – There’s enough reciprocity in other parts of the relationship that I don’t feel like the burden is unfair. Like, I don’t really bitch about my job in the same way, but if you count all the times he’s listened to me talk my way through plot problems in whatever I’m writing, it starts looking a lot more balanced. When one partner is always the venter and one is always the ventee, it adds up really fast.

    So I guess I don’t really have any specific advice, other than to maybe give yourself permission to tune out more and try to set an end date somehow.

  111. RagingADHD*

    Since y’all have a positive relationship otherwise, and you don’t mention her holding onto the same things over time – it’s usually new stuff that happened that day – it sounds like she really needs to unload. Some people need to unpack their heads out loud in order to release it.

    I totally get that it’s too much for you! It’s a lot to dump all in one place, all in one day. I’d advise you to encourage her to find multiple people for support and spread it around a bit, or trade off days.

    This is mentally healthier for her, too. In the long, long-term, having a rich network of supportive relationships is much more protective against both mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and physical brain problems like cognitive decline due to aging.

  112. LuckyClover*

    I have a similar challenge with my partner as well as my friends. I don’t mind talking about work here and there, but it makes me sad that so much of our lives is work that people feel they don’t have much else to talk about. :(

  113. Momma Bear*

    It is legit to need to complain. It is legit to feel like you can’t deal with the level of venting your friend or partner or family member seems to need.

    But I would also back it up and think about what she really needs/is looking for. Does she want/need this connection with you? Does she need reassurance about her job? Does she need a break/is burned out? Could this be an expression of depression or anxiety?

    OP has a chill job and seems to have a different personality type when dealing with stress. If OP and spouse can’t figure out a middle ground on their own, couples counseling might help. It’s not just for people who are on the verge of a breakup, and improving your communication can have long lasting benefits. Try “I” statements and avoiding phrases like “you always” or “you never.”

    If you’ve said, “I don’t want to hear it” or something similar, maybe try “Wow, you seem really stressed. How about we take a walk after dinner and talk then?” The walk can get you out of the house, shift the focus, and give you an activity that might improve everyone’s moods and health.

    And even if you are irritated, OP, think of it this way – maybe you are her “safe place.” She talks to you because your relationship is important. Try to meet her in the middle.

  114. Littorally*

    A phrase I have used to handle this kind of situation: “I understand that you need to talk about this, but I’m not the right audience to hear it.”

    Both things can be true simultaneously — that she has been bottling up her feelings all day to present a smooth, professional front where it counts and now needs to let all that bottled-up feeling loose, and also that you cannot sustainably be the sole person who bears the full brunt of her letting loose. You don’t have to tell her to stop venting, just to stop venting at you.

    She might find some utility in creating a venting-specific, anonymous social media presence, if she’s someone who is comfortable online. The anonymity is important — no real names, anonymized details, and so forth — but it can be a good way to blow off steam without having to make any specific person bear it. If she’s less digitally minded, maybe a journal.

  115. KWu*

    Lots of good practical advice towards immediately improving the situation overall. It’s never been this intense in my marriage, but my husband and I have had to navigate some personality differences on this–he’s definitely more the type that sees complaining and venting as a commonplace way to bond and he thinks I’m too robotic/Spock-like in my stance that I don’t understand what the purpose is of dwelling on something negative that you can’t change anyway.

    I’ve worked on getting better at sitting with the anxiety that would fuel the “ok let’s fix this problem then” urge when it’s not actually desired, because I do remember how when people do this to me, it’s quite frustrating and unsatisfying. And he’s accepted that fundamentally, since I don’t do a lot of complaining/venting myself, there’s not very much that I’m going to get out of it even if we switched who’s complaining back and forth. I explained to him that if anything, it’s anti-bonding to me and only makes me want to spend less time with a whiner. So we have somewhat of a compromise where I listen to more complaining that I would prefer (because it would be zero, if it were up to me) but he also understands that it’s not fair to expect me to be his sole outlet for all his emotional needs on this front.

    It’s gotten to a point where we can joke about it a little, not in a passive-aggressive way but just poking fun at the habit, like I can tease him that, “oh are you about to tell me about something annoying where the pros ultimately outweigh the cons so you don’t actually want to change anything?”

  116. Cohort 1*

    I’m seeing a new potential business opportunity. I’m envisioning a 900 phone service called “Got Complaints? Let ‘er Rip!” For only X¢/min I’ll listen to your complaints and appropriately throw in “No!,” “Really?,” “She didn’t!,” “Well that sucks.” Win-win-win: complainer gets to let it go, SO doesn’t have to listen, and I get paid.

  117. Generic Name*

    Here’s my experience with a spouse who constantly complained about his work. It took a serious toll on my mental health. At one point, I shared an office with a blamer/complainer, and then I went home and listened to my spouse blame/complain about his job. It would start as soon as I set foot in my house. He would launch into a diatribe about how stupid and toxic his coworkers and management was. I would stand there with my coat on and my bags and listen to him dump and dump and dump on me emotionally. I had begged him for at least 5 years to put out applications at other companies. He had 1 interview. Then I told him I would support him quitting with nothing lined up so he could launch his own business, even though he was the primary breadwinner and held the insurance. Nothing changed. What changed was that I decided I didn’t want to be treated this way and divorced him. I am not saying that you need a divorce. My ex’s complaining about his job constantly was only one issue out of many. But you do get to decide if you want to live this way. You can set a boundary about how much you are willing to listen to work complaining. You may have to change the subject or even leave the room if your wife doesn’t stop complaining at the limit you’ve set on her own, but it is your right to set and enforce that boundary. It’s really hard when your spouse is a source of stress rather than support. Hang in there.

  118. Free Meerkats*

    “Do you just want to vent or are you asking for advice? If vent, then you have 5 minutes; if advice, here’s what I recommend.” PRN

  119. Cubicle_queen*

    I was that wife and still can be if I’m not being considerate. Two things that changed that are out of this OP’s control: 1.) The biggest ‘offenders’ in my workplace left, so there was less to complain about. 2) We had kids and noticed they lose their ever-loving minds if we get carried away talking, especially if we’re showing frustration, and definitely when we’re not paying attention to them. So now the big things have to wait until after the kids are in bed, which means I need to prioritize what is the most important thing to get off my chest. And I ask over dinner or post-kids, “Can I tell you something that happened at work?” He says no sometimes, and I’m okay with that because he’s generally supportive.

    This wasn’t resolved quickly or easily, but over time I could see that it stressed my husband out. I had also been on the receiving end for his own problems, and I knew how it felt to get all the “hot steam” and then have to deal with that while the other person walked away. It’s a good conversation opener about dependency in a relationship, too. Your spouse shouldn’t be all things to you, and there are other ways to address your frustration if you can’t talk it out. (I need a quiet, hot shower. He needs to hit a punching bag. We have both seen therapists when our inner world is getting out of control.)

  120. Alexis Rosay*

    Once, when I was going through a very stressful time at work, I used the WoeBot app on my phone to help me process. Perhaps OP’s wife would enjoy it or something similar. It’s basically a therapy chat app. I wanted to have a place to vent other than to my husband. I would not recommend this app to someone who needs real, intensive therapy, but for someone who just needed a place to process and vent, it was great. There are different modules you can go through, one for processing anger, another for looking back on your day and finding things to be grateful for, and so on. The great thing is that the app is literally always available, so it’s perfect for dealing with negative emotions in the moment, less so for treating longer-term problems.

    One thing is that my situation really was temporary–I was in an interim role that I hated, but I knew that as soon as we hired a permanent replacement I could step down. It sounds like OP’s wife may need to take steps to find a better situation, and a real therapist could help with that more than an app.

  121. Hillary*

    Most of the time I’m the complainer in our household. I try to limit it because it’s not helpful for my partner.

    My best friend and I are each others’ outlets. We spend at least a couple hours a week together (mostly walking/hiking) and use that time to talk about everything on our mind. We brainstorm/vent about work issues, we talk about our partners and families if we need to, and we generally support each other. Our partners have full transparency, they’ve both told one of us to schedule time when things are getting stressful.

  122. Alexis Rosay*

    During a tough time at work, I used the WoeBot therapy app to help process my negative emotions and relieve the burden on my husband. It was super helpful because it was always available and I could pick it up any time I became overwhelmed by anger, anxiety, etc. It’s definitely not the right pick for someone suffering from something more serious that needs a real therapist, but it was perfect for what I was going through and it helped me a lot. There are prompts for processing anger and for practicing gratitude.

    Another thing that helped me was writing down things I was upset about from work. As soon as the next day, I could barely remember them. This helped show me that these were transient complaints and I really needed to deal with my anger about them in the moment more than anything else, because simply with the passage of time I would be able to let them go.

  123. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I definitely don’t want to listen to or commit endless complaining. That said, the LW sounded to me a little uncaring and judgmental, like any complaining is too much complaining (the it’s a choice part combined with the I just don’t part). If that is coming across to the LW’s wife, it may actually be encouraging more complaining if she feels like she’s not being heard.

  124. Regular Human Accountant*

    I had a similar problem with my spouse for a while, and I finally had to say: This is too much for me. It is taking a toll on my own mental health, and you need another outlet.

    He now keeps a lot more to himself, which may not be great for his own mental health but he knows how to make a counseling appointment if he needs it. Our marriage is better though, and I feel more sympathetic when he DOES share a complaint because it’s not so constant. So my advice here is to make it plain that you cannot listen to a firehose of complaints every day, that she can either look for a different job or get a therapist but for your marriage and your own mental health you cannot serve that function any more.

  125. IEanon*

    I am also a chronic complainer, and my outlet has been my best friend, for the most part. My partner and I complain to one another while we walk the dog and typically, we naturally feel like stopping once we get back to the house and move on to do other things for the rest of the night.

    I know that I would complain more if left to my own devices; my best friend and I have always bonded over bitching about whatever was going on.

    It seems to me that OP has not been clear enough with his wife that this is no longer sustainable and some kind of change needs to be made. If she is so miserable, the solution is probably to search for a new position, but I am a big proponent of therapy if things are so feeling so overwhelming. It helped me a lot when things tipped over from frustrating everyday complaints to sitting in my car for 20 minutes because I didn’t want to walk into the office.

    That being said, if my partner tried to coax me into a “two bad, one good” structure or something similar, I would lose it. Tell me if I’m going on for too long, if my complaining is making you feel miserable and I need to stop, but do not treat me like some kind of wayward child who needs to learn to look on the positive side. Ick.

    1. GreenMMsGoGoBoots*

      THANK YOU! These little “tricks” everyone is tossing out are gross and insulting. Maybe OP should talk to his wife like an adult he respects and likes.

  126. Leslie Hell Knope*

    Other commenters already suggested Captain Awkward, and I, too, believe the Captain’s wisdom is OP’s best hope, specifically letter #883: “My husband hates his job and I’m tired of hearing about it.” Good luck, OP!

  127. Local Bureaucrat*

    What I’m not seeing in the commenter’s letter is how he’s contributing to the conversation. Personal anecdote –

    I’m a venter and am taking what I’m reading to heart. It’s hard, though, because my husband almost never starts conversations or contributes (besides pointing out when I’m not technically correct on something). He’s a workaholic and hands off on parenting, so between work and kids I don’t have time for myself – so those are my topics of conversation. My fault for venting too much? Yep – but I’m not doing it in a vacuum.

  128. Sharon*

    If you agree to listen to someone venting, one thing that works well is to answer with a compliment. Figure out what the complaint says about that person’s values (e.g. I can imagine how much that bothered you, because it is so important for you that ___). This helps people feel really listened to because you are reflecting who they are as a person and not just the complaint. Then you can follow up with a coping question like, “How did you manage to stay calm and to handle it so professionally?” This diverts attention from the complaint to the complainers strengths and skills. Then you can keep talking about how well they handled it. You would still be listening to the complaint, but it doesn’t feel so heavy. I teach this skill to people who do crisis intervention and it really works. With a spouse, it’s a little touchier, since it’s not a professional context, but you can be transparent about this and present it as a condition for listening.

  129. Complainer*

    As someone on the other side of this problem, my suggestion would be to go into the conversation from the perspective of “what would help here?” The current situation definitely isn’t helping you and doesn’t seem to be helping her in the way she needs. What would help you is reducing the level of complaining. What would help her depends on what she is trying to get from the complaining. My partner and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to complaints – he doesn’t find complaining helpful at all and has a tendency to let problems build up to a breaking point before bringing them up, whereas I tend to complain a lot more than the average person. Because he couldn’t relate to WHY I kept doing it, when he was trying to get me to stop, a lot of what he said came across to me as being dismissive of my feelings. Because my complaining has developed in part from growing up in an environment where I was discouraged from expressing any emotions, my instinct was to get defensive when it was brought up. It helped us both for me to unpack what I needed from the complaining. For him, knowing that what I was doing genuinely was helpful for me made listening less burdensome and helped him understand how to respond. For me, it became easier to internally “triage” my complaints and recognize how I could deal with them in other ways. Some of the things that were helpful for me were: more engagement in the conversation (things like “that sucks, I’m sorry” or “yeah, it seems like they handled that really poorly”), offers to help reduce my stress level in general (for example, temporarily redistributing household responsibilities), alone time and space to decompress, finding other things for us to talk about or do together, and expanding my support system/having more other people to complain to. I also tried to be more mindful of which topics were particularly draining for him and approach those differently – maybe giving a summary once or allowing myself to talk about it for a few minutes and then just saying “work stuff” or “nothing new, just frustrated” if the same problems kept coming up, or saying “probably not something that you want to hear about right now” so that if he had the energy to talk about it with me, he could encourage me to go ahead, but if he didn’t, he could avoid it without me feeling like he was trying to shut me down. The intended function of the complaining will have a big impact on the best alternate coping strategies. If she’s complaining because she processes things by talking about them, then the ideas from other comments about journaling or talking to a pet will be helpful, but if she’s looking for acknowledgment or validation of her feelings, those suggestions might just make her more frustrated. She may or may not know what it is she’s looking for out of the complaining, and it’s not your responsibility to help her figure it out. If she isn’t sure, talking to a counselor or therapist might help. If she is just doing it out of habit, recognizing that can prompt her to change the habit. Regardless, this approach will probably feel more collaborative rather than combative and can help transition to the problem solving stage of both the issue of complaining and the topics of the individual complaints.

  130. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    My husband and I carpooled when I was working, and that drive home was our Airing of the Day’s Grievances (ADG) time. We lived only three miles from my work, so it put a limit on it! Maybe have a talk when she’s NOT griping, and set some mutually agreeable rules for where and when you can BOTH blow off steam. If one of us talked too much, it was fine for the other to say “I need a turn” before we got home. Can you carve out 15 minutes for ADG time?

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I feel this. Letting it out is important, but you don’t want to feed off each other and extend the steam-blowing.

      I was once a bridesmaid in a wedding that I didn’t think should happen. But I respected that it was their choice and recognized there was nothing I could say or do to change anything. So I stuck with it to be there for my friend.

      But a few times when I got home from wedding planning-related things, I would ask my mom if I could rant for like 90 seconds. I wasn’t going to say anything new – I had known the bride and groom and their families since we were kids – and there was no solution to be found. And I generally stuck to the time limit, then took a few deep breaths and moved on.

  131. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Might she have friends she could decompress with sometimes so it’s not always you? It sounds like she needs to let of some steam (understandable) and you don’t want to have an hour-long rant delivered in your direction every day (also understandable). Is there some other way she can get her needs met? Share the venting around? Find other avenues to release the energy?

    Quite likely others have mentioned this already. One option – straight from the Captain Awkward Playbook – is to try to shift the conversation into actions. For example:

    Wife: Ugh, Jane was late finishing her part the Solid Caramel Teapot Report again, and I had to rush to put everything together.

    You: Wow, that sounds stressful. What do you think you want to do about that?


    Wife: Jonas was super rude to me today! He [a bunch of details, which could certainly be very rude of Jonas].

    You: Dang, what a jerk! How do you want to handle that situation?

    You do NOT have to (and maybe should not) make suggestions about how to handle things. The point is to shift her mindset.

    Under normal circumstances, shifting to finding solutions right away isn’t great and will leave the other person feeling like you’re not hearing them. But if it’s clear that the complaining never gets to a decision-making/action-taking phase and/or it’s the same complaints that come up over and over and over again, this technique could potentially push someone out of the Complaining Spiral to Nowhere.

  132. Elizabeth Bennett*

    When I need to vent and don’t want a solution, I write it out and if I feel like it, post it to some random city’s Craigslist Rants & Raves board. Most of the time I don’t post, and sometimes I do. It just feels good to get it out of my system.

  133. Taxidermybobcat*

    I was this person before I changed my job. I was just woefully unhappy with my work circumstances for 8+ hrs a day, and wanted to talk about it with my spouse daily. Finally he told me it was too much and he couldn’t handle me dumping the same negative work chatter on him every day because it was dragging him down. When I got a new job so many of the issues disappeared. I don’t want to complain about work very often anymore. Occasionally I’ll run into an issue I want to vent about, but even then it’s for 5-10 minutes, not hours.

    I also read a book about called “The Stoic Challenge” that helped me reframe some things. One of the points the author makes is that dwelling on an unpleasant experience only prolongs the unpleasantness. The best thing we can do is move on from it as quickly as possible so that our emotional energy is being dedicated to experiencing as much pleasantness in the current moment as we can. Obviously there are circumstances this would not apply to so easily, but for the majority of the garden variety work annoyances we have to deal with, this is a very sound rule. May not be helpful for this situation, but thought I’d share in case anyone else is looking for tools to help them be less negative/complain-y.

  134. River*

    I’ve learned to listen to people and not to give unsolicited advice if they don’t ask for it. I don’t know if your wife is looking for or wants advice/feedback when she complains. Sometimes just listening helps. I had a staff member that would complain often about various things. Though this staff member wasn’t my wife and wouldn’t complain daily and we are in a professional environment, I found just listening and being there really helped her and to a certain extent lessened how much complaining she did. This took many months to work on.

    Perhaps it’s time for your wife to find a new job? If she’s complaining pretty much daily about her job, to me, it sounds like it’s time to find a new workplace. I know I would.
    Another note, you claim that your wife is pleasant with her coworkers and customers, but is she really? If she truly is, then maybe she is being forcefully pleasant? You may want to encourage her to speak up at work when something bothers her. If she doesn’t feel like she can speak up at work, then again, it might be time for her to start looking for a new workplace.
    I agree as well that we shouldn’t deny anyone a chance to vent about something. Perhaps trying to find a silver lining in situations could help? You also don’t mention the industry she’s in. Is it retail? If so, retail can be pretty ugly. I think many would agree.
    Yes, we are in pandemic times and everyone is struggling with their own circumstances.
    Are you actively looking for any sign, cue, verbiage that could be considered as complaining? Are you at that point where you over-analyze what she says and you incorrectly interpret it as complaining?
    What is truly causing her complaining? I don’t have the answers unfortunately. This is a topic I could go on and on about. I wish you all the luck with pinpointing the source.

  135. learnedthehardway*

    I know the feeling of the OP, and I’m similarly at a loss about what to do about it. I know that I tend to rant about what is happening in my work, but I genuinely try to find the humour and ridiculousness in it. I have a very well (perhaps over) developed sense of snark, and while I’m complaining, I’m also laughing, kwim?

    Meanwhile, I want to know how things are going for my spouse at work, but he’s just complaining and working himself up to being stressed about it again. I’ve pretty much learned to ask, show interest, and yet tune out except for making encouraging noises and weighing in where I think I can provide moral support or ideas. Not ideal, but I don’t have anything better.

  136. Tobias Funke*

    My spouse does this, and rather than treat them like a child (ok sweetie I am starting a timer now, better make sure you’re done in ten minutes!), I listen to the amount that I am willing to listen to, and I point out that we’re both home together and he deserves better than having them steal his free time in addition to his on the clock time. I cannot fathom literally getting up and going to hide as suggested by other folks.

  137. A Feast of Fools*

    My ex was/is like this. About everything. You could give him a million dollars and he’d complain about having to pay tax on it (instead of whooping with joy at the $750K in his bank account).

    Literally not internet-diagnosing, just sharing my situation: He has poorly-treated ADHD and his brain receives needed stimulation from his complaints and outrage, and… well, actual rage. (Anger is a stimulant emotion).

    So, if the wife is like my ex, no amount of requests for a No Complaint Zone or a Time Out From Negativity will work for longer than a few minutes. And the problem isn’t the job [again, assuming she’s like my ex, and *only* under that narrow assumption], it’s her brain.

    But, of course, starting with reasonable requests and boundaries is the way to go. See what happens from there. If she ends up being unable to comply, then maybe there’s something bigger going on that bears investigating.

  138. SuspectedDragon*

    So I could be both OP and OP’s spouse! What’s work for my husband and me is asking for permission to vent before starting. The key is that the other person feels comfortable saying no, so YMMV. But we also call times outs if it gets too much in the moment. I generally say something like “That sucks, but I can’t handle any more work talk” or whatever is appropriate. Having been on the receiving end of that statement, it helps to be acknowledged (“yes, you’re right, everyone else is an idiot, whatever) and then asked to stop the rant train.

  139. Jean*

    I had this issue with my boyfriend (whom I live with) last year. He was really unhappy in a job that was made even more stressful by the pandemic, and he seemed to complain about work non-stop when he got home. Even after the work conversation would wrap up and we moved on to other things, he would constantly manage to bring up work complaints as part of unrelated conversations. Eventually it was too much and I had to talk to him about it. I pointed out to him that he talked (complained) about work constantly, and he said he hadn’t even realized how much he was doing it until I pointed it out. I told him that of course I want to hear how his day went, and I want him to get to vent when it was a bad day, but that the constant work talk was getting to be too much for me. We agreed that we will have a short “how was work” conversation/vent (we don’t have a time limit, but this usually ends up being no longer than about ten or fifteen minutes unless it was an unusually stressful or bad day) and then we’re done talking about work for the night. He also took the opportunity to talk to his therapist about this, when he realized how frequently he was thinking and stressing about work outside of work, and though he is still in the same job that really doesn’t like, he’s had success in detaching himself emotionally from it so that it doesn’t invade every other part of his life and his happiness. It took good communication and a very emotionally aware partner, but we did successfully navigate this same issue, so it can be done!

  140. Polecat*

    I think it will be tough to have a productive conversation about this while you have judgment about it. You’re judging your wife because she likes to complain and you think that’s wrong. If you carry that into this conversation, making it about how she’s doing something wrong, guess who she’s going to be complaining about next? Spoiler alert, it’s you.
    So put aside your judgment, and your feeling that your way is the better way and she’s doing the wrong thing by complaining and focus on yourself. You can tell your wife that sometimes you get overloaded when she’s talking about work. And you would like to focus your dinner time conversation around more neutral subjects. That you understand venting is helpful for her, and that’s fine, but you’re finding it difficult to unwind and enjoy your meal while listening to that.
    I’m struck by your judgment which is that this is unhelpful for her and she shouldn’t be doing it. This might actually work for her and that may be why she is doing it! That doesn’t mean you need to listen to it if you don’t want to. But her venting and complaining may be just what she needs to process her day. It’s not up to you to fix that for her because she’s not broken. What needs to be fixed is that you don’t want to listen to it as much as you have been. And what you need to let her know is how much you can listen to and when you wanna listen to it, and when you don’t wanna listen to it… But I strongly caution you not to tell her that she is doing the wrong thing by complaining and it’s her choice to complain and it’s not productive and blah blah blah blah blah .

  141. Delta Delta*

    Didn’t read the other comments but I’m going to throw this out there: in the event you observe Lent, suggest that you and she could give up complaining for Lent. Any time either of you wants to complain, you have to say something else, like “tulips make the world go ’round.” (also, I was raised Catholic but have not been in a church in 25ish years but somehow I sort of like Lent – maybe because it’s spring; I still often observe Lent, and I know others do, too)

    I used to complain a lot when I talked to a certain person. I noticed that it felt like a drag to me to talk to this person. That made me realize all I did was complain to her, and that it was more habit than anything else. Every time I started to complain when I talked to this particular person I’d say something like, “nope! not complaining today!” or something as a way to break my own habit.

    I also know, as someone’s wife, that if Mr. Delta suggested to me I should stop complaining, I would not take kindly to that. That’s why I suggest making it something maybe you both can do (I mean, we all complain) so you’re sort of in it together.

    -End Pollyanna Suggestion-

  142. Fez Knots*

    My partner and I dealt with this exact issue during the past year. Since we work in the same field, the pile on from both of us and their frustration that I never had “anything to add” took a major toll. Ultimately, we did two things:

    1. After several arguments, I finally told my partner that I had nothing else to add because…I literally didn’t. I heard their emotions, I acknowledged they had a right to feel them and said directly that if they needed more feedback or support, they had to get it elsewhere. Since a lot of their frustrations were tied to personal stressors, I suggested getting a therapist. My partner and I have both done therapy throughout the years, so we’re familiar with the process and its benefits. In the weeks following this conversation, when my partner would complain, I’d listen and then point out that a therapist might have more objective suggestions. I always reassured them I was sorry they were frustrated and that I loved them, but I held firm at, sorry, nuthin else to say!
    My partner returned to therapy a few months ago and their complaining to me has almost completely stopped. Venting to the therapist always feels better, and now the complaints we share with each other are mostly humorous!

    2. We go on a walk after work. Since meetings and work-from-home means we’re in the same house but not interacting during the day, the first thing we do when we log off is go for a walk. Not only does it feel great to move our bodies after being sedentary all day, that’s where we do most (if any) of our work complaining. By the time we get home we’re done talking about work, we’re hungry and we move on to cooking and talk about something else. I realize not everyone’s schedule allows for this. But having that decompression time between work and relaxation time helps ensure work doesn’t crash the relaxation party, ha.

  143. Arrgh*

    Definitely will be mining this forum for suggestions. My husband has been griping for years about his job, yet has done absolutely nothing to move on from it in any way. And now he says he’s too old and no one else will want to hire him. Great.

    But he also does gripe about all sorts of petty (to me) things, as others have wondered about for OP’s wife. Things like a car way up ahead on the road didn’t turn onto the road in the exact manner of which he approves – he’ll rant about that for several blocks! It’s like he has no concept of levels of annoyance, and rockets up to 11 each time.

    I have also tried the “Okay, you’ve just spent 10 minutes b*tching about Subject that actually doesn’t really affect you in any way, now list 3 good things” but as he’s a grown-a$$ adult, that only goes so far.

    And now I’m ranting about HIS ranting! :)

  144. Selina Luna*

    I’m late to this party, but I have been on both sides of this thing-I’ve been both the complainer and the complained-to. 1. It is imperative to the health of your relationship that you stop being the recipient of all of your wife’s complaints.
    2. She does have other options. However, no one likes to be the recipient of all of someone’s complaints, nor does anyone want all of their conversations with a real friend to be about complaints. Therefore,
    3. It is imperative to your wife that she changes how something is working. If she is not happy in this job, she needs to figure out what needs to change in her job, or if she needs to ditch the whole job and get another.
    4. In the meantime, YOU have to make it crystal clear that you cannot be her only relief, the only recipient of her complaints. When I say crystal clear, I mean to use those words: “I cannot listen to you complain every night. You need to seek out other options.” If you are blunt, you are also NOT open to interpretation.
    5. If she believes her job is amazing, but she just needs to complain, she needs to seek out a therapist (a real, licensed therapist, not a church therapist unless that church therapist is licensed).
    6. She may also want to take up some means of self-expression such as journalling, crafting, or art.

  145. raida7*

    When someone complains a lot they can lock themselves into a negative mindset where they are *ready* to be annoyed/offended/aggravated.
    I think that looking for resources/counselling to work through how she processes negative interactions and if she’s creating more of them because that’s what her brain is trained to do might be helpful.

    I shit you not, I’ve seen my complainy brother in a carpark swearing at someone driving a car that hadn’t left it’s park yet, in anticipation for how they *could* drive badly in the carpark – which would not have been near us or effected us!

    1. River*

      Agreed. Creating false situations in one’s head about what could happen, especially getting upset over a situation that hasn’t happened is not healthy at all. I had a friend like that where she would go down that rabbit-hole of negative situational circumstances and create these scenarios in her head. She would be like “Oh well he/she’s gonna say this or do that, blah blah”, essentially her mind was set. Then when the situation actually presented itself, what she had anticipated didn’t happen. So all that frustration and anger over something that never even happened. She still does it to this day and people in he life have mentioned it to her but she still does it. It’s probably psychological unfortunately. Sad to say but I have distanced myself from her over the last year or so.

  146. Pounce de Leon*

    I was once in a work situation where a group of us would regularly go out for drinks and a big noisy fun gripe session. We really stirred each other up about how stupid everyone else was or looked or acted. The outrage! But then I caught myself taking note of little annoyances during the week to contribute to the gripe session. Stuff I normally would have forgotten in a few minutes was now being collected and stored for days. It was still fun but a mental hangover was developing, so I had to break away from that gossip circle even though they were nice people.

    1. Sanskritchers*

      This is a great example of why complaining is never a good idea. Not that it can be avoided completely, but it shouldn’t be encouraged. It truly always leads to more complaining by becoming an ingrained habit.

  147. FormerEverything*

    I don’t know if your wife needs validation/needs to be ‘heard’ at a deeper, wider level, but in case it’s truly just about the job…

    I was in a similar spot as your wife for many years–community mental health omg. If you want to know a profession less valued & more underpaid than primary education, look no further. But that’s another issue…

    For about 2 years, I would complain & vent & be at various level of outrage about a plethora of issues, from the work itself to insane (in-house) paperwork, to the (lack of) support & validation, incl. the way the clinicians–the entire purpose of the organization–were the least well paid, the most pressured, the [insert ways one can be undervalued, taken for granted, etc].

    One day I realized, “omg, I’m 100% right and…all my complaining isn’t helping. it’s actually making me as miserable as the situation I’m in. I’m not venting; I’m reliving the trauma every time i tell the story. It’s the nature of this beast, and if I’m done with the beast, I have to be done with this company. I can’t change it, and I can’t thrive in it.”

    I seriously said almost those exact words to myself. Repeatedly. Esp the “I’m so right” part (!!) and “nature of the beast” part.

    So I got out. Just as Allison suggested might be needed.

    I don’t know if this frame might be helpful for your wife. I mean, I was in a unique position–my husband worked in the same company, so he understood. But you can only validate someone so much.

    Because in the end, validation wasn’t the issue, at least not validation from husband & coworkers & friends. Because 1) they had no power, and 2) I didn’t want validation: I wanted change.

    As a therapist, I used to tell my clients: there are 4 solutions to every & any problem.
    Fix the problem (change the situation)
    Feel better about the problem
    Leave the problem/situation
    Be miserable

    That’s all there is. I realized I had to stop saying it to my clients & say it to myself. I couldn’t fix this systemic problem, I definitely couldn’t feel better about it, and I sure didn’t want to be miserable anymore. That left one option.

  148. Chickaletta*

    I’m currently in a relationship with a habitual complainer, so I’m going to go back through the comments to see what advice I can learn.

    One tactic I’ve read about and tried implementing myself to some degree of success is rewarding positive behavior. When they complain, just nod your head and seem disinterested. When they don’t complain, brighten up, ask questions, be engaged. Your wife is probably looking for connection, and she’ll start to lean towards positive talk if that’s what she finds connects her to you.

  149. The Rat-Catcher*

    Definitely seconding the suggestion for a designated time for venting. My partner had a major injury a few years ago and for six months didn’t talk about anything else. It stressed me out mostly because it felt like it came up around every corner. Setting a time allowed me to prepare and get into a sympathetic frame of mind.
    Also it’s probably time for a new job for her.

  150. Happily Retired*

    Agree with the idea of taking a few walks around the block (or the equivalent) for venting time. Make your home – it’s your HOME! – a work-free zone.

  151. tommy*

    I have tried sensitively saying that we should not spend dinner complaining

    I don’t think LW soft-pedaled it — I think they said it in a way that was either condescending/lectury or abstract/removed, as if it were a “should.” If that was the case, Alison’s suggestion to incorporate their own vulnerability may well work! But it also explains more why their wife may not have taken it well and didn’t seem open to it. Because there is no “should” for this, it’s just about what’s best for the people involved.

  152. SnappinTerrapin*

    Everybody needs an outlet to vent, at least occasionally. Everyone needs an opportunity to decompress, or shift from work mode to home mode. Almost everybody needs or wants to talk through some issues, at least occasionally, to get a different perspective toward solving them.

    Those of us in relationships have an opportunity to communicate with our partners, to find (and as need be, adjust) our balance in addressing our own needs and wants while also meeting our partner’s needs and wants.

    There isn’t a universal optimum. The individuals in the relationship need to work out the balance that works for them.

  153. Jasmine Tea*

    So many good comments! I would add, ” I am your spouse and I love you! But I cannot be you garbage can.”

  154. Aunty Fox*

    I was flippant yesterday and apologise. There is loads of good advice here on setting boundaries around LW’s wifes venting. I would like to add that if this has become a problem since COVID, then there may be more than just work to it and if you can help her reconnect with some of her pre COVID support system it could really help her manage the stress of the last couple of years as well as taking the pressure off LW as the only person she is venting to.

  155. Hope*

    I actually had to have this conversation with my partner a few years ago. He was getting more and more frustrated with his job, and the first hour or two after he came back from work was just him ranting about his co-workers, his manager, his manager’s manager, the high volume of work he completed compared to everyone else, the temperature in the office (old govt building) etc.

    The thing is, the more he complained about it, the worse it seemed to get. It was a cycle, like he was building himself up in his own misery.

    In the end, I just sat him down and was completely honest. I told him that I loved him, and that I was worried because he seemed really down about work. I said although it’s normal to have a few complaints, or a bit of a moan after a bad day, lately every day seemed like a bad day and he was complaining about it for hours at a time, every single day. I told him that I knew he had struggled with depression and anxiety in the past, and as an observer outside of his head, it seems like his mood had taken a noticable downturn.

    I think having me lay it all out like that kind of clicked in his mind – especially the fact that I’d taken note of the time he spent on these rants. I don’t think he realised the duration and frequency himself. He took himself to the doctor for a checkup, and went back on his depression and anxiety meds. He also made a concious effort to lessen the amount of time he spent ranting. If he started to spiral on it, I’d say, ‘anyway, enough of work, let’s talk about something else’ and he got the hint.

    Within a few weeks, the meds kicked in and his job genuinely started stressing him out less, which lessened the desire to complain too. It was really noticable – we talked about it, and he agreed that his anxiety had been ramping up more and more over the course of a few months without him quite realising, and that our conversation had made him realise that this was happening.

    If your wife’s mood has taken a noticable dip, that’s probably something mentioning out of concern. It’s up to her what she does with that info, but it’s one of those things that’s hard to see if you’re stuck inside your own head.

  156. Katie*

    I have no useful advice to contribute but I’m bookmarking this page to read later. I have exactly the same issue with my husband. Asking “how was your day?” is met with a list of grievances and complaints. It started when Covid started as husband became WFH, or on the rare occasions he is in the office he’s there on his own. I think he’s lost the natural chances to rant about bothersome things with co-workers so it’s getting filtered down to me and only me instead

  157. Suzie Q*

    My husband has asked me to dial back the complaints on several occasions. In the beginning I resented it, but then I started paying more attention to myself and realized I can complain about work for 4 hours straight. It tends to build up over time, and he has to remind me again.

  158. Hedgehog O'Brien*

    I’m pretty sure my husband could have written this letter about me a few years ago. My previous job was *extremely* toxic and every day I would come home and just vent. For me, it was the job. I’ve been at a new organization for just over 3 years and it’s great, I rarely get emails that make me want to throw my computer across the room and I have not cried in my office once! It was the difference between “how was your day” resulting in an hour plus of stressed out ranting vs. “it was fine! what should we have for dinner?”

    We did at one point decide during the toxic job years to limit the time allowed for venting. We’d take the dog for a walk together after work, I’d get everything out (and so would he during stressful times at his job) and when we got home, we would move on. I think it was good and healthy for both of us, and it kept me from spending my evenings spiraling over issues at work. However, it took me way too long to realize the fact that work was bothering me *that much* after hours, sometimes to the point of actual panic attacks, meant it was probably time to find a different job.

  159. Anne Wentworth*

    Just don’t go into the conversation telling her she doesn’t actually *need* to complain.

    Some people need to let it out and holding it all in is going to create toxic feelings too. Like everyone is saying, she just needs another outlet for it.

  160. DinoGirl*

    I’m afraid I’m guilty of this, so it’s interesting to see from the perspective of the recipient.
    It’s hard when you have a toxin-handling and/or other type of stressful job not to “dump” some of it out.
    I also struggle with what to talk about from my day if not work, which is mostly (HR) not pleasant or able to be discussed.
    I’ll be trying to apply some of these suggestions.

  161. bopper*

    Parents are counseled that little kids try to be so good all day and then when they get home they fall apart on their parents because they feel safe. Your wife feel safe dumping this all on you. But it is causing you stress.

    “Wife, I know you have a need to talk to someone about what goes on at work. However I have a need for less stress during dinner which I want something for me to look forward to. I propose we go for a walk after dinner during which time you can feel free to let loose. How does that sound?”

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