The Grumble Mumble Crumble

August 8, 2017 - 4 minutes read

I’m not talking about a Peach Crumble Pie, for which you can easily find an excellent Martha Stewart or Betty Crocker recipe online.  (I like mine warm, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.)

I am talking about a distressing pattern that any one of us can easily fall into.

The Grumble is complaining.

The Mumble is expressing your complaint indirectly.

The Crumble is the relationship which may be disintegrating.

I’m most aware of The Grumble Mumble Crumble when I hear someone speaking to a family member with overt irritation in his or her voice.

“Have you taken out the trash yet?”

I realize that by reading this question on paper you can’t tell the tone of voice, and that is exactly my point.  Tone of voice.  The attitude of the speaker could be cheerful, perhaps offering a helpful reminder.  Or the speaker may want to add today’s junk mail to the trash that will be picked up tomorrow.  Or the speaker might be sarcastic (“Why do I have to remind you to take out the trash.  Again?”), or just plain irritated (“You constantly disappoint me by not carrying out your responsibilities in our relationship and I’m tired of reminding you.”)

No relationship is going to be la-tee-dah happy all of the time. That’s perfectly normal.  Complaints happen.  But grumbling doesn’t help. Why not ask for what you need in a pleasant way?  If clarification is needed a simple and direct statement will usually suffice.  “I want to get rid of this junk mail.  Should I take it out to the trash, or can I put it in the waste basket?”

No Grumble.  No Mumble.  And no Crumble.

I was with a couple at a nice resort recently, and heard one of them say to the other, “Have you made our dinner reservation yet?”

The tone was nasty.  I cringed, and suddenly lost interest in having dinner with them.  It’s difficult to be a bystander when a couple is indirectly expressing their irritation to each other.

The other member of the couple said, “Why don’t you make the reservation yourself?  You know how to use a phone.”


This Grumble Mumble here was obvious.  It often is, when someone else is doing the talking.

But I invite you to listen carefully to yourself when you talk to a family member.  Are you unconsciously expressing a bit of unresolved frustration you’ve been carrying around from earlier in the day or earlier in your life?  Do your words come out in a way that you don’t intend?

I know it is tempting for you to think, “Yeah.  My partner does that all of the time.”

Maybe they do.  But maybe – and of course this is a long shot – you sometimes sound irritated too.

Please don’t show this blog to your partner and say, “See!  Alan is right!  You do this to me all of the time.”

Instead, please look up one of those recipes and prepare a delicious Crumble for dessert tonight.  Just be certain to leave out the Grumble and the Mumble.


Smiley face.


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