Making Reasonable Clear Requests

It’s a funny thing when the majority of couples agree that ‘making reasonable clear requests’ is at the top of their ‘I wish I knew how to do better’ list. 

Not that it doesn’t make sense in terms of emotional reasoning.  We often take pride in the notion that our partner “gets us.” We typically shy away from conflict and the thought of making requests can feel like we are inconveniencing the other. So, the question is, how do we find that sweet spot between expressing our wants, desires, and needs, while being as much a giver vs a taker in our relationship? Logically, we should all be able to ask by simply stating our requests under reasonable and clear circumstances.

But, for many of us, it’s tricker than that.

We have trouble making requests for several reasons:

  • We expect our partners to know
    • We think they should know what we need without having to say anything – if they really love you and know you, or weren’t being selfish, they would just naturally do it.
  • We want it to come from a genuine place
    • Sometimes we might feel it is somehow less “real” or valuable if we have to ask for it. The voices in our heads say, “You’re just doing it because I told you I liked that, not because you really want to.”
  • We don’t know how to ask the right way
    • We fear what’s being requested is going to be over-analyzed. Inflammatory or accusatory language is the norm when our partner puts up their defensive armor.
  • There can be a negative stigma around asking for our needs
    • Societal “rules” and story lines say that it’s weak, codependent or needy if we ask for too much

Here’s the thing—we are wired biologically for safe and secure emotional connections. Tiptoeing around this fact doesn’t do anything for anybody. We must get clear about what we want and not be afraid to express it as our needs evolve.

Using the Conversation Block™ method, we present an illustration of what results from ineffective versus effective communication skills. We hope this will help you better understand how taking a conscious approach to the way you communicate will enable you to resolve issues and create a real, deeper connection with your partner.

Example: Asking for extra support when stress is high

Ineffective Communication: Avoiding the real problem and inflating smaller issues

Person 1: “I asked for one thing from you – to load the dishwasher – and you couldn’t even do that!”

Person 2: “I will do it right now, it’s not that big of a deal.”

Person 1: “Nothing is ever a big deal to you! I’m stuck doing it all while everything’s a big joke to you!”

Person 2: “Woah, calm down. Why are you freaking out? I don’t deserve this.”

Person 1: “That’s right I couldn’t ask for anything from you, that would be absurd of me! What’s the point of even being in this relationship?!”

It is clear there is more than what is on the surface.  While person 1 is holding in a lot of angst from circumstances in their life, person 2 is left frustrated and confused.  Without directly telling our partners what we need in difficult times we can’t assume our minds are being read. Below is an example of how this couple could use the Conversation Block™ method to communicate their requests directly.

Effective Communication: Making Reasonable Clear Requests

Step 1: Get Set Up

Find a time that both you and your partner can set other obligations aside and focus on the problem at hand.

Step 2: Get in the Right Frame of Mind

Draw two white cards that speak to you and one white card that is a challenge for you. Take turns explaining to your partner why you chose those three cards. Next take turns explaining your perspective on the chosen issue.

Person 1: “I chose the card ‘focus on growth as the goal’ because I want this to be about gaining a better understanding which will help our relationship grow. I chose ‘Hold sacred space for the conversation’ because it’s a serious topic and I want that to be acknowledged. And I picked ‘Ask clarifying questions’ because it’s my job to make sure you know what I mean instead of just assuming and vice versa—and that’s not always easy for me.”

Person 2: “I chose ‘show compassion’ because I know you feel like I’m not always aware of your feelings. I picked ‘trust the process’ because sometimes I feel uncomfortable sorting out our discussions. I chose ‘Take a beginner’s mind’ because that’s a challenge for me as I often assume I know everything that’s going on when I don’t.”

Person 1: “I’m extremely stressed out right now and I’m not sure if that has crossed your mind or you are just expecting me to be strong all the time.”

Person 2: “I’m aware of the circumstances going on – and I know you don’t want to be babied either. I’m not sure how you want me to support you.”

Step 3: Find Common Ground

Identify at least one point you both agree on.

Person 1: “I do ask that you don’t coddle me… and I didn’t directly tell you, but I need extra support.  I want you to recognize that I can’t always be strong.  That during these times, I need you to step up and try to make my life a little easier. That’s what we do for each other.”

Person 2: “Yes, I should have recognized that.”

Step 4: Honor and Respect Differences

On points where you disagree ask each other why you feel or believe that.

Person 2: “I know you’re a strong, independent person, why is loading the dishwasher really what you need from me? It’s okay to need extra support but I don’t understand why the dishwasher is it.”

Person 1: “That’s right, I don’t want to come off as over-needy. It’s not just the dishwasher.  I mean it is and it isn’t. That’s a very simple request and I didn’t want to ask for too much from you. But that alone signals to me that you’re trying.”

Step 5: Talk About What’s Left Unsaid

Talk about topics that have been overlooked or avoided.

Person 1: “It’s true. I guess I don’t ask because I want you to show me you care… without having to ask.”

Person 2: “Of course I care and of course I’m here for you no matter what. But I can’t read your mind. I’d rather you ask and we can sort it out together, than you getting mad and resenting something I’m oblivious to. And I will make a greater effort to pay attention to these details because now I know how important it is to you.”

Step 6: Make A Plan

Action Plan:

  • Never assume someone else can read your mind
  • State the stresses in your life and don’t be afraid to ask for specific help
  • Always ask yourself when anger starts to emerge, where the root cause is

Don’t Lose Your Cool If Your Partner Can’t Read Your Mind

Even when you think your relationship is as close as can be – we all still see the world differently. Something may seem obvious to you, but simply does not occur to them – not because of some character flaw or lack of love – but because we think differently. Instead of seeing behavior changes you directly asked for as less valuable, appreciate the way they’re willing to meet that need, even if it doesn’t come naturally. It’s just as worthy as a gesture of love and commitment, if not more so.

With open communication, compromise, cooperation and conscious approach, we can gain clarity and have our requests, and thus need, met. 

Moving Past Old Habits to Create the Relationship You Really Want

We recently sent out a survey to collect new insight about the kinds of habits, relationship arguments and communication tactics couples typically find themselves using, along with the things people would like more of from their partners.

While an anonymous survey may grant participants the permission to write freely about their feelings and the status of their relationships, let’s face it, it can still be challenging to fully assess your own true satisfaction. 

To do so, there are a few questions we must ask ourselves with absolute sincerity. First off, how are we actually showing up in our relationship? Have we stopped striving or gotten lackadaisical about building a better connection with our partner? Could we gain more clarity on the subjects that keep us up at night? And what other, more effective ways could you ask for that—for yourself and as a couple?! How do you feel about conflicts—do you see them as a way to get to know yourself and your partner better? Or do you see them as a failure of sort?  How willing are you to talk about what’s bothering you—especially if it triggers something inside that’s not particularly flattering?  These are important questions that Conversation Block™ helps users address.

Other important, introspective questions might be related to what it is you find yourself in conflict about with your partner. What do we define as an argument vs. an opposing discussion? What subjects are you comfortable speaking up about and which ones would you rather avoid confrontation? 

Sometimes it’s helpful to keep in mind that we are not alone in our relationship struggles or our inability to clearly communication within our relationships. In our survey, the #1 topic that couples said they argue about is not listening to each other. Money, the amount of time spent together, family issues, housework and sex are the next most frequently cited topics of argument. Other themes that surfaced included pursuing personal or professional goals while balancing being in a relationship, misunderstandings or miscommunication, showing appreciation, socializing, pets, and food as topics of arguments. 

What We’ve Been Taught vs. What Could Be

Most of us spent at least 18 years in a school system (developing our first non-family relationships) where teaching mindfulness is practically absent. However, with a rise in mental health concerns over the past 10 years, including mental awareness in academia is starting to become more of the norm.

Often the trouble is that the volume in our head is turned up way too loud. We’re not taught to listen to other’s words—as well as their energy, body language, facial expression, tone and tenor—with the sole intention of empathizing with how they feel. Instead, the voice in our head tends to make quick judgements, thinking about what to say next, defending ourselves, armoring up, or wanting to win, amongst a myriad of other things. We are taught that each individual is separate, so we don’t ask ourselves (or the other) where they are coming from…what makes them think like that? Especially as relationships gain longevity, we drop our sense of curiosity toward the other. And when it comes to opposing views, it can feel like letting the other have their way is to “lose”.

Unfortunately, the poor tactics fall back on keep us running in a pointless and tiresome loop. When we’re left without effective conflict resolution skills, we end up repeating patterns that keep us from finding an outcome that isn’t so difficult to achieve. In our survey, while participants often reported that they don’t often use inappropriate tactics in their relationship communications, they do admit to falling into that trap on occasion, including:

  • Redirecting the conversation
  • Avoiding the real problem and inflating smaller issues
  • Sweeping issues under the rug
  • Hanging it over their partner’s head
  • Blaming their partner
  • Using the silent treatment
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Arguing in front of others to get sympathy
  • Leaving or walking away (and not returning later to resolve it)
  • Downplaying the importance of an issue 

Respondents realized that while some tactics may not be very constructive, being honest about the different ways they manage to get over rough patches in relationships is valuable. They reported balancing counterproductive habits with healthier options including talking to a friend, family member or therapist, using humor, reframing the situation or viewing it from a different perspective, focusing on the good, and finding some common ground where they could agree with their partner. 

Starting Anew Kind of Relationship

Conflict resolution isn’t rocket science, but it is a learned, practiced skill. Hyped-up and uncontrolled emotions, crappy advice from friends and fear (a huge causal factor of many relationship issues), can all cause us to feel like effective communicating just isn’t worth the hassle and the best resolution is to just let it go. That works only if letting go isn’t a cover for holding it inside.

Professional therapeutic techniques that include communication analysis, narrative therapy, and threads of the Gottman approach are embedded into Conversation Block™ to help couples learn and enhance their relationship communication skills. That was the entire genesis and purpose for which Conversation Block™ was first created.  So, couples could start to answer for themselves—what could their relationships really be and become?

Based on our survey results, there is a real need here. The data clearly shows that relationship communication skill-building is needed—to not only counteract ineffective, learned, habitual patterns that get us nowhere, but also to open us up to great possibilities, deeper connection and growth. In fact, the top ten skills couples wish to learn and improve:

  1. Creating deeper connections
  2. Making reasonable clear requests
  3. Transforming blocked conversations into the seeds of closeness and intimacy
  4. Reducing Misunderstandings
  5. Improving active full listening skills
  6. Building harmony by finding common ground
  7. Changing the narrative—recognizing what is real versus the story in your head
  8. Reducing judgements and replacing it with observations
  9. Surface hidden, underlying issues and assumptions so they can be addressed
  10. Using heads-up warnings to prepare your partner and prevent armoring-up or defensiveness 

In our next several weekly blogs, we will address each of these skills one at a time. Using specific conversation topics, we’ll demonstrate how the proprietary card sets and handmade block in each Communication Block™ package can improve listening, communication, connection, and fulfillment for couples who are ready to grow together.

Not Listening While Communicating

It may come as no surprise that the most common dispute amongst couples boils down to communication – or is it just a lack of listening?

Using words to communicate our needs and wants is something we’ve been practicing since the ripe age of two. So why do so many couples find that an inability to effectively communicate with each other leads to unhappiness in their relationship—many times eventually leading to divorce? The unfortunate fact is we are never taught to listen with compassion or with an intent to truly understand the other better. So often, our conversations are led by egos, which result in the desire to win and every word received can feel like a personal attack.

It’s not just arguments. Some of the other most common reasons couples feel there is a lack of communication relate to not being heard…

  • We Drown Out Voices
    • After spending years with someone their voice can start to sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown; many of us will admit to this. We take for granted things the things that have lost their “newness.”
  • We Don’t Speak Our Truth
    • Discussing important topics and speaking from the heart can be downright exhausting. Instead, many of us choose to sweep the things that irk us under the rug, leading to pent up resentment. 
  • We Lack Effective Communication Skills
    • A lack of know-how or what healthy verbal relationship communication even sounds like keep us from articulating in a way that creates effective change.  We can’t find the skills or time to relay important messages and we become weary and defensive when our partners feel attacked and/or annoyed.

Using the Conversation Block™ method and instructions, we’ve put together some illustrations of what ineffective and effective communication skills result in—to help users understand how taking a conscious approach to the way we communicate will help resolve issues and create real connection.

Example: Not Being on the Same Page about Scheduling

Ineffective Communication: Sweeping Issues Under the Rug

Person 1: “How was your day?”

Person 2: “It was fine, you?”

Person 1: “It was busy! There is a lot going on- as a reminder I need you to bring the kids to the dentist tomorrow. There is a conflict in my schedule and I’m relying on you.”

Person 2: (silence)

Person 1: “Did you hear what I just said?”

Person 2: “What?!”

Person 1: “Never mind you don’t listen, I’ll handle it.”

As person 1 storms away, they can’t help but wonder if they should have repeated themselves. The last time they tried, the conversation went nowhere. Person 2 is then left wondering why they feel they’re never enough; even while working overtime to afford a family get-away.

Effective Communication: Reduce Misunderstandings and Improve Active Full Listening Skills

Step 1: Get Set Up

Your objective will be to find a time that both you and your partner can set all other obligations aside and focus on the problem at hand. 

Step 2: Get in the Right Frame of Mind

Draw two white cards that speak to you and one white card that is a challenge for you. Take turns explaining to your partner why you chose those three cards. Next take turns explaining your perspective on the chosen issue.

Person 1:“I chose the card ‘breathe’ because the fact that I feel you don’t listen to me causes me to be extremely annoyed, and I want to feel more grounded. I chose ‘stay in the present moment’ because I want to find a solution here and now. And I picked ‘laugh at yourself’ because I believe it is one of the key traits we share that makes this relationship work, but I tend to be a serious person when it comes to disagreements so that’s harder for me.

Person 2: “I chose ‘find courage’ because I typically avoid this topic instead of explaining my reasoning. I picked ‘express tenderness’ because I want you to know I really do care. I chose ‘discover something new about each other’ because I want to understand how you feel but we’ve known each other for so long I sometimes go on autopilot.

Person 1: “I feel like I have to repeat little things over and over again, and you zone out what I say. We’re not on the same page when it comes to planning our schedules.”

Person 2: “For me, I think it’s more often the case that you are speaking to me when I am busy with something else or my mind is trying to solve an important problem regarding my work.”

Step 3: Find Common Ground

Identify at least one point you both agree on.

Person 1: “I know you want to be attentive, but it feels like you’re having trouble being present with me. Is there something going on for you?”

Person 2: “I agree. Right now, there is a lot at work that needs to be taken care of and it’s taking a toll on my stress and focus abilities. I wish you could see that. I would like to feel supported when it comes to work obligations.”

Step 4: Bridge Differences

On points where you disagree ask each other why you feel or believe that.

Person 1: “I do support how hard you work. Why do you feel that I don’t? What would help you feel more supported so that you are able to give me more of your attention when we are together?”

Person 2: “Thank you. I know I can overwork myself when I’m not prioritizing all aspects of my life. I do need your help in staying attentive to my surroundings and in understanding when work has to be taken home.”

Step 5: Talk About What’s Left Unsaid

Talk about topics that have been overlooked or avoided.

Person 1: “I was taking it more personally than I should have. I sometimes feel like I’ve lost my ability to catch your attention and it hurts.  I want to be included in what you are doing at work.”

Person 2: “I never want you to feel like you are being taken for granted. You are my first priority. Right now, my attention may be divided due to demands at work, but that doesn’t mean I’ve taken you for granted.  I’d be happy to show you what I’ve been working on so you can feel more included.”

Step 6: Make A Plan

Identify what each of you have learned and identify a few behaviors to change in the upcoming weeks. Write them down on a small notebook and use them to track progress in a few weeks.

Action Plan:

  • Help each other be grounded in the present moment by cutting out distractions
  • Carve out time, if necessary, to give each other undivided attention
    • Plan at least 30 minutes every day to discuss what you’ve been working on, reading or at a minimum watch a show together
  • Share your state of mind whether at the office or at home
    • I’ve had a stressful day and still have a presentation to finalize. Do you mind if we connect before bed?”
  • Show attentiveness and appreciation. Even in little ways.

Listening and Communicating with Conscious Intent

There is always more to learn about your partner as well as new experiences to be had. Don’t hold in feelings because you are afraid of upsetting each other or don’t want to come off as a nuisance.

Communication is the most powerful, (yet untapped) human tool we possess. With practice and intention, we can start using our words to evolve our relationships and give us the connection and fulfilment we long for.