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
- 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.