Ask Each Other for What You Want

Whether it’s more help get­ting the kids out the door or time to go to the gym, you should tell your part­ner what will make you hap­pier and less stressed. Here’s the right way to do it.

Parents (USA) - - Contents - by DAPHNE MARNEFFE, P .D. de h

With these talk­ing points, you’ll feel more com­fort­able open­ing up to your part­ner about the is­sue that’s on your mind.

AS A COU­PLES ther­a­pist, I hear a lot about the frus­tra­tions young par­ents face—you may want to sleep late on the week­end like you used to or take va­ca­tions that aren’t trips to see your in-laws. Par­ent­hood can feel like one de­mand after an­other, and you of­ten have to de­lay your own grat­i­fi­ca­tion. At the same time, if you run your­self ragged, you won’t be much good to any­one. Re­sent­ment can creep in when you’re do­ing too much or re­ceiv­ing too lit­tle.

Mindy and Jack had a good re­la­tion­ship, but like so many cou­ples, they jug­gled a lot. They had two girls un­der age 2, and Jack’s 11-year-old son from his first mar­riage lived with them part-time. Although they were lucky to have flex­i­bil­ity in their work hours, they also dealt with fi­nan­cial stress as they tried to pay for child care, save for the fu­ture, and make a nice life for their fam­ily.

When Mindy’s sis­ter Jana in­vited her to fly across the coun­try to cel­e­brate Jana’s 40th birth­day, Mindy wor­ried about telling Jack. She knew that it was an ex­trav­a­gance, and Jack had can­celed his own yearly fish­ing trip be­cause of work de­mands. But hon­or­ing her sis­ter’s mile­stone meant a lot to Mindy. Like many of us, she found it hard to ask in a trust­ing and pos­i­tive way be­cause she feared a neg­a­tive re­sponse. Deep down, all of

us want to be seen as lov­ing and lov­able peo­ple who are try­ing our best.

“What are you scared of?” I asked her as the fa­cil­i­ta­tor of a moms’ group she was at­tend­ing.

“I think I’m scared he’ll get stressed be­fore he even hears me out, and he’ll hint that I should deny my­self like he did,” she told me.

“From what you’ve told me about Jack, he re­ally seems to care about be­ing a help­ful part­ner,” I said. “I think the more you avoid ask­ing, the more likely you’ll end up ask­ing in a coun­ter­pro­duc­tive way or sup­press­ing your feel­ings and be­com­ing ir­ri­ta­ble in­stead.”

It was im­por­tant for her to re­al­ize that how we ask for what we want af­fects our part­ner’s re­ac­tion. You may not al­ways get the re­sponse you want right away, but if you fol­low these hints, they will help you work to­ward a more sat­is­fy­ing give-and-take.

Say “Do you have a minute to talk?”

We of­ten make re­quests on the fly, when our part­ner is head­ing out the door or pay­ing bills. Then we feel re­jected or be­come frus­trated that our part­ner “never lis­tens.” Ask­ing whether now is a good time to talk is a sim­ple yet ex­tremely pow­er­ful ges­ture. It sig­nals your aware­ness that your part­ner is a sep­a­rate per­son who’s tak­ing time and en­ergy to par­tic­i­pate in a po­ten­tially chal­leng­ing and re­ward­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

Lead with a com­pli­ment.

Be­fore you ask for what you want, re­mind your­self of some­thing that your part­ner al­ready gives you and ac­knowl­edge it. Mindy said, “Jack, I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate how much you lis­ten to me and help me think through prob­lems.” By start­ing off with some­thing pos­i­tive, she cre­ated a safer emo­tional cli­mate, which led to more en­gaged lis­ten­ing and a more pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion.

Own your re­quest and what it means to you.

Ask­ing for what we want in­volves re­veal­ing our vul­ner­a­ble feel­ings, such as yearn­ing, hope, or de­sire. It takes courage to ex­pose our ten­der­est needs—es­pe­cially to our part­ners, as their un­der­stand­ing mat­ters so much. Per­haps you want to cut back on your work hours or ex­plore more ad­ven­tur­ous sex. What­ever the is­sue, you can learn to ex­press your­self in a way that’s di­rect and tact­ful at the same time.

I en­cour­aged Mindy to both ex­plain where she was com­ing from and ac­knowl­edge her vul­ner­a­bil­ity: “Jack, I’ve been think­ing a lot about this trip, and it’s re­ally im­por­tant to me. But I’m wor­ried you’ll see me as ir­re­spon­si­ble or selfish for want­ing to spend the money.” She as­serted her true feel­ings and showed that she un­der­stood how he might feel. If your re­la­tion­ship is tough right now, it can take guts to be that open, but the best way to get out of a bad cy­cle is to be the one to take the first step. When you own your re­ac­tions and de­scribe your state of mind, you’ll in­vite un­der­stand­ing rather than crit­i­cism.

Thank your part­ner for re­spond­ing.

There’s no such thing as ex­press­ing too much ap­pre­ci­a­tion or grat­i­tude. Ev­ery time you thank your part­ner, you ac­knowl­edge that he’s mak­ing the choice to be re­spon­sive to you. Thank him for try­ing to give you what you want, even if suc­cess is hit or miss. One cou­ple I saw in ther­apy strug­gled with the wife’s be­ing chron­i­cally late. When her hus­band asked her to make more of an at­tempt to be on time, she hon­estly said, “I’m not sure I can, but I’m re­ally go­ing to try.” Rather than ques­tion­ing if she was try­ing hard enough, he thanked her for her ef­fort, and it kept the chan­nel of warmth open be­tween them.

Ask “Can I do any­thing for you?”

After you’ve been able to dis­cuss what’s on your mind, a ges­ture of rec­i­proc­ity com­pletes the cir­cle of care. Some­times it’s a touchy sit­u­a­tion if one part­ner asks for some­thing and the other quickly asks for some­thing in re­turn. It feels a bit tit-for-tat. (“I’ll apol­o­gize for this, but then you should apol­o­gize for that.”) But love is a two-way street. Rather than in­sist­ing on what you are “owed,” ask for what you want with sen­si­tiv­ity, then in­vite your part­ner to ask for some­thing too. Even if you can’t ful­fill his wishes right away, your spirit of gen­eros­ity will be a gift to your re­la­tion­ship. And for Mindy and Jack, their con­ver­sa­tion re­sulted in find­ing a way for her to take the trip and for Jack to go fish­ing after all.

Daphne de Marneffe, PH.D., is a psy­chol­o­gist in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area and the au­thor of The Rough Patch: Mar­riage and the Artof Liv­ing To­gether. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @Daphnede­marn­eff.

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