I was sitting with a friend the other day and she was digressing about her recent discontent with how her husband was listening to her. She was saying how frustrated she was that he didn’t acknowledge her needs and that he seemed completely oblivious to what she was requesting of him. “I asked him to help with the dishes. He went and sat down on the couch. ‘In a bit’ was his response…”; “I asked him to pick up the baby from his parents’ house because I was going to be late. The next day he calls and tells me that he couldn’t pick him up because he was held up at work…”; “It seems like with every request I have of him, he finds a rebuttal. I just don’t know what to do.”
It was at that point that I realized that perhaps it wasn’t the husband that was at fault here, but their patterns for communication. It seemed, to me, that with each complaint, she stated a claim and provided little wiggle room for him to respond accordingly. Essentially, she asked something from him, expected him to follow through without consulting about it, and he failed to do it, so there goes the relationship.
I was wondering if it wasn’t his lack of action that was causing despondency, but, perhaps, the way that she was asking him to do these things. Sometimes we think we are being clear in what we want or need in a relationship, however, we often are clouded by our own expectations. These expectations end up defining the conversation and it becomes a one-way street. This one-way street leaves the other person involved with little opportunity to give feedback, share their thoughts on the subject, or offer alternatives.
This is something that comes up in many conversations I have had with friends and family about relationships and communication. In response to her, I asked her if she had ever tried setting up the conversation or request using a questioning strategy or like it was a problem that needed to be addressed.
For example, dishes need to be done, right? Let’s try this- “I bet you know of a great movie we can watch together. How about we do the dishes real quick so we can snuggle?” Here we offered not only a way out for our partner, but we are also establishing a team partnership. We wash the dishes together, we watch a movie together, we snuggle together. In reference to the situation where she had asked her husband to pick up the baby, I wonder if the situation would have been different if she would have explained the situation more clearly versus making a direct request. Let’s try this- “Tomorrow I am going to have to work late. Do you have any suggestions for picking up the baby from your parents?” Again, we left an open door for our partner to respond.
Communication in a relationship is key to how a relationship unfolds. When we are careful with how we address our partner, use language that promotes teamwork, and reframe our own needs so that the needs of others are also considered, there is an overall sense of happiness. Instead of the ball bouncing in each other’s courts, how about we keep it on neutral ground.
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