PART ii: Examining How to Ask for What We Need

Part I was about WHY it’s so hard to ask others for what we need. When we examine this question, the first one that may arise is: how do I know what my needs are? I’ve been ignoring them for so long, I’m not sure I even know what to ask for.  

First, acknowledge that it’s ok to have needs. When you deny your own needs for so long, starting to acknowledge them can bring up guilt, doubt, and issues of deserving.  

Permission slips are good to use for this purpose.  Give yourself permission to acknowledge and pursue your needs.   Why?  Permission slips give us the green light and make it easier to "break" the societal/cultural/familial rules we feel like we're breaking if we pursue unmet needs. 

When you begin to acknowledge your needs, you may begin to fear the deluge of desires.  We may have kept these longings or wishes at bay because they strangely bring up feelings of loss.  If we allow ourselves to need and desire things beyond our grasp or control, we risk losing them or not getting them at all.   Annnnd we’ve circled back around to vulnerability (it seems like every element of wholehearted living goes back to vulnerability).  While we eschew vulnerability, we shun grief even more.  It seems like a long way to go from acknowledging needs to experiencing grief, but the dots do connect. 

Second, back up and consider what your expectations are.  SOOOO much of the time, our conflicts with people are about unspoken and unmet expectations.  You may expect your spouse to unload the dishwasher when it’s empty.  It doesn’t happen.  You get frustrated and react to this task not being done. 

--> Your NEED is to have your spouse complete household tasks in a timely, responsive manner, probably without being asked.  Is this need realistic?  That’s another story.  If you’re able to communicate this need, some negotiation can happen, or some problem solving around how to get this need met.  You may decide to put a post-it on the dishwasher when it is being run to indicate that it will need to be unloaded soon.  This alleviates the argument about how “you never do things to help around the house.”  In communicating a simple need, you are respecting yourself, and entering into a conversation rather than an argument about how to get it met. 

--> When you look back over recent conflicts, examine your expectations of the other person.  What did you expect them to do or say? Did you communicate that?  When you put your expectations together from different interactions, are there overlaps?  For instance, do you expect people to respond to your communication [emails, phone calls, text messages] in a certain amount of time? 

Ok, so.... Really.  What do I actually say? The Center for Non-Violent Communication has a 4 step process to expressing needs in a productive way.

State your observations about the interaction without judgment.  Describe the events based on facts, without interpretation or spin.  Think about it like a news report.

"The dishwasher light indicated the dishwasher was full. You walked by it and noticed it was full because you were unable to put your dirty dish into it, and did not empty the dishwasher."

State your feelings about the situation.  These are not thoughts, just feelings about the situation. 

"I feel frustrated and let down when I see that happen."

Indicate your needs relating to the situation.   

"I feel frustrated when I see that happen because I need my partner to be on my team.  I need to be able to rely on you to take care of household tasks as you become aware of them.   I value supporting one another and the reciprocity in our relationship."

State your requests.

"Would you be willing to discuss some strategies that may work so that you can attend to household tasks as you see them needing attention?"

While this approach may initially feel awkward and tedious, it’s a respectful, non-judgmental way to express your needs while communicating your values and feelings.  When you end with a question regarding your requests of the other person, it invites them to be a part of solving the problem, rather than attacking them and having them jump to the immediate defensive position. 

The risk?

They can say no.  They can disagree with the need entirely.  They can say that they are unwilling to help with this task because you don't help them with another task.  If the conversation leads here, it could indicate a need for an in depth look at communication in your relationship, what you both ultimately envision and want from it, and how you're going to go about getting there.