The Importance of Wanting
If you don’t know what you want, you’ll have trouble getting it and experience a life-long feeling of deprivation, disappointment, scarcity, and resentment. When you aren’t able to express what you want clearly you’ll have difficulty feeling generous about your partner’s wants and needs.
In your relationship, asking for what you want in a helpful, non-threatening way helps both you and your partner understand each other. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t realize if you achieve it. If you don’t know what your partner wants, you can wind up with a false or one-sided solution, that will leave one or both of you feeling unsatisfied, overpowered, or manipulated. In couple counseling, when I ask partners to state their wants they often discover to their amazement that their wants are quite similar, and the problem disappears. The conflict between them was only their lack of understanding and communication.
Being clear about what you want is like putting all the true facts on the table, just as you lay all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle out, so you can see them better, and more easily solve your puzzle.
Difference between wanting and demanding
Much of the confusion about expressing wants occurs because no distinction is made between wanting and demanding. Stating what you want is an effort to communicate clearly, so you and your partner can both be satisfied, while demanding is insisting that your partner give you what you want, without regard for his or her wants and feelings. You can tell the difference because when you are asking, you can handle getting a no answer; when you are demanding, you get upset if what you’re asking for is denied. When you ask for what you want, you need to have a back-up plan in case the other person doesn’t agree.
Steps to Getting What You Want:
If you have difficulty in knowing what you want and communicating it, try these steps:
1. Get clear about what you want: You can’t express what you want effectively if you’re not clear what it is, so before approaching your partner, your boss or your child with a request, think about it and make sure you can write it down in one clear sentence.
2. Create a good atmosphere: If asking for what you want is difficult for you, don’t do it without preparation. Make sure you and the person you’re asking both have time, and invite the other person to sit down and talk with you.
3. Simply state what you want: Don’t preface your statement with a lot of disclaimers – they make the other person feel accused of something. Just ask, politely, for what you want.
4. Be prepared to accept a “no.”: Remember, if you can’t accept a no answer, then you’re making a demand, not a request, so have a backup solution. Find a way to get what you want for yourself, even if the other person isn’t cooperating. For example, if you don’t get that raise you deserve, maybe it’s time to begin a job search.
5. Listen politely to the other person’s answer: Whether the other person says yes, no, or something in between, listen carefully to what he or she says. Don’t get all caught up in a lot of worry and noise inside your head – pay attention. You need to know what the answer is.
If you follow these steps, you’ll find you’re successful a good percentage of the time, and when you aren’t you have a backup plan – so you really can’t lose.
adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978-1-59869-325-6 © Tina B.Tessina, 2007
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.