woman receiving a rose from a man
Ways to boost your persuasive power in your relationship
I see a lot of damage done because people don’t know how to ask for what they want. Or, they don’t think it’s OK to ask for what they want. Not asking for what you want in a relationship means you’ll eventually resent your partner, and that leads to a lot of strife.
In your relationship, asking for what you want in a helpful, non-threatening way helps you and your partner understand each other. 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.
So, what’s the best way to ask for what you want? Here are some tips to guide you.
The 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. 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 you are denied. When you ask for what you want, you need to have a backup plan in case the other person doesn’t agree.
Women need to know how to ask men for what they want directly, and in a rational, not emotional manner. Men respond much better to “Honey, will you take out the garbage?” than to a whiney “The garbage can is overflowing, and it smells bad” or “I have to do everything around here.”
Men need to learn to listen to women’s feelings. Women do not always respond to a direct request; they do better when feelings are addressed. Saying “Wait til the game is over, honey” will be received by a woman as disregarding her feelings. “I’m sorry it’s bothering you, sweetheart, I’ll take it out as soon as there’s a commercial break” will let her know you care about her feelings, and she’ll be happier.
How NOT to get what you want: Common mistakes
- Exaggerate your want. The fear that you may not get what you want may cause you to say you want more than you really do (“I want you here all the time”). This is confusing to both you and your partner, and makes it look much more difficult to reach a satisfactory solution than it really is.
- Overstate your need. The fear that you won’t get your wants met may cause you to state your want as if your survival depended on it (“I’ll just die if you don’t come with me”). Your partner may feel that he or she is being manipulated and resist cooperating with you.
- Argue for or justify your want. Anxiety that your wants are not important enough to be satisfied may lead you to present them as a persuasive argument, with an overwhelming flood of reasons why you should want them or that the wants should be satisfied (“I should get more of the money than you do, because…”). This can provoke your partner to object and argue in return, rather than listen.
- Not say what you want. Belief that you won’t get what you want anyway, or that differences in wants will cause a fight, may lead you to say you “don’t care” or “it’s not important” or just be silent, when the truth is you’ll resent not getting what you want.
- Understate your want. Fear that your partner will be upset, hurt, or unhappy if you say what you really want may lead you to ask for something else (“Let’s ask your sister to go with us” when you really want an evening alone together). This confuses your partner and makes it impossible to get what you really want because you haven’t said what it is.
Steps to getting what you want
1. Get clear about what you want. You can’t express what you want effectively if you’re not clear what it is. Before approaching your partner with a request, think about it and 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. Choose a moment when you and your partner both have time, and invite him or her 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.
5. Listen politely to your partner’s answer. Whether your partner says yes, no, or something in between, listen carefully to what he or she says. Don’t get all caught up in the worry and noise inside your head — pay attention. You need to know what the answer is.
If you follow these steps, you’ll get what you want a good percentage of the time. And even when you don’t, you’ll have a backup plan, so you really can’t lose.
By Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., The Dating Doctor