One of my friends believes that his wife should have more photos of him on her social media site, and he feels bad about it. His mistake is in thinking that those two things are connected – her action and his feeling – because attaching a feeling to a should doesn’t get us what we want.
Shoulding on our partners will not fill our needs. So these statements won’t help: “You should come home when you say you will!” “You should stop spending all our money!” “You should pay attention to what I say!” “You should treat me better!”
Should-statements don’t work. They do provide important clues about our needs and expectations though. Problems begin when we make our needs someone else’s responsibility and then believe we have the right to get angry about it.
Our anger indicates an action for us to take, not someone else.
In a recent article on three steps for getting what we want from others, I wrote that we train everyone in our lives how to treat us, through our response to what they do. So changing our partner’s behavior begins with changing our own.
Here’s how it goes: We have a need – but instead of taking care of it ourselves, we hold our partners responsible for filling it. What begins as an expectation turns into a should, and then becomes a demand. When our partners don’t respond the way we want, we feel desperate. Then we choose anger, to manipulate them. It doesn’t work. So then we grab a missile out of our black bag.
What’s a black bag? That’s where we’ve been storing information about our partners. It includes whatever words they’ve told us that they “just can’t stand,” whatever actions they’ve said that they “won’t tolerate,” secrets that no one else knows about them, and especially anything they’ve ever told us that they don’t like about us. All of that has been stored for future use, in case we dislike our partners’ behavior and want to fire a missile at them.
Of course, our partners also have black bags by now, and they’ll probably return the fire. Matching missile for missile may provide some dysfunctional satisfaction because at least we’re both paying attention. But the result is that no one’s need is met.
What will work better? Creating conditions and perspectives that support success!
• Discuss issues when they’re not heated. Make criticizing, complaining and blaming off limits. And avoid saying always, never or you.
• State the need: “This is what I’m requesting.” And explain why it’s important to you.
• Also find out what your partner needs. Listen for keywords and ask open questions.
• Agreeing to disagree won’t be enough, so find a solution that works for both of you.
• Hug it out and say, “Thank you!”
All of this is about focusing on what is going well so that what is not can transform – because focusing on solutions depowers problems. And when being solution-oriented becomes second nature, answers begin showing up even before the problems do.
This post is featured on The Huffington Post.