How To Get Our Partners To Care What We Want


One of my friends believes that her husband should have more photos of her on his social media site, and she feels bad about it. Her mistake is in thinking that those two things are connected, his action and her 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 pay attention to what I say!” “You should treat me better!”

Should-statements don’t work for us, but they do provide important clues about our needs and expectations. 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.

If we don’t take care of our emotional needs, holding our partners responsible can seem reasonable. And what begins as an expectation can turn into a should, and then become a demand. And if our partners don’t respond the way we want, we may choose anger, to manipulate them. We may even 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. And our partners may also have black bags and may return the fire. Matching missile for missile may provide us some satisfaction, because at least we’re paying attention, but the result is that no one’s need is met.


Getting what we believe we want at the expense of our partners can’t bring us satisfaction. Externals can’t provide the fulfillment we’re seeking, because what we’re really looking for is an end to the discord inside ourselves. So discovering how to heal the discord is what we need to focus on, because that’s what can provide some common ground in order to resolve the differences.

We train everyone in our lives how to treat us, through our response to what they do. And any repetitive behavior is recurring because we’re reinforcing it. So changing our partner’s behavior begins with changing our own. And a good place to begin is by establishing perspectives and conditions that support success.


  • Take turns talking.
  • Agree to not complain, criticize or blame.
  • Avoid using the past as a justification for current feelings.
  • Identify needs by saying, “This is the behavior I’m asking from you,” and explain why it’s important.
  • Ask open questions and then listen for keywords in order to discover each other’s needs.
  • Focus on solutions that work for everyone. Agreeing to disagree won’t be enough, because it doesn’t recognize that everyone is right from his or her viewpoint.
  • Hug it out and say, “Thank you.”

It’s about focusing on what’s going well so that what’s not can transform. And as being solution-oriented becomes second nature, answers begin showing up even before the problems do.


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Author, Blogger, Contributor to Thrive Global, The Good Men Project and HuffPost