Mark: Last week’s Marriage Monday was a reminder of the importance of asking for what you need or want. Whether it’s bringing flowers when you pick me up at the airport (Jill’s want) or being sensitive to how my capacity is different than yours (Mark’s need), we have to clearly ask our partner for what we long for, desire, or simply need.
Jill: Your spouse doesn’t have the same priorities you do and doesn’t see the same things that you see that need to be done. Stop expecting him or her to operate like you do and simply request what you need even if it’s the same thing every morning.
Mark: But what if you ask and your spouse doesn’t respond well? What if it’s as if he or she didn’t even hear you? What if you ask and ask and it never happens? That’s what we’re tackling today!
Jill: If your spouse doesn’t respond to your requests, here are four things to consider:
Are you really asking or are you complaining and/or hinting?
As we untangled the mess after our crisis Mark insisted that before the affair he was communicating that he was unhappy and he had unmet needs. I could never recall a single request from him on what he wanted or needed. It was when we were reading the book How We Love that the lightbulb went on. When we took the How We Love Quiz we discovered our dysfunctional love styles were avoider (me) and vacillator (Mark). One of the characteristics of a vacillator is that they protest and complain but rarely make their needs directly known.
Mark: What I realized is that I wasn’t asking Jill for what I needed….at all. All the complaining I did about our differences only elicited a, “Well, every couple is incompatible, Mark,” response out of her. She didn’t hear any requests because I didn’t make any.
Jill: Certainly my tendency to minimize contributed to not going further with the conversation. Also the fact that I didn’t reflect back what Mark was saying and try to really hear his heart didn’t help either. We were in our avoider/vacillator dance and we were stepping on each other’s toes all over the place! However, there was never a specific request for what he wanted, needed, or desired.
Mark: The second thing to consider is this:
Are you asking without attitude or exasperation?
Yes, I know you are trying to dress three kids and your spouse seems to be oblivious you need some extra hands. Yes, I also know that you think he/she should be able to figure out that you need extra hands. But he/she is not you and they don’t see/think/process things the same way you do. What if you thought about the five things that need to be done in order to get out the door and you made your request proactively (before frustration)?
Here’s what you need to know: when you make a request of your spouse with exasperation or attitude, your spouse’s knee jerk response will be to your attitude…not to the request you made.
Jill: Here’s a third consideration:
Are you asking and allowing time for your spouse’s adjustment?
Your spouse may be in the middle of his or her own “to do” list and may need a little bit of grace in order to change direction and help you. You don’t like to be tugged away from what you’re doing and neither does your spouse—so a five-minute heads up can go a long way in helping him or her adjust their direction to help you.
Are you asking and then allowing your spouse to do the job differently than you would?
If your spouse is not doing what you request, could it be that he or she has grown weary of never measuring up to your standards? Do you routinely correct him or her? Do you re-do what they do? If so, you may have dug your own hole of carrying the weight because anytime your spouse has tried to carry the weight in the past he or she gets an exasperated sigh, a tongue-lashing, or a do-over from you. At some point they decide to throw up the white flag and say, “Just do it yourself…I never do it right anyway.”
Jill: If you’re clearly asking for what you need without attitude or exasperation, you’re being respectful of your spouse’s need to adjust their “to do” list to help you, and you’re spouse knows you are grateful for their help and okay with them doing things differently than you would do them, AND your requests are falling on deaf ears, it’s probably time to have an honest conversation.
Mark: What would that conversation look like?
- It would be in a time of non-conflict. A time when you might say, “I’ve got something I’d like to sort through with you…would this be a good time?”
- Once the two of you establish a time to talk, you’d first share all the ways you’ve been checking yourself—making sure you’re asking and just not complaining, to the best of your ability making your requests without attitude, giving him/her time to adjust, and being ok with them doing it differently. This helps your spouse know you’ve been looking at yourself in this and not just lobbing bombs his or her way.
- Share that it feels like you’re still not being heard and your requests are falling on deaf ears. Then ask if he or she has any insight into why this might be happening?
- Wait and be prepared to hear him or her out.
- Ask questions or respond with “tell me more.”
- Stay at a dialogue level…don’t move to any type of debate. If it moves to a debate place, it’s best to suggest a break and to return to the conversation when you’re both less amped up.
- If you’re not able to make progress on the conversation, you may need to suggest having a third party help you sort through it. A Christian counselor or a marriage coach could be a helpful next step to assist you in hearing each other.
Jill: Oftentimes, we actually hold the key to our spouse’s willingness to help us…we’re just unaware that we’re sending unintended messages along with our words. If he or she feels affirmed, valued, smart, and has a clear picture of what you desire or need help with, in most marriages your spouse will be glad to help!