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You've Asked Over & Over Again

You've made the same request again and again and each time your partner says yes.  Yet, s/he doesn't follow through.  I am guessing you hear yourself saying things like, "I've asked you a hundred times." Or "How many times do I have to remind you?!" or "You never listen!"

When you find yourself in this kind of difficulty around a request, you can assume there is a lack of connection somewhere in the conversation.  Here are three questions you can ask to clarify where disconnect is happening:

1)  Does your partner hear a specific and do-able action in your request?

2)  Does your partner hear a demand rather than a request?

3)  What needs is your partner meeting when s/he is not fulfilling your request?

Let's use this example for all three questions. Imagine that to meet a need for connection and being heard, you have asked that when you are talking about something vulnerable your partner give you his or her full attention and not, say, play with the cat or interject to say something about a different topic.  This request is open to interpretation on at least two counts - what qualifies as vulnerable and what full attention is.

1)  For the first one you can ask your partner how s/he would describe a scene in which s/he was fulfilling your request.  It's important that this be something a camera could record.

When you ask your partner to describe fulfilling this request, s/he might say, "When you talk about a conflict with your mom you want me to sit silently looking at you until you're done." Hearing this you may be able to get more clear on what you are really asking for.  You might say something like this:  "When I say vulnerable I am really referring to anything about affection or sex.  For me my need for being heard around that is met when you are saying ‘yea or uh-huh' and reflecting back what you are hearing me sayCould you tell me what you are hearing me request now?"

2) To find out if your partner hears a demand rather than a request you can ask, "Is any part of you hearing a demand?  If so, what part of my request is sounding like a demand to you?"

In response, your partner may say something like this, "I hear that I always have to be ready to listen to you in just the way you want.  There's no space for me not be up for it." You might first respond with empathy, "Yea, I am hearing you want consideration about needs that might be up for you and the choice to listen or not.  Did I get it?" After more dialogue, you might come to an agreement in which you agree to ask your partner if s/he is up for giving his or her full attention before you share something vulnerable.  Your partner might ask for some reassurance that it is really okay to say no.

3)  To understand what needs your partner is meeting when s/he is not fulfilling your request?, you might ask something like this:  "I'm feeling confused and wanting to understand what is happening for you when I ask for your full attention, you say yes, and then just now you stopped to say something about our neighbor's dog.  Would you be willing to reflect on what's going on for you there, what need you are meeting?"

A possible response might sound something like this, "I notice it's hard for me to take in everything you say at once.  I get overwhelmed.  Directing my attention away for a moment gives me a chance to process what you're saying and have space for more." This hopefully continues in a negotiation about how both needs can be met.

Take a moment now to reflect on a situation in which you or your partner have made a request several times and experienced a disconnect.  Set up at time to check in with your partner with one or more of the questions above.

Next Gem
Empathy Doesn't Have to Wear You Out
Previous Gem
Invalidating Other's Feelings vs. Listening with Empathy


1 Response

  1. May 26, 2010
    Ted Zuschlag

    Hello! I am just noting a technical detail.

    The top of some posts have the phrase "scoll down for more details". But when I look for those details I don't find "more details" as such.

    No response necessary,
    T Zuschlag

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