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Accessing Creativity with Requests

All too many times I have helped couples with finding empathy for each other only to see them circle right back around to disconnect as soon as they get to requests.  See if you recognize any of this disconnecting pattern around requests:

  • Partner A proposes something that has been tried in the past.

  • Partner B tenses for the same old argument or begins to collapse in hopelessness.

  • Partner A pushes forward attempting to convince the other to agree.

  • Partner B brings up past failures and criticizes Partner A.

  • "Always" and "never" creep into the conversation along with hopelessness and anger.

This is a painful cycle and doesn't build on a connection to needs. One of the most powerful aspects of Compassionate Communication is the realization that universal needs can inspire wise action.  When partner A suggests an old strategy to meet needs, s/he has moved away from connection to needs in favor of what is known.  There is a certain kind of tragic comfort in returning to what is known even though it doesn't work.

Accessing creativity with requests requires you to maintain your attention on the needs named and find the courage to step into the unfamiliar.  Let's use an example to demonstrate three ways to stay connected to the energy of the needs as you generate requests.  Let's imagine that preparing for a trip together has historically been contentious.  You and your partner have identified that you would like trip preparation to meet needs for warmth, fun, collaboration, and trust.

  1. Repeat the Essential Question.  Before you propose any request repeat to yourself several times a question about what will meet the needs named in this situation.  For example:  "What could we do in trip preparation to meet the needs for warmth, fun, collaboration, and trust?"  As soon as a request is offered, ask:  "How will doing that meet needs for warmth, fun, collaboration, and trust?"  Then ask:  "What else could we do to meet needs for warmth, fun, collaboration, and trust?"  Repeat these questions naming the specific needs again and again to support you in maintaining your focus on needs.

  1. Connect with the Energy of the Met Need.  Before you begin suggesting requests / actions, talk about or simply remember times those needs were met.  Those times don't have to be with each other.  You are attempting to bring up the experience of the met need.  Choose memories that are vivid enough to help you access the feelings, sensations, energy, thoughts that occur for you when that need is met.  Once you have landed in the felt sense of the met need, ask the questions from #1 above.  It will be important here to maintain mindfulness.  Sometimes a memory of a met need will trigger a sense of grief for how those needs aren't met in the current situation or weren't met in particular past situations.  If you are not able to name and allow that grief, your mind will move quickly to judgment, fear, hopelessness, or anger.  If grief arises, name it by saying, "grief is here" and then immediately to turn to the question:  "What will help us meet this need in this present situation?"

  1. Imagine the Positive Outcome.  Hold your attention on the needs for a few moments, maybe repeat them to yourself a couple of times.  Then direct your attention in this way:  "Now I will see the situation unfolding in a whole new way that meets these needs."  Using our trip example, go ahead and see the two of you getting ready for the trip while holding the needs in your heart.  Then share with your partner what you saw or noticed.  

Continuing with our trip preparation example let's look at some requests that you might have generated by maintaining attention on needs:

To meet the need for Trust:

  • To help ensure that you will complete the task you have committed to for trip preparation, mindfully take a moment to imagine doing that task, playing out each part of it in your mind to make sure it is do-able.  Check logistics like your calendar, store hours, etc., for any conflicts.

  • Put a time on the calendar to check in with each other about what has been done and what still needs doing two days before departure.  Set your intention to bring a gentle tone and supportive attitude (rather than viewing this as a test of trustworthiness).

  • Make an agreement to let each other know if obstacles are being encountered with particular tasks.

  • If there is a task that you agreed to do and have failed to do in the past, share with your partner what you are doing differently this time to ensure completion.

  • Look through the tasks and make sure you are in a shared reality about what that task really entails.  Get specific.

To meet the need for Collaboration:

  • Choose two tasks that you would like to do together.

  • Take time for high-fives and other kinds of celebration / gratitude as each of you completes a task.

  • Check in with each other once every day and ask if support is needed.

To meet needs for Warmth and Fun:

  • Put on your favorite music and allow for spontaneous moments of dancing as you take two hours to prepare the house for the housesitter.

  • Wear funny costumes or hats as you do a task together.

  • Set a hug timer.  Each time the timer goes off you pause for a hug.

  • Before beginning a task share three appreciations for each other or simply three things for which you are grateful.

  • Agree on a silly word or signal that you give when you notice yourself or your partner getting tense.

  • Agree to pause at random and cuddle or play with one of your pets.

As you read through this new approach to accessing creativity with requests, you might feel a bit apprehensive or overwhelmed thinking it will be too hard or take too much time.  Two things are important to remember here.  

  1. Taking care of your connection to each other and your access to wisdom, cultivates a quality of living that goes far beyond the momentary relief of checking an item off your task list.


  1. Exchanging short term gains for long term cost is a painful way to live.  Sometimes the inspiration to attempt something new can arise from a critical mass of clarity about the cost of doing it the way you have in the past.  If you take time to review the mishaps, pain, and frustration that were the result of other strategies and how these played out over time, you may find the willingness to turn towards the unfamiliar and cultivate a quality of connection that brings joy and ease.


Take a moment now to reflect on something you will be doing with another person in the near future.  Look through the needs list.  Guess the needs the other person might be hoping to meet in that activity.  Name the needs you would like to meet.  Write them down and bring these to the dialogue as you engage in the activity.

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Reassurance & Repetitive Fears
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Needs: Lasting Satisfaction vs. Equanimity & Stewardship

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