Crucial Relationship Issue Raised by Workshop Attendees

Overcoming the Tricky Issues around Asking for Love and Caring Behaviors

As many of you know, Debbie Seid and I held a Valentine’s Day weekend workshop entitled, “The Mindful Couple: A Journey to Real Love and Connectedness.” The workshop was great fun and we all did powerful work together. I wanted to share with everyone a topic that came up quite a bit as we went through the material. One of the important questions that came up at the workshop had to do with asking for caring behaviors. Caring behaviors are unconditional gifts we give graciously without an expectation of anything in return.They are behaviors you want from your partner, but often keep secret. These are the behaviors we hope our partner will give, but they’re also the ones we sometimes blame our partner for not doing. Everyone feels loved and cared about in different ways. Caring behaviors can range from spending quality time with your partner to bringing her a cup of coffee before she gets out of bed in the morning, to completing a home repair project. Providing these kindnesses all seem common sense relationship nurturing tactics in theory, but two fallible adults can complicate them.

When You Desire Caring Behaviors

During the workshop we discussed how asking expressly for specific caring behaviors takes you out of a position of being a victim because it forces you to ask for you what you want or need. Instead of assuming that you know what your partner wants or they know what you want. Telling our partners just what makes us feel loved and cared about clarifies our needs. It’s a way of creating caring just as we did during the dating days when you would spend hours planning what to wear, what to say and think and special things to do for your beloved.

The Biggest Stumbling Block to Asking for Caring Behaviors

After 30 years as a therapist and relationship coach, I continue to be astounded at how many people actually believe that they shouldn’t have to tell their partners what it is that makes them feel loved and cared about. Often we expect our partners to mind-read exactly what we want. When they don’t and they give us flowers instead of a foot rub, we take it as evidence of their insensitivity. “If you really loved me, you’d know what I want, I shouldn’t have to tell you.” Further complicating this habit, many believe they know what their partner feels and what they want without ever asking them. Assumptions like this can be fatal to any relationship. However, it’s tricky to ask for what you want. The reason it’s tricky is because our partner has every right to say “no.” For many of us asking for something equals an expectation of receiving that something. And then not getting what you asked for can disappoint severely. What we’re trying to learn here is that asking or requesting is very different than demanding. A request can be met by a “no”, or a “yes”. Either is okay if there are no expectations. For example, the request, “can you give me a massage” if met with a “no” should be perfectly fine. In other words, your love should not be conditioned on whether I give you what you’re asking for. Asking allows for the possibility of the person being asked to say either yes or no. However, if you expect a yes then your request is more like a demand. You have to give your partner the opportunity to say yes, but respect no for an answer. It’s important to state your request clearly. More, it’s always good to explain how you’re feeling and the reason your feeling that way in terms of your request.

When Caring Behaviors Are Asked Of You

The partner hearing requests for caring behaviors may respond enthusiastically since they finally have clear guidance on what to provide their partner. Those requested to provide caring behaviors realize that doing so is similar to the dating days when we would spend hours planning what to wear, what to say and think and special things to do for your beloved. They may feel just as excited to engage in these activities again. Not everyone welcomes these caring behavior requests, however. Some can feel resistant and then guilty for their reaction. A little background helps partners understand the genuine place this resentment comes from. Growing up and in early adult relationships, many of us were never allowed to ask for our needs to be met. Some of us were expected to be subservient to authority, and always say yes whether we wanted to do it or not. Subsequently, how we felt about it didn’t really matter. Therefore, the request was really a demand. The inability to reject the request created frustration and anger because we were expected to give up control over our choices.

How the Partner Asking Must Treat the Request

A fine line exists between making the request and making a demand. Often, there is an expectation in the ask that somehow the person will prove their love to us by doing what we request. However, often the person only fulfills the request out of guilt instead of true love. We must give our partner the opportunity to say “yes” although you must respect “no” for an answer. The request for a caring behavior gives your partner the opportunity to do a “mitzvah” or something good for someone else. The way author and creator of Non-Violent Communication theory, Marshall Rosenberg suggests we ask for things or make requests is as follows: “Could you please do this for me, but only if you can do it willingly—in the total absence of fear guilt or shame”. He suggests as many do that if your partner gives you the caring behavior or makes a change out of fear, guilt or shame that you will get the behavior, which feels like a win, but you will eventually lose. Any request that feels like you are telling a person that they “should”, “have to”, or must” or “ought to”, do something will we create and eliminate choice.

De-Mystifying Relationships

Relationships are complicated, you bet, but partners can and grow closer than ever when they learn new techniques of communication. As I’ve mentioned all over this website, relationship skills don’t spring naturally from us like walking or learning language. Education in and practice of the best tools for connection gives the relationship the attention and energy it deserves.