We all have needs: both physical and emotional. Some of these needs are met through other people, particularly in intimate relationships. We become quickly frustrated when our needs are not met. When our needs are not met for a length of time, we begin to feel a sense of urgency about getting them met. Often, we believe the quickest, most simple way of getting them met is by making demands that they be met by issuing ultimatums.
While demanding your needs be met may bring a short-term payoff, beware: the long-term costs are high. Over the long term, making demands will destroy the love that binds you and your partner.
How Making Demands Destroys Love
Demands are blatant…demands are subtle. They are shouted, written, implied, hinted at, stated…and sometimes, completely silent. Demands can be made with simply a look, and there is usually an element of fear attached to them. Demands are in the eyes of the one on the receiving end.
Demands Are Controlling
However they are delivered, demands are always an attempt to control. They allow no possibility of refusal, and they generally don’t allow for negotiation. Demands do not give the other person a choice, nor do they care how the other person feels. They insist that something be done (or that a certain lifestyle be had), regardless of how the other person feels about it.
Demands are abuse. They are the first outward manifestation of a belief that we have the right to control what someone else does, or how they live. They reflect an internal attitude: a willingness to rationalize getting our own way at someone else’s expense.
Demands Are Instinctual
Now, before you start thinking about how evil your spouse is (or how terrible you are) because you have demands in your life, understand that making demands to get what we want is an instinctual part of being human. Babies are born making demands. If they didn’t, they would die. It’s part of the survival mechanism.
Unfortunately, like many survival tactics we develop, this one’s usefulness is long gone once we reach the age of speech, and yet we continue to use it.
Demands (like most abuse) are very sneaky. The little voice in your head will whisper all kinds of rationalizations about why it’s OK to insist that things be done your way. In marriage, demands are the beginning of the escalation of control and abuse. Demands will destroy the love you have for each other and, along with that, any willingness or desire you have to make each other happy. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to use this strategy to get what you want or need.
How To Eliminate Demands
If you are to eliminate this form of abuse from your marriage, you must take a position of zero tolerance. There is no excuse for making a demand. None. Not a child’s need, not a career need, not a domestic need, not a sexual need, not a financial need–not any need. There is nothing in your life that comes close to the importance of your individual long term success and stability, or that of your family, as the success of your marriage. That success requires that you put each other and how you feel at the top of the list of what’s important.
To put that into practice means that you must make your decisions in a way that takes your spouse’s feelings into account. Every decision, every time. No excuses.
Some practical applications:
First, you must understand that no one has the right to control what another person does. And that if you don’t get your way, the resentment issue is all yours–no blaming, no punishing, etc. Once you learn to negotiate, resentment shouldn’t enter the picture. (See Tips for Negotiating here)
Now then… how to ask for something. You ask. Politely. A request by its very nature allows the other person to say no, without fear of reprisal. The very best way to do this is to say, “How would you feel about____? How would you feel if_____?” This starts the process.
Obviously there will be times when your partner is less than thrilled with your desire/suggestion, so the next step is to explore. Ask, “What is it that you object to? Is there any part of this that works for you? Is there some way you could be wholeheartedly in support of this? Do you have any suggestions for how to help me get what I want and for you to be happy with it?”
If there is no way the other person can support what it is you are requesting, you drop it. As we work with negotiating and safety, you’ll find that this really isn’t an issue. You’ll both be so wrapped up in finding ways to make it work that you won’t be as polarized.
The rule is: Until both of you are wholeheartedly in support of the whole package… NOTHING HAPPENS.
You stick with the exploration and negotiation, and you keep it pleasant, safe, and courteous. Why? Well, you don’t want to hurt your spouse for one thing, but also you aren’t going to get a blessed thing until you reach an enthusiastic agreement. It’s in your best interest.
Don’t feel like putting a smile on your face and playing nicely? Do it anyway. I would imagine you can see the pitfalls of being snarley at work. It’s even more true at home, and the final outcome is far more important.
What do you do if you’re on the receiving end of a demand? You deny it. Every time. Even if what is being demanded is something you would love to do if it were asked for politely. A gentle way to do that is to ask, (with the obligatory smile and pleasant voice), “Are you asking me to do that?” Or, “Is that a request?” This lets the other person know they might sound a bit demanding even if they didn’t mean to, and it gives them the opportunity to rephrase it. It also reminds both of you that insisting on something will not fly in your marriage.
If it is a request, you absolutely have the right to say no or to negotiate. If you don’t have that right, it’s a demand. To which you MUST say no! Demands exist because they work in the short term. If they stop working, there is no longer any reason to even attempt to use that strategy. Without the reinforcement of getting one’s way at the expense of others, the usefulness of insisting on what we want evaporates. We’ve set the stage for real negotiation.
© Penny R. Tupy 2004