As I was taking my son to school, I mentioned that his dad would be picking up a phone for him and his twin brother to be able to call me to pick them up from their activities.  Beaming, he asked, “What kind of phone?” Knowing that he was hoping for an iPhone 6, I responded “I don’t know. The one like dad just bought for himself.” A little discouragement came over him, but he brightened up again and asked, “Well, you are getting two phones, right?” There will be one for each of us?” “No,” I said…”one to share.”

That did it!  The look on my son’s face went from excited to upset, bordering on ‘I hate the parents’. “You know I need a phone to myself, right? I, mean, I need to personalize it for myself and anyway, we shouldn’t have to see each other’s private conversations. There’s no way we should be sharing a phone!”

“Tom, do you really NEED it or do you just want it? And before you answer, let’s review. Do you need food? How about water, clothing and shelter? Now, is having your own phone really in that category?” My son slumped down in his seat and sulked for a moment. Then he popped up and proclaimed, “No I don’t need one, but I really would love it if you could make it happen,” he said with a smile and a wink.

We discussed budgets and age appropriateness for the rest of the ride, but after I dropped him off, I realized how many times I hear my couples demand something from the other on the basis of the “I Need” theory.

The ‘I Need’ theory is a form of manipulation to get others to do what we want. It isn’t really based on fact, but it can feel that intense when we feel unloved, invalidated or in my son’s case, uncool.  When I work with couples, either those who are trying to survive their relationship or those who have committed to divorce, I hear the ‘I Need’ theory loud and clear. “I need you to take the kids more often.” “I need more money from you.”  “I need you to show me more respect!” “I need you to tell me where you were.”  “I need you to do more work around here.”  “I need you to stop drinking.”

Often when partners hear the ‘I needs’ from the other, they become afraid of not living up to expectations or delivering the desired results. It can feel strangulating and create a “no win” situation.

Translating those “I needs” into more palatable and responsible wants, is one way to be more easily heard and produce results that help us feel better about the relationship. Often when we change how we communicate, our partners relax and communicate in return.  It can bring amazing results.

Instead of, “I need you to stay home more often. Are you having an affair?” Try, “I feel lonely when you are out every night. I really want you to spend time with me because I enjoy your company.” Instead of, “I need you to help with finances. I didn’t sign up for this!” Try, “I would really appreciate it if you would spend time with me on the finances. I know I took over the responsibility but I am feeling overwhelmed right now and could use your help.”

Try it and see what happens.

~Wendy Pegan, Relationship Builder

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