A friend of mine once told me a joke: He had told a fellow American that he was marrying a German woman (I happen to be a German woman, too). The guy said: “Oh excellent! At least when you make a mistake you will always know right away!”
My friend has a huge sense of humor, and he tells this anecdote with a loving twinkle in his eye, remembering his wife, who has sadly since deceased. Like her, I am quick to point out what is “wrong” and what my American husband “should do”.
Strangely I could never get my husband to appreciate the advantages of my communication style… In fact, instead of inviting him in to meet me and discuss with me, it had the effect of alienating him, and often even shutting him down.
I decided that this was just one more cultural difference, and that we needed to accept and live with. I wasn’t about to give up my love for honesty and directness. He wasn’t about to thank me and feel loved in the face of my next “You should…”.
Until I looked more closely at where that “you should” came from. I was in the middle of my school year in the The Relationship School®, learning about “I statements” and “needs”. And suddenly it hit me that saying “you should” wasn’t direct at all.
There were two words that were much more direct. And far more difficult and rewarding to say.
At the heart of each “you should” was really something I wanted, something I needed. At first I didn’t quite want to believe that, but over time it dawned on me. Each “you should” was related to a need, and I had lots of needs!
It was unsettling.
Then a few months more into my school year, Jayson Gaddis had us speak a sticky sentence: “I am needy”. That sentence tasted unfamiliar. I tried it on a few more times. Embarrassing at first perhaps, and yet, possibly liberating…
And this was the beginning of me using these two new words:
Owning my needs? That’s right.
In fact, here’s a new practice I invite you to try:
Each time I want to say “You should…” I try to stop myself and look a little deeper. Then I say instead: “I need…”
“You should not take me for granted!”…becomes… “I need to know that I matter to you.”
“You should show me more gratitude” …becomes… “I need to feel appreciated.”
“You should learn how to listen better” …becomes… “I need you to listen to me until I feel understood.”
“You should ask me more questions” …becomes… “I need to feel seen and known.”
“You should slow down and relax.” …becomes… “I need to take some space from you right now and be in my own pace.”
“You should be more present when you’re with us” …becomes… “I need to feel you here with me and the kids.”
Saying “I need” has turned my world around. And, little did I know how much my husband enjoys being needed! How much more at home he is in his own house when I relax into what I need instead of trying to control what he does.
And there is more. It works wonders for me, too. Exchanging “I should” with “I need” gives me freedom of choice. It also motivates me by connecting my actions to my goals:
“I should stop eating chocolate.” …becomes… “I need to stop eating this chocolate if I want to sleep well tonight.”
“I should have better time management.” … becomes… “I need to find a way to manage my time better so I can fit in playing table tennis with my son.”
If you try this yourself, you might notice that some of your “I shoulds” dissolve altogether!
Some “I shoulds” are not directly connected to my own needs at all. Instead, I have introjected them from somewhere else.
For example: I should go running three times a week. When I look closely this is what I have ingested from others, and what really feels good for me is bicycling and yoga. If I push myself to run, this works for a few weeks, and then I fail and stop being active, start being frustrated, and make running wrong, or find excuses and ultimately collapse into shame.
The difference is staying true to me, versus twisting my arm and later making my lack of discipline about something or someone else.
Knowing this difference, I am able to drop the “I should” and instead do what is aligned with me. I can choose to do what I want to do, or what I need to do to reach what I want. It is very liberating!
Now when the words “You should” or “I should” come up in my mind, I see it is an opportunity. Each time they emerge, I have a choice to „drop in“ with myself and get to know myself more. Finding the “I need” means reaching for who I am and who I want to become.
Bottom line? My needs light the path to my true self. What about you?