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?
(Note: Originally I wrote this blog in 2016, after taking my first long-term relationship training course.)
I remember the last time I felt completely misunderstood and unseen. Feels really bad, right?
And even worse, it was my husband of 13 years who did not seem to understand me. At all. Until recently, I would have let it go, silently brooded and put my indignation on a growing pile of resentments.
I would have remembered a lover from years ago. The one who really understood me. The one who read poetry, like I do. I would have silently longed for a ghost from the past and endured my “fate”. I would have been thinking about how I would die, and my husband would discover my diaries. All my incredible thoughts would open his eyes and heart, and he would be filled with regret and longing. But then it would be too late…
Remembering this I feel pathetic. But, if I am honest, I did sometimes have such romantic thoughts.
But not this time. Not after 9 months of training as a “love warrior” with The Relationship School®. By now I had some arrows in my quiver. And not only did I know they were there, but the reflex to use them was in my bones (what a good feeling).
“Right now I feel really unseen and misunderstood.” I said.
My husband was getting used to this also. Instead of getting stressed out, and offering his usual “Oh I am sorry,” while quickly putting as much space as possible between us, he slowed down and turned to me, looking me fully in the eye.
“Oh.” he said.
I breathed. God, I felt like shit. I was filled with a mixture of anger, despair and exacerbation. I could feel my heart pounding. It took a lot of effort to return his gaze. My mouth turned dry. How I longed to hit and run! All I could think of was to continue breathing. Part of my mind offered angry retorts: Oh – is that all you have to say?!! I am fucking alone over here!! Another part answered: I hear you, yes, this feels like shit, just breathe. Breathe. This is energy, a wave, let it move through. The previous part offered more profanities. I breathed.
“Hearing you responding nothing but “oh” I feel even more alone. I feel insignificant and uncared for.”
“Oh.” he says again, looking like he is thinking very hard, stressed.
I snort a bitter laugh. I breathe. I can barely contain myself from shaming him, but I know better now.
He gulps. Then he seems to summon all he has: “I do want to understand you. I really do. I feel lost. Where do I start? What could I say, so you would believe me?”
I release a big exhale. My face softens. I can access my heart slowly… “Well, what did you hear thus far…?”
And so we continue talking. My husband staying with me, returning my gaze, leaning in. He has become a love warrior. When my voice gets snide he does not flinch. Or maybe a little. He continues to lean in. He even reflects back what I am saying. He continues to look at me. I talk and talk. He is still not getting it. And he is still here, trying to get my world. My eyes fill with tears and my heart opens wide in one swift unexpected movement.
From bitter to sweet in just a few breaths.
So, here is the one thing that makes or breaks my world in a fight:
Willingness. My husband trying to understand me with all of his heart.
My nervous system is calming down, I feel my brain getting less foggy. My vibe shifts in a way that seems less threatening to my husband. He regains more of his ability to listen and stay with me.
Finally we are moving in a cycle toward connection -– this time our direction is “virtuous” instead on “vicious”: A love cycle instead of a fear cycle.