In relationships and on the road, when you are feeling stuck in irritation and complaining, there’s an alternative. You can make a request. American drivers have a strange behavior pattern. When someone wants the car in front of them to speed up or pull over, they often start tailgating the slower driver – at a […]
In relationships and on the road, when you are feeling stuck in irritation and complaining, there’s an alternative. You can make a request.
American drivers have a strange behavior pattern. When someone wants the car in front of them to speed up or pull over, they often start tailgating the slower driver – at a dangerously small distance behind the slow car.
We feel that the slow driver holds control over us. We feel trapped and then outraged.
But sometimes we actually aren’t trapped. If the slow-driver is simply distracted, we have the power to get their attention. We can communicate our wishes with some short honks of the horn.
If we don’t make our needs known with some short honks, we get resentful and act out by tailgating – which can lead to a multiple car pile-up.
The avoidance of direct communication can be costly.
Maybe every time your mother-in-law Ann stops by, she makes little critical comments about the cleanliness or organization of your home. You notice that you are dreading seeing her.
You feel pissed and stuck with putting up with this because she’s family and you need to respect your elders. You silence yourself, thinking that’s the best thing you can do, so that you don’t lose your cool and yell at her.
When we silence ourselves, a part of us gets extra pissed or irritable.
The good news is that you aren’t stuck. Sometimes we have plenty of power to change the situation – if we choose to use it.
A simple request can nip this behavior in the bud. The next time you and Ann are alone in the kitchen, you mention to her that you take her opinion to heart. And you have noticed that she can make critical comments about your home. You tell her it hurts. You say that you know she cares about you. Then you ask if it would be OK for her to catch herself and stop the pattern of making negative comments.
Is she going to respond well? Maybe. She might hug you and apologize. Or have an initial upset and then respond well. Or she might be awful, and that would be good information that you need to take a major step back from her.
But because you used your voice and made a direct request, you will likely feel better.
Or maybe you find yourself complaining to your best friend a lot about how you feel blown off by your boyfriend. You tell her that he doesn’t initiate any date nights or romantic moments with you. Your relationship is feeling more like housemates than romantic partners.
Complaining can be a way to blow enough steam that you can stay in your current situation rather than risk initiating a change through direct communication.
You decide to stop complaining and make a simple request. You ask him to surprise you with some date nights because you would like some alone time together.
He tells you that he has been so busy that he hadn’t realized how distant things had become. That Saturday you both have a great time at a fun restaurant and some good cuddle time. That one request you made ended up benefiting you and the whole relationship.
Simple requests skip over the whole blame game and jump right to constructive change. When you make a non-blaming request, you are sending a message that you think the other person is workable and capable of changing.
Now I know that not all relationship challenges are going to be resolved by making simple requests, but it’s surprising how well it can go.
Judy O’Neill, MSW
Helping you get unstuck and struggle less…