Not long ago, a couple I was seeing came in for help working through conflict about their work schedules and how it impacted their home life. Their conversations sounded something like this:
Him: “I’m working long, stressful days. Why won’t you just give me a break? I get home and you expect me to be ready for a conversation, to help you with dinner, and to get the kids ready for bed. It’s too much!”
Her: “I’m tired too! Do you think it’s easy to juggle the kids, cooking a meal, and working a job? I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a little help around the house and some adult conversation once in a while.”
Do you hear what both of them were doing? They both expressed needs, but in an accusatory, offensive way. At the core, he was asking for some time to decompress after his work day before joining in family time. And she was expressing her need for connection with him, as well as help at dinnertime. Instead of having their needs heard, they turned on attack mode and the heart of their messages was lost.
What if both of them owned up to their part in the problem and asked “what can I give to this relationship?” It might look something more like this:
Him: “I hear you. It must be hard to wrangle two energetic kids at the end of a long work day. I want to help out however you need me. Would you be willing to let me take a few minutes when I get home to cool down and shift gears before I help with dinner? It would help me to set my work stress aside and really focus on our family for the evening.”
Her: “I know you work hard. We’re all so excited to see you when you get home. I’m happy to give you some quiet time after work. Tell me how we can help you do that. I also really want to connect with you and hear about your day, good or bad. Maybe we could tag team – you set the table, I’ll pour the drinks, and we’ll talk as we go?”
In this, both are showing respect as they hear each others’ concerns and validate feelings, and communicate needs in a way that allows for understanding.
When you talk about your needs with your partner, do you demand and accuse? Or do you aim for mutual understanding?