Dr. Lisa Regev
*How to get your partner to do what you want
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Let’s face it, at least most of us would like our partner to agree with us about childrearing or money or at least take out the trash. Wouldn’t it be great if there were things you could do to get more cooperation and agreement? Surprise, there are! However, these are not secret mind-control tricks. The following tips are ways that you can reorient to your partner, nurture the relationship, and build a culture of cooperation. 1. Be clear and specific in your requests. When you ask your partner to “be respectful” or “clean up,” they should know what you are talking about, right? Actually, the answer is to this question is often no. One of the biggest sources of arguments in couples involves misunderstandings based on assumptions and vague conversations. Do your part by being clear, precise, and specific. Avoid laundry-list complaints about the past and request specific behaviors (like “Can you please finish the dishes before the end of the evening tonight?”), rather than general statements about how things should be (“this place is always a mess, I want you to get everything cleaned up“). 2. Negotiate based on your underlying interests rather than a specific position. Interest-based negotiation is a concept used by business negotiators to help secure agreements. This strategy can be used beneficially in relationships too. The idea is that if you can be aware of your underlying interests, there will be more opportunity for you to find an acceptable solution then if you stick to a zero-sum position. For example, let’s say you are upset because your spouse spends so much time watching TV. Before confronting your spouse about it, you can self-reflect about the source of your frustration. Is it because TV watching seems to be at the expense of meaningful time with you? If so, you can approach your spouse with a request to find more opportunities for time together. This scenario provides more options for agreement than if you are insistent that your spouse stop watching TV.
3. Share your underlying feelings with “I” statements. When expressing a concern, it is often much more effective to start with “I feel…” rather than “you always…” or “you never...” When you start with your feelings, you are helping your partner understand the context of your request, which can help them empathize with you. Also, you avoid the blame implied in accusatory “you” statements. Accusatory “you” statements are the most efficient way to stoke your partner’s defensiveness, which is the arch-nemesis of a satisfying resolution. The classic “I” statement format is: “When (specific event) happens, I feel (specific feeling word). I’d like it if we could (specific request for future behavior).” An example is “when I come home from a long day and the kitchen is dirty on your day to clean it, I feel frustrated. I am hoping that in the future you can finish washing the dishes right after dinner.” 4. Be grateful. It the midst of prolonged relationship conflict, it is hard to see that anything is going right. And in fact, looking for “silver linings” can seem like a distraction from the struggle to get your way. However, trying to identify things in the relationship that are going well actually has two large benefits. First, giving your partner positive feedback and compliments help create a culture of appreciation. And it is that culture that motivates partners to do for each other. When your partner knows that he or she will be appreciated, it feels good to do for you. Second, being grateful on a regular basis may help change your perspective from “my partner never does anything for me,” to “my partner does a lot for me” because you are taking mental notes of the things they are doing for you rather than the things they are not doing. Give it a try for 3-4 weeks and see if that’s true for you. 5. Do for your partner. Often times, we are so focused on getting our partner to comply with our wishes that we neglect to think about their perception of fairness. There is a decent chance that your partner is also feeling like they are giving way more than their fair share. Acts of kindness toward your partner can send a powerful message and may just trigger some reciprocal generosity. Try not to keep score in the process because that can sabotage the culture of appreciation you are trying to cultivate. So there you have it. Five tips to help you get what you want from your partner. Turns out the key to getting what you want is more within your control than you realize. Making shifts on how you approach your partner and the relationship can have a large impact on enhancing your satisfaction in the relationship. It may not be easy to execute so be patient with yourself and take it one step at a time.
*This blog is written for educational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed as therapy or a therapeutic relationship.