Making a Behavior Change Request

Note: This is the second of a two-part series.

Want to control your impulse to criticize or complain about your intimate partner?  More importantly, would you be interested in having your partner consistently meet more of your needs, wants and desires?  Try making a behavior change request, which is far more likely than complaining, criticizing or withdrawing to get you what you want.

A behavior change request is a positively phrased, very specific, measurable, doable behavior that we would like from our intimate partner—instead of the behavior that we find so frustrating.  So says Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt in Getting The Love You Want Workbook (Atria Books).

One interesting and unexpected thing about granting your partner’s behavior change request is how it expands and enriches you.  Let’s take two of Hendrix’s and Hunt’s examples:

Allen, as an only child, felt suffocated by his mother’s constant focus of attention on him.  Marni, his partner, grew up in a very large family where all of life was a group activity.  Allen needs much more space and time to himself than Marni is willing to give him.  If Marni were able to give Allen the time alone and space he needs, not only would she be helping Allen heal his childhood wound around his suffocating mother, but she would also heal her own unacknowledged fear of being alone—and recover her own ability to enjoy having time and space to herself.

Louise’s father spent a lot of time away from the family working in order to support them.  Louise has chosen a husband, Mathew, who often puts his work before his home life.  Louise would like Mathew to spend more time with her and give their relationship more priority.  Meeting Louise’s need for more time and energy from him triggers Mathew’s fear of intimacy, as well as cutting his work time and therefore his income.  If Mathew would spend more time with Louise, not only would Louise get the support and attention she craves, but Mathew would rediscover his need for closeness and would heal his fear that no one will take care of him.

In both these examples, granting someone else’s requests will also help heal us and make us more whole.  It forces us to overcome our own resistance and discomfort, since our partner’s needs are often what is most difficult for us to give, which is the very reason why Hendrix and Hunt call the process “stretching.”

Here’s how the process works:  On paper, list a frustration you have with your partner. Then describe what it is you want instead, specifically identifying what you want your partner to do differently.  Then respond to the following questions:  When you (list frustration behavior), I feel…, then I react by…, to hide my fear of… I want (your long-range desire).   Specifically I would like (state the corresponding behavior change request).  Here is Hendrix and Hunt’s example:  “When you ask me a question and then answer it yourself, I feel angry.  Then I react by getting harsh and opinionated to hide my fear of being ignored.  I want to feel heard and valued by you.  When you ask me a question, please wait for me to fully answer it before you respond or state your opinion.  I would like to tell you that I am finished before you start talking.”

Try this.  Asking for a behavior change request doesn’t insure that it will get granted.  But it is an extremely effective way to ask for what you want, and it just might give you the best chance that each of you will respond positively and honor each other’s request.

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