At the Family Peace Foundation, we aim to share bite-sized morsels of advice to strengthen family connections, build harmony and increase compassion between family members.
This month, much has been written on our website about the importance of being a needs detective for our partner or child. Our blogs have illustrated that behind every criticism, complaint and attack is a need that’s been left painfully unfulfilled.
However, while being a skilled needs detective means reading the needs behind the complaint or attack from our spouse or child, it is equally important to do some self-detective work to translate our own unmet needs into more user-friendly requests.
As we wade through the murky and hurtful haze of discourse and conflict, we tend to default to unhelpful patterns because we haven’t found a way to ask for what we need.
This may be because of fear, lack of skill, unhelpful role modelling, or a combination of all three.
Of course, we can all relate to losing our temper, becoming frustrated and sometimes letting rip at those we love most. But what are we really asking for when we lash out or lose our cool? Let’s explore some common examples of typical statements and questions often exchanged by partners, parents and children and the likely subtext that underpins each unhelpful statement.
Mum: “Why didn’t you pick up the milk? You never do anything to help.”
I need to feel supported like I’m part of a team. I need to feel valued for the planning and consideration I give to family meals. I need your help.
Teenager: “You never let me do what I want. Everyone else’s parents don’t care what time they come home or what they wear.”
I need to feel like I belong at school and like I’m part of the pack. When I feel different, I feel uncomfortable, unsure and embarrassed. I need you to understand I’m feeling vulnerable at school.
Working Parent: “All I do is work and provide without any thanks. Do you reckon there’s a money tree in the yard?”
I need to feel valued for the contribution I make and I would appreciate some gratitude for what I’m doing for my family. I need you to understand I worry for our financial future because I care.
Husband: “You’re always so serious.”
I need to share some lightness and humour to help me feel connected to you.
Wife: “You never listen to me when I’m talking about my work.”
I need to share my experiences with you and to know I matter to you.
Even the family dog isn’t exempt!!
Rover: Barking and digging
I need to run freely to burn off exercise before I can settle quietly when you’re gone all day!
So next time you notice yourself attacking, defending, withdrawing, stonewalling, criticising or perhaps barking and digging…
Stop. Take three deep breathes. Ask yourself, “what do I need at this time?”.
Learn to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements which have a habit of sounding like blame with a capital B.
If you change just one behaviour on your own needs detective journey, practice asking for what you need rather than asking for what you don’t. Then notice how others find it easier to respond with compassion and patience rather than unproductive counter-attacks.