Week 8: Empowered Requests

If something is bothering you or if you need something, how do you bring it up without causing a hostile environment?

In this week's video, Cathryn and Rachel will give you tools and insights around how you can have tough conversations without turning them into combative discussions. It's crucial that you express how you feel to your partner, and knowing how to make your requests known is a critical skill that will help you be your true self to your partner and your relationship.

Share below what you learned about yourself and your partner around empowered requests.


Cathryn (00:03):

Welcome to Week 8 of the Relationship Journal Companion Course. We are now over halfway through and this week's exercise piggybacks off of last week's. So last week, we talked all about conflict and this week we're going to be talking about empowered requests. If something is bothering you in your relationship, it is so important that you discuss it with your partner and you bring it up in a way that will not cause any extra negative conflict or feelings and this is through empowered requests. Uncommunicated needs in a relationship cause silent division and if you allow that to continue to grow, this could lead to huge distance between you and your partner. So this week's exercise will help you understand how to use non-violent communication to make your needs known to your partner in a way that is not threatening to them and is just expressing your need. When you partner this with your understanding of conflict and how your partner processes it, these empowered requests can help bring uncommunicated needs into the light. Alright, let's jump into it.

Cathryn (01:04):

Alright, so the theme this week is how to ask for what you want and express your needs in an empowered way that doesn't make your partner feel in any way negative. Now, the first question which is pretty important is why do people find it so hard to ask for what they want?

Rachel (01:27):

Two reasons in my experience. Number one, we're told it's selfish. So for those of us who are worried about coming off that way, that can stop us from asking for what we want. And number two, it's vulnerable. It is saying I have a need that is not being met and I want this thing and that can be scary if you don't feel safe with the other person. So usually those two things are the biggest reasons you know, thrown under those umbrellas or things like feeling shame or feeling uncomfortable with the request itself, all those things. We're not good at asking for what we need and a lot of it comes from, if you think about being a kid in school with parents, we don't...most of us are not encouraged to advocate for our needs. And so unfortunately, that creates a lot of adults that are not really skilled at advocating for their needs and here we are.

Cathryn (02:29):

Yeah. And I think also another part of it is to be able to express to your partner what you want, you also have to feel like you deserve that thing. And if you, in any way feel undeserving, you'll feel guilty for asking for that and so you want it but you don't feel like you deserve it and so therefore you don't actually ask for it.

Rachel (02:51):

Yeah, yeah. And then even worse, sometimes we'll end up resenting our partner for not giving us the things that we haven't asked for. And that's when we get into like this really yucky territory of like "Yeah, for five years I've been wanting X, Y, and Z." Well, have you asked them? "No, but I'm really mad for the last five years that I haven't gotten it", and that's really hard. That's hard to hear as the other partner too like "You've been wanting a turkey sandwich for five years and you never said, let's stop for a turkey sandwich?" It feels like a betrayal at that point, it feels like someone has been lying to you by omitting their needs.

Cathryn (03:35):

And I think this goes back to what we talked about previously, is just this idea of stop expecting your partner to be able to read your mind and just tell them what you want.

Rachel (03:44):


Cathryn (03:46):

You know, the whole thing like if you don't ask, you won't get and if you don't tell someone what you want, you can't be mad at them for not getting it because you never expressed yourself.

Rachel (03:57):

I tell my clients all the time, uncommunicated expectations rarely get met.

Cathryn (04:01):

So why is it important to be able to express your needs in a relationship?

Rachel (04:10):

Oh man, why isn't it? I mean just like the ordering at Starbucks, if you go up and say "I want coffee" and they give you a Mocha Frappuccino with like a billion jillion different things on it but in your mind you want to drink coffee. You're not going to be happy. You know, we need to be able to express our desires, wants and needs to our partner. It's incredibly important. We need to be able to do it with everybody, frankly. But the way that our society is built out, our romantic partners are probably one of the most important people to meet our needs, to share our needs with, to go to, to fulfill those things.

Cathryn (04:58):

One of the things that comes with the Relationship Journal is a bookmark that actually has the universal needs on it. There are 7 umbrellas of different needs that we have as people with specific things underneath them. Because sometimes we don't even know what our need is. We have a feeling but if we're able to put a name to it and like we said name it then the other person has an actual thing that they can help us with. Instead of like, I have the, you know, it's just like the Starbucks example exactly, it's like if you can't actually acknowledge exactly what it is, then it's very difficult for someone to be able to help you with it. So understanding yourself, understanding what that need, and where it comes from, so that you can tell your partner exactly what it is.

Rachel (05:44):

And this translates into every single area of life. We cannot get what we want unless we know what we want. And, as you so beautifully reminded us, believe that we deserve that thing. You know, it's another ordering example. If you're at a restaurant and you don't say I'm allergic to avocado and avocado typically comes on the sandwich, why would there not be avocado? Like, there's going to be avocado. You have to ask for there not to be avocado. The kitchen doesn't know. Your partner doesn't know either.

Cathryn (06:19):

I'm so glad I'm not allergic to avocado.

Rachel (06:22):


Cathryn (06:22):

Now, we talked about, like, we have to express our needs but why do you...why does the way we ask for what we want, matter in our relationship?

Rachel (06:48):

I'll give you an example as the answer. So I'm going to ask you for something and so you're my partner in one way, I'm going to do it in two different ways, okay? Hey Cathryn, can I talk to you for a sec? So I know that things have been absolutely insane lately, I've been feeling really unloved. I would really love it if we spent 10 minutes every night and just sat together. Is that possible? How does that sound to you?

Cathryn (07:25):

Yeah, totally. We can do that.

Rachel (07:27):

Okay, so that's example one. Example two Cathryn, I need love, I'm not getting love. I need love, I am not feeling loved. Do you understand me? I'm not feeling loved, I need you to love me. You're like "I don't want to love anything about that." When we meet our partners with, "I need this", they're going to want to give it to you, they love you. When we need it, when we meet them with this anger like as though they should have known, as though, you know, as though in this example like "You have wronged me", that's not what's going on. We have to come at it from the same personal responsibility of ordering a drink at Starbucks or ordering our sandwich without the thing we're allergic to. We have to take responsibility for the way that we express that. And just like we wouldn't yell at a server while they're taking our order, we want to be gentle and loving with our partners when we're telling them what we need.

Cathryn (08:45):

That's a great example! What are some ways that you can express difficult things in a way that gets heard and received? And as I ask this question, I think your example was a perfect way of doing that in a way that's not blaming or not solution based, but is there anything else or any other examples you could give for this?

Rachel (09:09):

I think really just naming anything that has been preventing that person from doing it. So, you know, for example, we've been in a pandemic now for a chunk of time, so there have been things that we're not able to do. And acknowledging, "I know we haven't been able to go see a show for two years", you know, is different than "We've been able to when you haven't." So there are contexts that can be acknowledged off the top that will help the other person know, that you know that they're trying. Right? So if you noticed in my example to you, I started with like "I know things have been crazy lately." I'm not saying, I'm not jumping in with "Even though things have been crazy you're still not paying attention to me." It's like let's...no, state of affairs. So really giving, acknowledging something like that off the top is my biggest piece when it comes to asking for what you need.

Cathryn (10:12):

And how as a partner can we become better listeners so that we hear what our partner is really asking for. Because this is, you know, just like we talked about is building a muscle is you might start this and not even, even though we're describing different examples and the book gives these ideas of empowered requests, it's still something you have to practice over time and so another skill that we'll have to develop as a partner is trying to listen to our partners and understand what it is they're trying to tell us if they're not skillful yet in expressing that.

Rachel (10:47):

Yes. So, reflection is the best way to do that and what you can say is "Would it be okay if I reflected you or said back to you what I heard, so I make sure that I understood what you were trying to get across?" And often that's met with yes. And then you can then summarize in your own words, it's not a test, when someone asks you to reflect or like reflecting is encouraged, this is not a comprehension test. It's "Do you understand what I was trying to tell you?" Because like you've said sometimes the person communicating isn't as skilled as they are thinking, or we're feeling so many emotions that it's coming out kind of sideways or shaky, or we're uncomfortable. So, you know, "May I reflect this to you?" And then they say yes and it's like "Okay, what I'm hearing is that while things have been really busy, you're not feeling loved. So it sounds like you're wanting this time at the end of the day to connect. Is that right? Like, did I get that?" And hearing your share back to you is like "Oh, I can breathe, they get it." And that way, both people know before you even leave that conversation that you're understood and I encourage that in any kind of conversation. I even do that with friends like over text, you know, "Okay, so wrap up like this is what's going on, these are action steps, okay bye."

Cathryn (12:24):

Yeah. I think that's a good way to both listen and then make sure that you're not misunderstanding something. One last thing is just around the idea of text. Oftentimes if I'm having any sort of conflict or misunderstanding, texts can be so easy to misconstrue. And so, some rules that I have with my partner and even with friends, is if anything's coming off weird in a text message, is just to get on the phone because oftentimes it's the text or like God forbid you used the wrong emoji, and then there's all this context that you're like "Oh, I didn't mean that at all." And there's been so many misunderstandings and conflict that I've avoided because I have this rule of like "Oh yeah, If anything comes off weird just like call me and we'll figure it out."

Rachel (13:17):

So you're giving other people space to name it. That's what... By saying like "If anything comes off weird, let's hop on the phone." You're basically saying like you constantly have a space to name that something is off and I will meet you in that space.

Cathryn (13:36):


Rachel (13:36):

And that feels so safe for anybody in a relationship with you whether that's romantic friendship, family, whatever it doesn't matter. That's great and that's exactly what space can look like right? We often say holding space, giving space and it's like what is that? And that's a great example of it is that. And one may not think of that, right? Like, you described it as a rule and for me, I hear it as you have space for people. And so it's another great example about how we use different words for different concepts.

Cathryn (14:11):

I don't know where I read this example but it was just how...what's the word? So I think my dad or someone was talking about this idea of emphasizing one word in a sentence can change the complete meaning of it. And there's this one example he said and he was like, and the word the sentence is "I didn't say you were pretty" and you emphasize every single word and it means something completely different. So you could say "*I* didn't say you were pretty" or "I *DIDN'T* say you were pretty", or "I didn't say *YOU* were pretty", "I didn't say you *WERE* pretty", or "I didn't say you were *PRETTY*." Like, basically, every single word you can completely flip the meaning of a sentence. So how many things are being misconstrued over text, where in our minds we're, you know, emphasizing a word that was not emphasized in the person who sent it. So I just wanted to give that example of one tiny little thing that completely changes the meaning of things that we said.

Rachel (15:28):

100%. I love that example. And it's so good because in texts, we're reading through our lens. Like, literally it's going through our filter, we're just reading the text. And so we can put the emphasis in that example wherever we want. And if we're having a bad day, we may put that emphasis on something that is icky when it was not intended to be that way at all.

Cathryn (15:51):

Yeah. So I leave you with that. This whole exercise is about learning how to express what you want, to not have your partner be able to read your mind so that you can get what you want. And your partner is giving you what you want without exhausting themselves trying to make you happy with something that you've never told them in the first place. So I hope you enjoyed this exercise, I hope that you can go into your next conversation, listening better, understand each other better and in the meantime, we will see you next week.

Cathryn (16:22):

Super excited for you this week, you will learn how to express your needs which can seem really hard in the beginning but it's also very rewarding. And don't worry if at the beginning it's really awkward or clunky, or you just feel like you're not used to it. This is a completely new concept so don't expect to be an expert right off the get-go. So jump into Week 8 in your Relationship Journal and we will see you next week.