Lawyering for Your Needs
Have you ever heard yourself or someone else express their needs as though they were making a case to the judge? It might sound something like this:
“I talked to my friends and they all said you’re being ridiculous. Besides I pay more money than you so I have a right to move things around without asking you. You are the one who decided to paint the bathroom so I . . . “
In this example, there is the sense of “I’m right” and just underneath “I’m right” is “it’s okay for me to have feelings and needs.” This example is, perhaps, a bit obvious. Often times in my work with couples I hear more subtle versions. The person speaks in an even tone and says something like this:
“I am wanting you to just listen. As I go through this difficult time I want to be able just to express my pain and I don’t think I do it that often. I mean there are plenty of times when I listen to you and your struggles with finding work and having interviews and all those things. I think it is okay for me to say what’s going on for me. This is my experience right now. I listen to you. You know the other night when …”
In this example, the speaker is making a case for the need for empathy and being heard. What happens for the listener in this situation is they have the experience of being “talked at” rather than “talked to”. The listener not only loses connection to the speaker’s needs, they also internally begin to prepare their own case. Before you know it the conversation escalates into an argument.
The speaker in the second example could have been heard more deeply by stopping after the first sentence and than adding a specific request, like this:
“I am wanting you to just listen. When I talk about the pain of this health challenge. I am just wanting to hear you say ‘Yea, it’s hard. Uh, huh.’ Or just nod your head to let me know you hear me. Is this something you are up for doing?”
Perhaps the speaker’s partner answers in the affirmative and yet there is a sense of resistence or hesitation in their face. Seeing this the speaker follows up with: “I am hearing you say yes, and I am guessing there is something coming up for you about this. Would you be willing to tell me what’s coming up for you?”
Part of taking care of and honoring your needs is getting clear that when others offer to contribute to your needs they are doing it from the heart, not from a sense of obligation, fear, guilt or desire to win approval. It is tempting to take any “yes” you can get and move on before the other person changes their mind. Unfortunately a “yes” given out obligation results in more unmet needs in the long run (anger, resentment, scorecard keeping).
Three things help in keeping you from getting caught in the dynamic of “lawyering for your needs”. One is clarity about what the need is and how it can be met.
Two is a deep confidence that if this person does not want to contribute to meeting this need of yours, you can meet your need in another way.
Three is your ability to hear “no” to your request as an invitation to connect rather than rejection or that the other is selfish, inconsiderate, etc.
Challenge yourself to make a two sentence request each day this week. The first sentence clearly states the context, feeling, and need. The second sentence contains a simple concrete, do-able request.