Jill called and said, “I’m frustrated. When I walk into the room, my husband, Nick, just keeps looking at his computer. He doesn’t look up at me. And when I do have conversations with him, he interrupts me. Sometimes he interrupts with his own story. Sometimes he answers a text. Sometimes he joins a conversation that other people are having. But I feel ignored, and I don’t like it.”
“I can easily understand why you wouldn’t like it,” I said, “but this has a solution. I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that Nick is not aware that he’s doing this. He tends to focus on what he wants from moment to moment, and he’s easily distracted, which explains what you just said about him. So if he isn’t aware of what he does, it’s quite possible that simply instructing him about what you need could make a difference. You expect Nick to read your mind, and he’s too unaware and relatively selfish—as most of us are—to do that. You need to tell him what you want more clearly.”
“But I DO tell him. Sometimes I say, ‘Hey, I’m over here.’ Or, ‘You never listen to me.’ But that never works.”
I chuckled. “No, he would hear those expressions as attacks, which they are. You’re criticizing him, instead of simply INFORMING him and making a REQUEST.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In your defense, you’re right, you really don’t understand. So here’s an opportunity for you to learn something too. When you come into the room, you expect Nick to know what you want. That’s not reasonable. Give up that expectation and take responsibility for asking for what you need. You are the one who wants something—you are the WANTER—so it’s your job to get what you want. As I said, there are two steps here: inform and request.”
“How would I do that?”
“If you want Nick’s attention, first inform him. Touch him on the shoulder, or call his name, to inform him that you’re in the room. Then you ask for what you want. You could say, ‘I need to talk to you. Is this a good time?’ And your tone of voice cannot be critical in the slightest. You’re far more likely to get what you want this way. You may not always get what you want, but it will be much more likely.”
A great many of us believe that if another person REALLY loves us, they will provide what we need without our having to ask directly. So we hint, make subtle suggestions, manipulate, and angrily criticize if we don’t get what we want. It is so much more effective to take responsibility for clearly asking for what we want.
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