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How to ask your spouse to do (or not do) something without creating conflict



Anna Ashkova - published on 12/07/21

This communication style can help us avoid getting bogged down in domestic drama.

“Get the kids under control,” “Don’t forget to take out the garbage,” “Please empty the dishwasher.” In our daily lives, we often ask our spouse, more or less politely, to do something (or not to do something). These requests aren’t always honored in a timely manner, and sometimes our words have the opposite effect — because they annoy the other person.

The reason given for not heeding the request is often the same: “Stop telling me what to do! I’ll do it when I feel like it.” Mutual recriminations quickly escalate and an argument ends up ruining the day or evening. However, there’s a solution that can help us avoid getting bogged down in domestic drama: It’s called “non-violent communication.”

Observation, feelings, needs, demand

Founded in the 1970s by American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, this communication method helps us to identify our needs and to formulate them properly, thus giving the other person what they need to be more receptive to our request and avoid conflict. The key is to talk in first person (“I”) and not in second person (“you”). And to do this, we have to focus on four key elements: observation, feelings, needs, and a request.

For example, “I’m tired of seeing your shoes in the hallway. Put them away!” becomes “When you leave your shoes in the hallway (observation), I feel exasperated (feeling) because I need our apartment to be tidy (need). I’d like you to put them away, please (request).”

Such a request is more likely to be successful, without causing irritation and argument. But don’t have unrealistic expectations: this doesn’t mean that the other person will do what we ask right away. We have to give them the freedom to heed our request “when they want” (within reason) without making them feel like we’re threatening them or demanding unreasonably. And of course, learning to use this language, which isn’t habitual for us, can take some time. So, be patient … 

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