Instead of Complaining, Express Your Underlying Desire
"I’m so frustrated!" Jackie vented to me. "Every time my husband and I go out, it’s always me that plans it. Can't he plan something special for us, even if it was just for my birthday or our anniversary? Any time I bring it up he says, 'But you’re so good at it. I trust whatever you come up.’"
We’ve all experienced times when a spouse, co-worker or a friend does something that bothers us, and we're not sure if we should say something or bite our tongue. Keeping quiet isn’t always the answer, as that allows issues to fester and could cause resentment down the line.
There is a productive way to address issues while improving the relationship.
"I Would Love…" Statements
Hidden beneath a complaint is an unmet desire. For example, when I complain, "You never put things away!" underneath is a desire to have an uncluttered space, or to find things more easily.
Nobody likes hearing complaints. Instead, look beneath the complaint to see what you actually desire and then express that desire in a positive manner.
Nobody likes hearing complaints. Instead, look beneath the complaint to see what you actually desire and then express that desire in a positive manner by using "I would love…" statements.
For example, "I would love to be able to find those car keys." Instead of being negative complaint, this opens the door to possibilities. Sometimes when we think of what we want, we can think of the how. Your desire is to be able to find the car keys. What if your husband said to you, "I’ll buy you a key tracker so you’ll always be able to find the car keys right away?" Your desire is being honored!
It’s important to note that there is no "you" in pure desire. Saying, "I would love you to put the car keys back" is just a demand on the other person. When the word "you" is in the desire, we haven’t gotten to the root of what the desire is. What is the end goal that we want?
When we say, "I would love you to put your phone down when I talk", what’s the underlying desire? What will I get if he puts the phone down? The desire is that I want to feel valued or that what I’m saying is worth listening to. So the desire is: "I would love to feel valued."
Jackie was able to shift things in her relationship by identifying her underlying desire and expressing it to her husband.
Going back to Jackie, if she were to explore the pure desire behind her complaint, she would find that it isn’t just that she wants her husband to plan the date. Would it really satisfy her if her husband asked his secretary to book somewhere for them to go? The desire is that she wants to feel special and loved.
Does this mean when we express our desire we will get what we want?
Even if we are expressing our underlying desire and not just addressing the specific situation that we want to resolve, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will get what we want. We have to stay open to how that desire will get met. So, for example in Jackie’s case, first she identified that her underlying desire was to feel valued - and not just to have her husband plan the dates. She then started to see how the things that her husband was doing for her because he valued her, like when he offered to take care of the kids just so that she could get some time to herself and when he would unexpectedly bring her home her favorite coffee.
Jackie was able to shift things in her relationship by identifying her underlying desire and expressing it to her husband, how she would love to feel valued. Once she had taken those steps she was able to see how he valued her in the little things he did for her.
It's a powerful tool to identify the underlying desire you want to be met and express that with an inspiring "I would love" statement. Try it and be open to how your desire could be fulfilled.
Some of the ideas in this article are based on Laura Doyle