Do you sometimes find it hard in your family to fulfil everyone’s desires? To negotiate a way for each family member to get what they want?
Perhaps you’d really like to do something together as a family, but another family member has some resistance to doing the thing you’d like to do, and doesn’t feel willing? Or vice versa.
Sometimes, when we ask for something we’d really like, it can be hard to hear “No”. It can be painful to hear that someone else isn’t willing to go along so that we can enjoy that thing with them.
It might trigger old feelings of frustration, anger, sadness or hopelessness, with thoughts like, “I never get what I want”, “Nobody cares what I want”, or “What I want doesn’t matter”.
Sometimes we might feel quite threatened – that we aren’t going to get to do what we want to do, that things aren’t going to go our way – and that can easily lead to defensiveness.
In reaction, we might feel the urge to push or force compliance from other. And this can often lead to conflict, shutdowns, or meltdowns, instead of joyful shared time.
Other times, we might do the opposite, and just give up and drop the idea. But at the back of our minds, we don’t forget, and we might continue to feel resentful or hurt.
I’d like to remind you that there is a third way, in which we honour both our own desires and the other person’s feelings and needs, and the key is to MAKE SPACE FOR THE RESISTANCE (whether it is an adult or a child).
It can really help to meet the person who is saying “No” right where they are, to offer them space to express all of their objections, concerns and fears, and to just listen, simply with a view to understanding how it is for them.
If we, as the listener, start to feel triggered, we can ground ourselves by focussing on our breath for a minute and feeling the sensation of our body on the surface that we are sitting or standing on.
Once the person has felt heard and understood, there is often more space for “problem solving”. In this situation, it can help to consider the question:
“What are you needing, in order for me to have what I want?”
🌟 It may be that the person is needing more INFORMATION about what would be involved
🌟 They might be needing REASSURANCE from you about what it is likely to be like or what is likely to happen
🌟 They might want to know that you will be there with them, offering SUPPORT if they need it
🌟 They might need to know what you are willing to do to make it FUN for them too
🌟 They might be wanting RECIPROCITY, to know that they will get one of their desires fulfilled in return
🌟 Or maybe just having your UNDERSTANDING about how they are feeling about it might be enough
As an example, last year, my husband really wanted to do a trip to the snow. I wasn’t comfortable to say “Yes” immediately, as I had a lot of concerns come up. I took some time to write them all down, then I asked my husband if he would listen without interruption, judgement or trying to “fix”.
And he did. He listened to each and every one of the 10 (!) reservations I had. And, in fact, he even resonated with some of them. And after I felt heard and understood, after I had a bit more information about what was involved, and also felt his willingness to support me, I was willing to go.
So, next time you ask for what you want and hear “No”, remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean “No way!” or “Not ever!”. It might just mean, “Not yet”, “Not under these circumstances” or “Not without something else I’m needing”.
Many times, with some dedicated listening, the initial resistance that a family member has to another’s idea can be dissolved, and it will be possible to negotiate a way forward to meet everyone’s needs.