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LOVERS, Etc., How To Say What You Want To Say

by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Probably the most important benefit of a good confrontation is that it preserves love in a relationship.  This may seem counterintuitive to you.  You may think, This doesn’t make sense.  When I confront someone, they will either get mad or leave the relationship.  This can and does happen.  But the confrontation was not designed to make someone angry or chase him or her away.  In fact, it was designed to do the opposite.

            In the confrontation, people simply face the relationship and deal with an aspect of the connection that needs to be addressed.  The intent is to make the relationship better, to deepen intimacy, and to create more love and respect between two people.

            That is why to be an effective confronter, you need to understand that confrontation works best when it serves love.  Boundary conversations are motivated and driven by love.  They promote the purposes of love.  They enhance a relationship, not end it.

How To Say What You Want

            Peter was sad over his recent breakup with Jan.  He really liked her spunk, energy, and passion for life, and at one point even though they might marry.  I had thought she might be the “one” for him as well, so I was surprised when he told me he had broken up with her.

            “What happened?”  I (Henry) asked.

            “I just couldn’t deal with her demandingness,” he said.  “She wanted everything her way, and she was so pushy.  I thought about a lifetime of that and got a headache thinking about it.  I know I liked her, but in the end, she was just too much.”

            I understood what he meant, because I thought she was pushy too.  I remember thinking that if he married her, he would be a very busy boy.  She made you feel that you needed to dig in.  But I felt for him in the split up.  He was sad and would miss her.

            Not too long after that, he began dating Marla.  At first, he was in absolute heaven.  She was so “easy to get along with, nothing like Jan at all,” he said.  “She is not pushy; she’s up and positive so much of the time.  If feels like I have emerged from winter.”

            About five months later, something happened.  “I broke up with Marla,” he said.  “It just wasn’t working out.”      

            “What happened?” I asked.  “I thought she was the answer to all of your ‘woman’ issues.  Not demanding, not pushy, not controlling.  You were so into her.”

            “I know.  In the beginning, I really liked that she was not like Jan, always wanting something and so demanding.  She was like a breath of fresh air.  But as time went on, I noticed a couple of things.  First, I could never figure out what she wanted.  I would ask her what she wanted to do, or where she wanted to go, or how she felt about something, and she would always defer to me.  Even though that felt good in the beginning, I think I was just gun-shy from Jan.  Over time, I got bored with Marla’s flexibility.  There was something missing.  I don’t know exactly what it was.  Second, I started seeing another part of her that drove me a little batty.”

            “What was that?”

            “I don’t know the right word for it.  Pouty is a little strong.  She wouldn’t really pout, but she would be sad, or quiet, or something.  I would feel like I had done something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.  So I would ask.  At first, she would say, ‘Nothing,’ but I knew better.  So I would have to pull it out of her, and then I would find out that she had wanted me to do something I hadn’t done, or that she was bugged about something she hadn’t told me about.  I felt like I was letting her down, but I couldn’t read her mind.  I was frustrated not knowing when things were okay and when they weren’t.  I think I need someone more upfront with what they are thinking and what they want.

            “Like Jan?” I asked.

            “Oh, no!” he said, startled.  “Maybe, but no.  No.  I don’t really know.”  He looked confused and a little sad.  At that moment, he didn’t have a lot of hope for a good relationship.

To have a relationship that works well, one should first communicate their wants not outwardly, but inwardly.  You should have a “responsibility” talk with yourself before you have a “talk” with another person.  Here are some of the things you will need to do:

  • Own your “want” – be honest with yourself about what you want and be aware that your desire is your responsibility
  • Own the feelings that occur when your desire is not getting met.
  • Choose to communicate and move to let your wants to be known
  • Communicate desire, not demand. Excerpted from the book, Boundaries:  Face To Face.
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