“Honey, do you want to open that blanket so the kids can sit down?”
“Uh, not really.”
A few weeks back, I read an amazing post on the Gottman Institute website: “You’re Not Allowed to Complain About Not Getting What You Didn’t Ask For.” The Gottman Institute is (in my humble opinion) one of the best scientific resources for relational happiness. The article was describing differences in the way that men and women ask for what they want, and why our requests seem to fall on deaf ears a majority of the time.
The main issue appeared to be that we women have a tendency to layer our requests in hints, suggestions, and sometimes even reverse psychology, then we complain when our husbands (or kids) fail to do what we want. In reality, kids and husbands don’t pick up on subtlety all that well. When we were at the Fourth of July fireworks and I asked my husband if he wanted to lay out the blanket, he just responded to the question. No, that wasn’t something he wanted to do. Of course, you all know that my question really was “could you lay out that blanket?” but that’s not what I said, and that’s not what I heard.
The article theorized that women ask questions this way because we are afraid of rejection. It’s a lot easier to hear, “No, I don’t want to do that right now” than it is to hear “I won’t do what you are asking me to do,” even if the end result is the same.
It’s an easy enough fix in our families, women just need to get in the habit of making direct requests. And yeah, we will be told “no” and “not right now” and “in a minute” still, but generally speaking, the more precise we are in our language, the more accurately we will be heard.
I spent the better part of a week theorizing how this relates to our prayer life, particularly how we petition God, and it came down to one word:
When we protect ourselves in layers of questions, what it communicates is that we don’t trust the other person — that we are afraid they will selfishly reject our request. With God, of course, He isn’t always going to do what we want, but His “no” is never a selfish one. God’s “no” is always because He has something better in store for us. God has no intention of withholding anything good for us.
We are called as Christians to mirror Christ to the world, and that has to begin at home. One way to mirror Him to our families is to treat requests like He does. If you have to say “no,” let it be not because you’d rather not, but because there is something else that must happen first, or you don’t believe it to be the best decision at the moment.
Spouses, talk to each other about this. Discuss how you can model this kind of trust and true benevolence in your home. Encourage one another not to be afraid of making an honest request. Let your children see how “no” isn’t always a rejection of a person, but it often means, “no, because I have something better for you.”
Right after I asked my husband that question on July 4, I felt pretty dumb, and quickly corrected myself to, “Can you please lay out that blanket?” He gave me a really funny look and said, “Okay … ?” and proceeded to lay it out. That’s likely how this little experiment will continue to go for me at the beginning, but I’m convinced that the more precise and honest I am, the more effective I will be, and the more I will enable my family to mirror Christ, as a Christian family should.
What are some ways, big or small, that you try to encourage your family to mirror Christ?
Copyright 2018 Hilary Thompson