More on Relationships

I wrote last about Needs, and their value in relationships. However, this idea of meeting the needs of others has within it a kind of a trap.  And this is kind of a subtle part of relationships. It becomes really exciting, as we understand it.

Before I tell you about the dangers of meeting another person’s needs I’d like to apologize in advance because I’m going to start swearing.  What I’ve discovered is that if you are more emotionally involved, the learning sticks.  So by swearing what I’ve discovered is that emotions are often triggered by swearing.  So, again, I apologize in advance in case anybody gets offended. 

Here are my swear words:

  • Should
  • Have to,
  • Duty,
  • Required, and
  • Obligation.

Now, I honestly believe that these words are viler than those 4 letter words you hear in Rap music or on HBO.  These words fall under a category that I called Demands.  Someone is telling you that you “have to” do or be something. 

People seem to struggle with the concept of demands when it comes up. So an example:  “I work 10 hours today, so you ‘Should’ have dinner ready for me when I get home.”  How do you respond to a sentence like that?  You’ve probably heard something like that in your life. So regarding dinner whose need is it? The speaker’s, right? And what is might suggested is that somebody else (you) have to, or should meet my needs.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to guess, because this has been my experience with everybody that I talked to, is that there are only two responses to a demand. To Resent or Rebel.  Often, what a person will do is, comply but they resent it.   They’ll do it grudgingly. The second one is they rebel.  “You know; “Oh Hell No!”

Hearing a demand you resent or rebel. In my experience that’s the only way people respond to a demand. I bet nobody you know, has ever said something to you like “You have to get this done!”   And you said, “Oh, I have to?  Thank you.  What an honor.” Rather, if you’re told you have to do something, you get annoyed.  And, depending on the consequences, you do it with resentment or you rebel.

An example. I had a chain-link fence in the backyard and for my dog and my dog died. So I took the fence down, took the chain links all apart. Put them in a box with all the brackets. And then there are these 10 posts in the ground, 6-foot aluminum poles. And they are stuck in the ground.  So I rock the post back and forth and lift it out of the ground and it’s got a two-foot block of cement on the bottom of the post.  Now, what do I do with that?   I could hacksaw off the cement, but then the post is useless.

I mean, it’s a shortened, 4-foot post, useless for fencing.   Maybe I could chip the cement away. No way.  So what I did was I pulled the 10 poles out of the ground and I laid them on the ground in a nice, neat row across the backyard.  And I left them there, on the ground, for four months. Typical American male. When in doubt, don’t. So, one Saturday morning, my wife gets upset and she says, “Move the damn posts. We can’t mow the yard. We can’t entertain guests. If the meter reader, checking the electric meter, walked around the corner and tripped, we could get sued. It’s an eyesore. Move them!”

Using my new skills for understanding needs I can look back and see that she needed aesthetics, beauty, and safety;  and use of the yard functionality. I have the same needs. The problem was I didn’t have them at 9 a.m. on Saturday when she was asking for it.  It’s Saturday morning, and I want to just kickback. I’ve been going to work for five days, getting up at six-thirty, being at work at 8:00. So Saturday morning is my time to make a pot of tea and watch golf on television and just relax. But what I heard in my head was “you have, to it’s your duty.”

So I went out and moved the posts.  I grabbed that first post, drug it across the yard, down the steps, over to the garage and threw it in the corner. And as I turned around I saw that there’s a scratch on the sidewalk, a scratch all the way back to the stairs. Walking back for the next post I noticed the stairs.  The stairs were 4 cement steps going up to the upper yard. The third step down I realized that I broke a chunk of cement, about 2 inches square, out of the step. Now, I didn’t have a clue on how to fix a cement step, so I know I’m in trouble. And then I walk back into the yard and there is a groove, a valley, all the way across the grass where I drug that block of cement.

All this damage because I was doing the job out of resentment. In psychology, we have a name for this is called passive-aggressive behavior. And the interesting thing about passive-aggressive behavior is, it’s not conscious. I wasn’t consciously trying to make my wife mad. I’m smarter than that. I was just doing it with a pout. I was just doing it resentfully. And it caused all kinds of chaos. The interesting thing about this is that if I would have stopped and thought about it, things might have been different.

Okay, what are the needs going on right now for me? What are my wife’s needs? I could have gone to my wife, said, “look, honey, it’s Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m. what I want to do right now is I want to just kick back, watch some golf, drink my tea, put my feet up, eat a bag of potato chips, whatever. How about if I do it this afternoon?” She would’ve been fine. She’d been waiting for 4 months. She could have easily waited for 4 hours, but I just didn’t think of it.  I actually “should” on myself by not connecting with my needs and it caused all kinds of chaos.

So it’s a wonderful thing to begin to think in terms of what are the needs of the moment because I honestly believe we never give up a need. We just negotiate the timing of the need.

We never give up on need. We just negotiate the time.  My wife needed safety and attractiveness and the use of the yards. I had the same needs. I just didn’t have them at 9:00 a.m.  It would be negotiating that I do it in the afternoon. If I would have said, why don’t we do it together, this afternoon? It might have gone over much better.  Offering to do it together she would love that because she also enjoys doing things together. She loves it when we work on a project together. Everybody could have been happy. Instead, because I wasn’t listening, nobody was happy.

Fascinating to begin to discover that the world has been operating this way all of our lives. But nobody’s been teaching us about it.

to be continued….

Published by Jim Hussey

I am a licensed professional counselor, working in a hospital setting. I have been a meditator and teacher for 47 years, a therapist for 28 years and married for 29 years. My secret vice is golf.

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