You may remember I was letting you peek into the lives of Cally and Tim. Tim was a busy, focused man and when he needed something from Cally, he would simply give her marching orders. His demeanor, though cold, was not rude, and Cally could not put her finger on why it bothered her. I explained why in my post, Two Simple Secrets of Assertiveness.
I then suggested what she tell Tim to get him to start out nicer, but what I did not discuss in that post was how to get Tim to see Cally as an equal, how to get him to value her work as a mother of very young children.
The No-No of Assertiveness
One thing that must underlie Cally’s conversation is not to try to explain how badly this makes her feel. Do you remember Spok from Star Trek? Presumably, he didn’t comprehend feelings. I am not suggesting that Tim doesn’t have feelings, but what I’ve noticed is that an awful lot of people are far more sympathetic to their own feelings than to those of other people. So if Tim’s friends who need to borrow his drill don’t call up and say, “Hi, how are you?” before spitting out their request and if Tim does not think that’s unusual or cold, then he will not understand why it should be hurtful to Cally. On the other hand, if at work, a colleague maneuvers so as to get a deal that should have been Tim’s, oh boy, will Tim’s feelings be hurt! He will be mad.
See how this works?
And by the way, it is not just a gender thing. The same thing happens between parents and their children as well as with adults and their elderly parents. It happens with bosses and workers and between socio-economic classes. It happens between friends of the same age, gender, and economic bracket, too: My concerns are not your concerns so why should I understand why your concerns concern you?
How then do you get your partner to recognize that although what is important to you is quite different than what is important to him/her, your partner needs to make a shift in perspective?
The Key To a Successful Assertive Conversation
My recommendation is to sit down again for a talk, making an appointment if necessary. Then begin with a recognition that he or she does not have the same priorities as you do and that’s okay. You can say something like this: “You and I don’t see things the same way and that is okay. After all, we’re two different people.”
The reason that statement, as simple as it is, is really important is because it signals that this conversation is not about blame. In fact, if blame is in your mind, chase it away! You won’t get anywhere that way. There will be no cooperation at all.
Then, you can go on to say, “Your work is important. Not only does it pay the bills which is a huge thing, but people identify with their work; they feel their work is part of who they are.”
Of course, if your partner hates his or her work, skip that line. Then continue:
- “Right now, my work is raising two children and caring for all their needs. That work is very complex because it depends a lot on them; I can’t always control it. So, for example, if the baby is not settling down, my time is taken. I would like you to act as though you valued my work as much as you value your own. So, even if you don’t, when we’re talking, I’d like you to use words that sound like you do value my work. Is this possible for you?”
How Vive la Difference Works
I realize that for you to do this will be difficult. After all, why marry someone who doesn’t value what you value? Here’s my answer: Bridging differences of outlook can be part of the fun of a marriage. Instead of thinking of them as problems that you wish you didn’t have, consider thinking of them as interesting. In other words, vive la difference. If your marriage is about sharing who you are rather than fighting over the fact that your spouse doesn’t understand who you are, it changes from something painful into something exciting. Isn’t that how it was when everything was new?
The way I have worded the request creates a win-win. See, your spouse can’t say he or she disagrees with you because you’re explicitly saying that this is the behavior you want regardless of their actual position. And the beauty of it is that if your spouse does follow your request and delivers the appropriate behavior, then over time it will start to feel more normal to him or her.