How to Ask Your Partner for a Change

I’m a requester.

I have made more – and more daring – requests of my husband in the 15 years we’ve been together than some partners make in a lifetime. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about making requests that engender change.

Often, my learning has come from making ridiculous requests that would be difficult for anyone to hear, let alone act upon.


But my dogged determination to keep my life and our relationship evolving has sent me back to the drawing board time and again to reconfigure how I was thinking about the change I wanted and how I talked to him about it.

Here's what I learned the hard way that I hlearn by my baaad example:

Approve, Approve, Approve

I have spent tons of time and energy trying to tamp down my desires. When we do that, we have to build up this big head of steam (read: resentment) to ask for anything resembling what we want. It’s almost like we go grumpy to justify asking. And when we go grumpy, we reek of disapproval.

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes (or my partner’s shoes): “Maybe you could take me on a date now and then, huh?” Sneer, sneer. How does it feel to be on the receiving end of that?

Blech. Not very motivating, either, right?

When I realized how much disapproval I was dishing up with my requests, it made perfect sense that my husband tended to do the opposite of what I’d asked. I started giving tons of approval, instead, when I was asking for something different (and even when I wasn’t) and he warmed right up.

Note, please, that I’m not recommending this as a superficial manipulation tactic a la “tell him how terrific he is, then lay your demands on ‘im.” I’m saying go deep: stop disapproving of him. Stop disapproving of yourself while you’re at it.

A tall order? Indeed. Lifechanging? That too.

Where’s the most important place for you to switch from disapproval to approval?

Big Change Starts With One Small Step

I’m a visionary. A future-thinker. The future is often more real to me than the present, and I can see possibilities in great detail. That’s an asset in many situations, and a National-Debt sized liability when it comes to making requests for change.

Whether it’s with myself or my husband (or anyone else for that matter), I’ve learned not to ask for the whole enchilada, but instead to look for the one bean (If you’ll pardon the cheesy metaphor. And the cheesy pun.) that we can start with.

I wanted more sex. Better sex. More emotional intimacy. Deeper spiritual connection. So many things! And talking to him about all that would’ve made his head spin.

Instead, I asked him to watch one 15 minute video with me, about a tool I wanted us to try. I just asked, “will you watch a video with me?”

One bean. What’s your one bean?

Ask for your deepest desire, not what you think you can get

This goes back to the first learning, but also builds on the second. I’ve learned not to tamp down my desires, but instead to dive deeply into them, trusting that they’re guiding both of us forward. That’s not to say that I have to get what I desire, but that the desire itself is a clue, a homing device, to help us set a direction.

We never know where we’ll wind up, but desires can guide our next steps.

Know what screws up their functioning? Short-ordering. Asking for half of what we desire. Or asking for what we think our partner will be into providing.

So don’t do that.

Base your one-bean requests on the real enchiladas you want to build toward, not on the pizza you know your partner’s used to cookin’ up. See the distinction between one-bean (a small, do-able piece) and cookin’ up the wrong dish?

For instance, I used to skip the gym and time with girlfriends when we were dating, thinking I wanted more time with Kurt. But the costs of those sacrifices were too high, and I had to look deeper: what do I really want?

What I really desired in our time together was intensity: laughter, intimacy, sensuality. Not tv time. Not arguing. Not darts at the bar. So I started asking for what I wanted and getting more of that, rather than the “quantity” I’d been settling for, before.

Launch Campaigns, Not Grenades

When you realize you want something different, it can be tempting to blurt. To “launch a grenade” at your partner, with or without ultimatum. A one-time blast of a request. I know them well, having launched many in my day.

None really landed with the pink hearts and Baroque orchestral arrangements I’d intended. They either thudded or exploded, as you might imagine. So I learned, instead of lobbing a “I want you to snuggle me on weekend mornings” or a “we have GOT TO clean out the garage,” to build a gradual, interactive, two-way conversation I call a “campaign.”

A campaign takes place over time.

It starts gently.

It looks for ways to build in-roads, ways to earn the change I wish to see, ways to evolve myself in the process.

I start with a soft question or statement: “If I wanted to get rid of some of the things in the garage, how would you like to see that happen?” Or “Remember a few weeks ago when we snuggled on Saturday morning? I really liked that. It’d be fun to do that again.”

And I know that this isn’t a one-time conversation. It’s going to take time for him to change… and for ME to change.

I do hope my hard-won lessons help you create meaningful, joyful change in your relationship. They have helped me – after the grief of earning them – not only by succeeding in gaining the changes I was asking my love for, but by evolving me in the process. And that’s even better.

If you love love, love loves you too. (that's Bruce Cockburn)

Love love,