Let’s address an age-old question that I’m frequently asked from clients: how do I get people to do what I want them to do? Whether it’s our child, our coworker, friends, or partners, it’s something we have to learn over the course of our lifetime. Now, some people don’t see it that way and choose not to—but it’s something that makes our lives more functional. So, if you’d like to learn more, I’m offering four straightforward methods that work in my life and in the work I do with couples.
Make Agreements and Establish an Accountability Culture
What are you and your partner about? Are you committed to actually fulfilling clearly stated goals and agreements together? This could look like agreeing to have fun (whatever that looks like to you) once a week—and committing by doing the subsequent actions to make that possible.
In terms of getting your partner to do what you want them to do, you both have to be in a culture that sets the precedent that you will do things for each other. There needs to be an established value around doing what you say you’re going to do for each other. So, when you do something for them, they’re encouraged to do something for you because you’ve set a standard of reciprocation. It’s a foundational advantage—everybody benefits.
Periodically, my wife will ask me to pick something up from the next city over. Obviously, I don’t want to set my day back a couple of hours, but I do it because I know she’d do the same for me—and that’s how I make sure that she’ll do something that I want her to do when I need something.
When establishing this culture, there’s a necessity to repair when we don’t follow through in an agreement. We’re human and we make mistakes. That being said we still need to hold ourselves and others compassionately accountable. Accountability doesn’t feel good, but in order for a relational culture (of all types) to be functional, there has to be accountability—and all parties involved have to learn how to be accountable for their actions. For example: if I fail to pick that craiglist shelf up for my wife I need to own it and hold myself accountable. To do this, I move quickly into “repair” and acknowledge that I made a mistake. It would be easy for me to complain about having my day set back or dismiss her request by asking “do we really need that anyway?”. Both of these responses undermine the culture of accountability. If I said I was going to do it, I’m going to do it. If I don’t do it, I’m going to make sure that I do it as soon as possible.
We all approach our relationships differently, but there is no room for unquestioned entitlement. It’s natural to question why you feel that your partner, child, or friend doesn’t do enough for you—but you also have to be able to approach the relationship with a sense of self-reflection. Are you doing enough for them? Are you listening to what is really important to them and following through proactively?
When your partner expresses that they, for example, would like to start the day off with no dirty dishes—are you doing the dishes the evening before, or are you being dismissive? Whether we find it important or not, we have to be able to look at the scope of shared responsibilities as objectively as possible. The things that you want them to do are things they probably don’t want to do—if they’re not already doing them (like dishes.) By contributing to the culture with generosity, it encourages people in your life to respond with generosity. While it may seem simple, you’d be surprised how much lack of generosity there is in many relationships.
Making Clear Requests
Be clear about your expectations and desires. It’s amazing to see how many people are stuck on this. When I tell couples to slow down, I notice that a partner is having a hard time actually asking what they want—because it’s vulnerable to be explicit. Oftentimes, we hide behind generality. Saying things like “I want you to show me more appreciation” is valid, but detail clearly what you want to be appreciated for. Then, we can see what gets in the way of receiving that very appreciation that’s absent in the relationship. Sometimes the partner doesn’t even know how to express what kind of appreciation they want. Maybe they want you to show your appreciation through affection, or maybe they want you to just write it on a note—the important thing is that the appreciation or any request is being clearly communicated and is actionable.
Practicing the Power of Positive Reinforcement
Remember that rewards don’t follow one specific format; they can be creative. A reward for your partner doesn’t always look like the kind of reward you’d give your friend, child, or colleague. Consider what they like. Generally, people don’t want to do things unless there’s an incentive beyond simply getting it done. So, think about it. Step out of the notion that other people should just do the things that you think they should do. If your partner does something kind, celebrate them instead of being dismissive.