How can I ask for what I need?

This week, Works-for-Me Wednesday is a backwards edition: Contributors are asked to post a question about something that isn’t working, and readers can then comment on what works for them. Here’s an issue that’s been perplexing me:

Too often, especially when talking to my family (partner Daniel and five-year-old son Nicholas), I realize that a discussion has gone badly because I started out explaining what I don’t want and why, instead of explaining what I do want or need. It’s as if I assume that everyone else will want the thing I don’t want and try to force it on me. There’s also some kind of screwed-up idea of being humble about my own needs and offering to do everything for everybody yet inwardly hoping that they will save me by offering to do things for me and that will be so much more luxurious if it wasn’t my idea . . . but it rarely works out that way!

Recognizing this problematic pattern has not helped me come to a solution. It just isn’t as simple as deciding not to do it! My thoughts tend to stack up very quickly in an “I’ll have to make all this work because nobody will help me but I don’t have time and it’s all going to go badly and if I ask and they say no I’ll just feel more burdened so I have to explain why they can’t say no but they’ll probably say no anyway” kind of way, so I am anxious and discouraged before I even raise the issue, and (because I am anxious and have been over-thinking it) I tend to go on and on about what won’t work before even giving the other people a chance to think about the options!

This is no good. I want to stop it. How do I stop? What quick redirecting thoughts, step-by-step self-controlling techniques, etc., work for you?

Here’s a specific example:
The situation: The Monday before Easter, I was the speaker in a church service that started at about the same time I normally ride past the church on the bus on my way home from work after picking up Nicholas.  No food would be served at church, so we needed to eat supper or at least a snack before we got there.  I needed to be in a calm, collected frame of mind so I could speak confidently and keep my mind on it.
What I hoped would happen: I would eat at work and then go straight from work to church; by going directly to the bus, instead of walking to preschool and catching a bus from there to the other bus, I would arrive early and have time to get ready.  Daniel would pick up Nicholas early enough to have time to eat, they’d come to church, and Daniel would supervise Nicholas throughout the service so I could keep my frame of mind.
What I feared would happen: I would have to work this in with all of my usual responsibilities; Daniel would have some excuse for being completely uninvolved.  Nicholas would dally leaving school, one or both buses would be late, we’d have to scarf down sandwiches while standing on the curb, he’d annoy me with whining and questions and slowness all the way to church, and he’d misbehave in church or need to be taken to the restroom just as I was supposed to speak.  We’d be hungry and disheveled and frantic and late, and if I didn’t actually miss my time to speak, I’d be so flustered that it would go horribly.
How I addressed the issue: I told Daniel the date and time of this service as soon as I knew, but we did not discuss the logistics of the evening until the night before.  I said something like, “We need to figure out our plans for tomorrow night,” and launched into a detailed explanation of why picking up Nicholas and getting to church by bus would be difficult for me.  Nicholas suggested that I drive the car, so then I went on and on about the hassles of finding parking, the possibility of getting stuck in traffic, etc.  Daniel tells me I spoke in an increasingly rapid and panicked tone, letting them speak only if they interrupted me, for more than ten minutes.  My feeling that everything would go wrong increased while I was doing this.  When I finally paused, Daniel was pretty annoyed with me,but he soon said something like, “You keep telling us why it won’t work.  Is there something else that you think will work?” and I reluctantly admitted that I hoped he would help me but figured he or Nicholas would have some objection to that.
What actually happened: Daniel did exactly what I wanted him to do.  Alone, I arrived at church with plenty of time to spare.  Everything went smoothly that evening.  What is not smooth is everyone’s feelings about how I turned this issue into a problem instead of just stating what I needed from them.

So, tell me, people of the Internet: How do you sense when you’re doing this, how do you make yourself stop, and what do you do instead?

NEW INSIGHT ON THIS TOPIC: A month later, my friend Andy Looney linked to this article “Are You an Asker or a Guesser?” which partially explains my problem.  I won’t say that I am overall a Guesser (for example, in the discussion of how to handle a request for hospitality that inspired the article, I think it was fine for the person to ask and she deserves a straight answer), but I certainly recognize the Guesser psychology at work in me, not just in my tendency to avoid asking for what I need hoping people will guess but also in my tendency to interpret other people’s requests as commands.  Also, a whole branch of my family is recovering from a lengthy convulsion over an Asking vs. Guessing conflict regarding hospitality, so it’s interesting to see each of our points of view expressed by strangers in this discussion!

16 thoughts on “How can I ask for what I need?

  1. hi. my name is milissa and i’m a worriere. i can’t help it. maybe it’s in your nature too. anyhoo, my suggestion is maybe you should keep a “worry” journal. i have found once i write it all down without worry or stress of what other people will think, i can then move onto problem solving mode. it also allows me to see than many times, i am worried about things that will not come to fruition. i can’t stop myself from worrying, but my worry journal certainly helps me manage it. maybe that will help you too. good luck!

  2. Hello there, I am stopping by from Works for Me Wednesday!

    I really like how open you are on your blog. Thanks for sharing! It is refreshing to see someone blog who doesn’t portray her life as all perfect, all the time.

    I have to say, I used to be guilty of doing the very same thing. Only when we let go of controlling every single situation can we overcome this.

    “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

    -Philippians 4:6

    While you are hopping around checking out other entries stop on over and visit me at Free 2 Be Frugal.


  3. My wife and I have lived together less than two years, and I lived on my own for 10 years before that, so I have a tendency to try to do things on my own when I should ask for help. I also lived without a car for those 10 years, so I’m not used to the challenges of sharing a car with another person… I often assume I can’t use the car when I could, or (occasionally) vice versa.

    The saving grace is that my wife comes from a large family where helping each other with day-to-day logistics is par for the course. Example: I need to rent a car so I can go out of town for a few weeks without leaving my wife stranded. Her parents have a spare car right now, so we figured she would drive me to their place (3.5 hours away), we’d stay the night, and then she’d drive home in the morning while I went on my way. Trouble is, the day I need to leave, her work schedule won’t allow her a late morning. When she found out I’d scheduled my departure at an inconvenient time, she started crying (it’s been a stressful semester), but we figured we’d find a solution before the time arrived. Within an hour her brother had volunteered to bring the car down a day or two before, and I’ll drive him home as I start my trip. Problem solved, less stress for everyone, plus we get a visit from her brother!

    Regarding your particular situation, ‘Becca, it occurs to me that you and Daniel are both into strategy games. Maybe rather than framing these logistics as problems or even challenges, you could frame them as puzzles. That might inspire more creative thinking as well as more enthusiastic cooperation.

  4. I always seem to go about it the hard way too. My problem is that I forget to ask people for a favour until the evening before and then I feel like I’m imposing so much that often I just don’t even ask, and then I regret it because instead of going out and doing what I wanted to do, I end up staying at home with my daughter because I didn’t ask anyone to babysit.
    I’m trying to work on asking as early as possible.

    My suggestion would be to start your conversation with “I wonder if it would be possible for you to….” pick up Nicholas, etc… Then PAUSE. Let him think about it and if he says he might not be able to, then you jump in with your reasons why it is necessary.

    Ask him to do it – let him think about it (briefly) – and then explain your reasons if needed.

  5. Wow, I think you are well on your way in that you are objectively recognizing the problem {at least in hind site}.

    I sometimes do this very same thing which stresses me out and frustrates my husband. What {seems} to be working for us is that I enlisted the help of my husband. When I start wrong, he calls me on it and reminds me to just start with what I need.

    Thanks for swinging by my site and your helpful response to my dilemma 🙂

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