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  • Steven Sutton, LCSW

State Things in the Affirmative Part #3

Our minds usually think in the negative. Ask someone what they want and they’re likely to tell you first what they don’t want. When we’re stuck in relationship it can help to force our thoughts into the affirmative by saying what do we want even when it’s challenging to do so. The next time you’re frustrated with your partner, ask yourself what you want. Notice that the first thought that comes to mind will sound something like this:

“I want them to stop…"

“I don’t want to feel like…"

“I don’t want to be the only one who…"

All of those statements are describing what you do NOT want rather than what you do. They’re also likely to trigger a reflex of defensiveness in your partner and start a low quality conversation. Take each statement you make about what you don’t want and ask yourself, “Ok, if that’s what I don’t want, what is it that I do want?” You may find that being clear about what you want is more difficult than it sounds. Don’t worry it’s worth it! If you’re having some difficulty try asking yourself, “If this were a great relationship for me, what would be happening?” Answer that question in relation to the issue you’re thinking about. Get to the details. Describe to yourself the experiences you would be having and what actions or behaviors you and your partner would be doing. Take it beyond how you would feel and get into the weeds with what would actually be happening.

Next, experiment with taking your specific partner out of it. The answer can fit into a sentence that starts with, “I want to be in a relationship with a person who…,” or “A great relationship for me is one where we…” Notice you’re focused on yourself and not your partner’s shortcomings. You’re making space for them to listen to you, see who you are, and you’re reducing the likelihood of a defensive reaction. The best part about stating things in the affirmative is that it creates a starting point to explore the potential of the relationship. Now that it’s clear what you want, you can move on to exploring how interested your partner is in something similar. It can be the beginning to a conversation about what it would take to have more of the experience that sounds great to both of you. That can be the pathway to a high quality conversation rather than the same old arguments.

Talking about what we want is full of potential while telling someone what we don’t want is a dead end. Challenge yourself to identify what you want anytime you notice that you’re saying what you don’t want and you’ll get better at having higher quality conversations. You’ll also help you and your partner get unstuck.

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