In my first book, Partnership Tools, I discussed in great detail why making requests needs to replace complaining in healthy relationships. Requests focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want, they are solution oriented, focus on the future instead of the past, and, if done well, address behavior, not personality. Many clients of mine were able to successfully replace complaining with making requests and consequently enjoy healthier and more loving relationships. But in some instances requests, even though well presented as requests, not complaints, were heard and reacted to as criticisms.
As an example, let’s consider a client who had repeatedly arrived late for appointments. I might at that point simply request that my client make the effort to arrive on time so that we could have the full time to work together each session. Sometimes my client would feel criticized by me even though I had merely made a request in a matter-of-fact, non-critical tone of voice. This response was very interesting to me and awakened my curiosity. I wondered why people felt criticized when faced with a simple request and what would enable people to hear a request as only a request?
After some consideration, it dawned on me that the crucial context for whether someone will hear a request as merely a request is feeling appreciated. When people feel unappreciated, they easily and often hear any request as a criticism. In contrast, when they feel appreciated, they can easily hear a request as a request that they are free to honor or not.
I immediately began to test this theory out with my clients and in my own life. The results were astounding. My clients came back to my office reporting amazing improvements in their relationships. Along with their partners more easily hearing requests as requests, almost every other aspect of their relationships improved. Their partners became more attentive, more affectionate, more playful and more thoughtful. It worked in almost every case.
I now consider expressing appreciation and acknowledgment the single most powerful tool to improve any relationship.
In my own life, I began to verbally appreciate my wife and two daughters more. Their response was amazing. After my wife wondered who I was and when her real husband would return, she told me that she felt more loved and acknowledged by me. My daughters seemed to be more emotionally available. Surprisingly, I wasn’t saying anything that I hadn’t been thinking all along. The difference was that I was saying it out loud directly to them. The key is verbally expressing your appreciation and acknowledgment to those you love.
The power of appreciation and acknowledgment largely comes from the fact that throughout our lives most of us have not been appreciated and acknowledged as much as we deserved to be. We all have some hurtful memories of not being sufficiently acknowledged for something we did well. Maybe you weren’t acknowledged for doing well in school, taking care of a sibling or trying out for a sports team. Think back now to times in your life when you were not appreciated or acknowledged when you should have been. It is the rare person who does not have at least some memory of this. Many also have memories of being criticized when we didn’t deserve it. These memories are even more painful.
With all these experiences of not having been appreciated when we should have been, finally being appreciated is like water to a thirsty man in the desert sun. Being appreciated changes everything. It is the oil that greases the engine of any relationship. Without it, relationships become dry and difficult and eventually broken. Verbally expressing appreciation and acknowledgment to those you love is the one change you can easily make to dramatically improve every relationship in your life!
You might be wondering, how much is enough? Kind of an interesting question that presupposes you could express too much appreciation and acknowledgment. My advice is to express your appreciation and acknowledgment just short of ad nauseum. If you’re not making them nauseous, keep it coming. Express your appreciation for what they do and what they don’t do. Include the little things, washing the dishes, and the big things, caring for the kids. Periodically, let the people in your life know how important they are to you. Don’t wait until they get sick or go away to college. Never say something you don’t believe and feel. Be authentic. There is plenty that we have thought and felt that we haven’t said to those we love. Focus your attention on what you appreciate and people will live into this, giving you more things to appreciate and acknowledge. And know that what goes around comes around. The more you express your appreciation to others the more they will express it to you.
Imagine the wonderful life you will have living and working with people who feel appreciated by you. A life where those around you will freely consider your requests and, feeling acknowledged by you, want to fulfill your requests. Think of all the love you will have in your life and how much fun you’ll have playing together in relationships where everyone freely expresses their caring and appreciation for each other.
As always, take care and enjoy.