Most of us are well aware of the correlation between the quality of our relationships and our level of overall well being. When our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, or partners are in poor health, we experience suffering. Our relationships, like our bodies and our minds, require ongoing maintenance to thrive. Luckily, there are two key practices that can support you in maximizing joy in your relationships: Praise + Requests.
Let’s start with praise…
Praise is verbal acknowledgment that expresses approval, gratitude or admiration. Praise is an energetic deposit into an emotional bank account between two people. The most beautiful thing about praise is that it is doubly beneficial; praise increases positive emotions for the recipient and the person giving the praise! For example, when you praise your partner for cooking a delicious meal, they feel good for being appreciated, and you are reminded that you chose a partner that is thoughtful and you feel good about yourself for making that choice.
The more the merrier! Praise should be done on a regular basis. When you make a habit out of praising others, you are making consistent deposits of positive energy into your relationship bank accounts. In the event that you need to make a withdrawal (i.e. make a request), you will have an abundant reserve and the relationship will remain vital.
What is a request?
So what is a request and why is it an important relationship skill? A request is the art of asking for something that you want from another person in a way that is honest and kind, and has no emotional consequence. A request is not a demand. When you ask for something, and get upset if the answer is no, you are making a demand. A request is different; the other person is free to say yes, no or suggest a compromise without the threat of an emotional upset.
A request also needs to be positive, concrete and specific. Telling your partner that you don’t like it when he or she is irritable is not a request. Ask for what you do want instead. In addition, make sure that what you want is concrete so that the other person can easily take action. For example, if you ask for your partner to “be more loving,” they likely have a different understanding of what it means to act lovingly. First, spend time getting clear on what loving behavior looks like to you, and ask for that. The more specific the request is, the better. If you decide that you want your partner to kiss you “more often,” get clear on exactly how often. Here is an example of a positive, concrete and specific request: “It would make me really happy if you would give me a kiss everyday when you come home from work.” Your partner is then free to say whether or not that works for them, and your response is neutral.
When you find yourself upset with another person, the odds are that there is a request that you are not making. This unspoken desire can lead to complaining and criticizing which are behaviors that can rapidly lead to energetic bankruptcy. Are you frustrated with how your friend consistently shows up late when you have plans? Rather than complain about how your friend is often late, make a request that your friend arrive on time the next time you plan to meet. This removes the opportunity for criticism, increases understanding, and removes the potential for increasing resentment.
It is important to keep in mind that a request is best delivered when there is no emotional charge. Especially in the most intimate relationships, hurt feelings can create heightened emotions. In order to make a true request, first diffuse the intensity of the emotions involved. You can neutralize the emotional charge by journaling, going for a run, talking to a trusted friend, or practicing meditation. There are countless ways this can be done, so find what works best to allow you to approach a request with clarity and kindness.
Ideally, when delivering a request, infuse positivity into the relationship at the same time by adding praise! You can begin with praise, make your request, and follow up with praise. The ratio with which you offer praise and make requests throughout the lifetime of a relationship should be at least 3:1. For every request you make, there should be at least 3 praises deposited into the account. This practice will ensure that there is always a positive balance and no overdrafts.
Although we cannot control other people’s behavior, we can certainly control whether or not we communicate our needs with requests, and nurture our relationships with consistent praise. When we shift our focus to what we can control, we are empowered to create and care for relationships with intention. As a result, we can live happier, healthier, more balanced lives.
A special thanks to Robert Birnberg for his revolutionary teachings on yoga and relationships, as well as my teacher Katie Allen for supporting the integration of this wisdom into my daily life.