This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by John Gray. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Do you feel unfulfilled in your romantic relationship? What can you do to foster relationship fulfillment on both ends: yourself and your partner?
According to John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, the main reason people lack fulfillment in a relationship is that they aren’t expressing their needs effectively. This is especially the case for women because they expect their needs to be heard without having to explicitly state them.
Here is how to foster lasting relationship fulfillment in three steps.
Many couples’ troubles stem from a lack of relationship fulfillment. If you feel unfulfilled in your relationship, it might be because you aren’t asking what for what you need.
Inability to ask is the root cause of a lack of relationship fulfillment on both ends. Men and women both have trouble asking for support from their partner. But women find it even more frustrating to ask for help or support than men do because women want to receive love without having to ask.
Here are some commonly asked questions from women that illustrate women’s reluctance to ask for support:
- Why should I have to ask for help when I don’t ever wait for him to ask me for help?
- Why should I be so appreciative of his help when I’m still doing so much more?
- If he loves me, why doesn’t he offer to help me before I ask him to?
The answer to all of these questions is that men come from a different planet and therefore give and receive love differently. Men typically do not offer help unless asked to do so because they want to respect others’ autonomy.
Asking for support can be challenging—especially for women—but it is key to having fulfillment in a relationship for both men and women.
To foster a lasting sense of fulfillment in a relationship, follow these three steps.
- Step One: Ask for what you’re already getting in a new way.
- Step Two: Ask for more support and accept no for an answer.
- Step Three: Ask for what you want assertively.
Step One: Ask For What You’re Already Getting in a New Way
In order to get more in your relationship, you must first acknowledge what you’re already getting from your partner. Identify the little things that your partner consistently does for you, and practice asking for them in advance. Then show him a lot of appreciation when he completes each task.
This is only step one, so don’t expect him to give you any unsolicited support and don’t ask for anything more than you already get from your partner consistently. This step is about getting your partner used to being asked for help in a non-demanding way. You are reconditioning your partner to say yes to your requests by making him confident that he will be appreciated for his support.
Tips for Asking a Man for Support
The five elements of a good request are:
- Timing: Make sure to ask for something before your partner thinks to do it. And once you ask him, don’t expect him to respond right away.
- Attitude: Make your request in the most positive way you can. Avoid asking in a demanding or resentful tone, or your partner will feel unappreciated before he has even started.
- Brevity: When you make a request, don’t give a list of reasons why you’re asking. The longer the request, the more likely your partner will resist because it will feel like a list of reasons why he must do something. Assume that he will say yes without convincing. This will make him feel trusted.
- Directness: Make sure you are actually making a request, not just stating a problem and expecting your partner to offer a solution. For example, instead of saying “There are a lot of groceries in the car,” you should ask “Would you please help me bring in the groceries?”
- Wording: When you make a request, replace the word “could” with the word “would.” Remember, men from Mars value their abilities. Asking a man if he can or could do something is insulting and irritating to men because men value competence.
Example of an Improved Request
Unsuccessful request: “There are a lot of grocery bags still in the car. I need them if I’m going to make dinner. Could you go get them?”
The problem: This request is too long, has too many justifications, and uses “could.”
Successful request: “Would you please bring in the rest of the groceries from the car?”
Could Vs. Would Requests
Although many people use “could” and “would” interchangeably, they mean and imply different things. “Could” indicates the ability to do something, whereas “would” indicates a willingness to do something.
To many women, a request beginning in “could” sounds more polite and less demanding than one with “would.” But men respond much more positively to “would” requests.
To a man, “could” sounds weak, manipulative, and untrusting. Because a man knows that he could physically complete the task, the request sounds insincere, like his partner is trying to back him into doing something he wouldn’t otherwise do.
Women should think about it this way: How different would it be if your partner said “no, I can’t help you” instead of “no, I won’t help you.” It would be insulting to hear your partner say he “won’t” help, because that is a personal rejection, rather than an inability to support you.
Here are some comments from men about could vs. would requests:
- When my partner says “could you mow the yard?” I take it literally. Of course, I could do it, I am capable of it. When I say that I could do it, it doesn’t feel as though I’m making a promise. But when my partner says “would you mow the yard?” and I say yes, then I am making a promise to actually complete the task.
- When a woman says “could you do this for me?”, I feel free to be honest and say no. But when a woman says “would you please do this for me?”, I get more motivated to try and help.
Step Two: Allow Your Partner to Say “No”
Once you have practiced making existing requests in the right way and showing your appreciation, your partner’s love needs should be fulfilled and he should be ready and willing to increase his ability to offer support. You’re ready to move onto Step Two.
In this step, you purposely ask for support when you can sense that he will say no. Then you accept his rejection with a simple “OK” or “no problem.” You are conditioning your partner to realize that he can say no to a request and still earn your love. This is important, because when men have the freedom to say no, they will be much more likely to say yes.
You should only make requests at this stage if you can comfortably accept no for an answer. Resist the urge to ask for anything that your partner cannot deny you without making you upset. Here are some examples of appropriate requests at this stage:
- Normally, you pick up the kids from school so that your partner doesn’t have to stop what he’s working on. Next time, you ask him “Would you please pick up the kids from school today?” If he says no, with or without a reason, you simply say “OK” and pick them up as usual.
- Normally, you do the dishes after dinner while your partner watches TV. You’ve always wanted to ask him to help, but you know he hates washing dishes and will probably say no. Next time, say “Would you help me do the dishes tonight?” If he says no, graciously say “no problem” and do them yourself as normal.
When your partner says no and you respond with loving acceptance, he will award you points (as described in “How to Score Points With a Man”). Next time, he will be more responsive to you when you make a request because you have made him feel loved. On the other hand, if you don’t make these requests, your partner will never know how often you really need his support.
Step Three: Ask Assertively and Wait for a Yes for Relationship Fulfillment
Once you have practiced making requests in the right way and your partner has learned that he is free to say no, you are ready to move on to Step Three. Steps One and Two were like a warm-up and Step Three is like a stretch—your partner has to stretch and become more flexible in order to make room for your new requests.
In this step, you finally learn to assert your power and get what you need from your partner. The key elements of this step are:
- A long, silent pause.
- A second request, if necessary.
This is how you make a request in Step Three:
When you make a request and your partner resists by grumbling (discussed below), instead of responding with “OK” (like you did in Step 2), you should continue to stand there with your partner and take a long, silent pause. Be accepting of his resistance, don’t portray any disapproval or frustration. Remain silent even if he scowls or grumbles. If necessary, calmly and confidently make your request again. Be assertive—make your request with trust that he will support you if he is able.
Eventually, because of the programming Steps One and Two, your partner will come around and respond positively to your request.
Why Men Grumble
In Step Three, you will notice your partner’s tendency to grumble. Grumbling, moaning, or mumbling is a man’s way of working through your request. Remember, he is stretching—he is considering what you need him to do versus what he would rather be doing. The more focused he was on what he was doing at the time of your request, the more he will grumble.
You should not take grumbling as a sign of your partner’s unwillingness to support you. If he was unwilling, he would have already said no. Simply pause and stay silent through the grumbles. Resist the urge to say things like “just forget it” or “I have to do everything myself.”
Ask Again, When Necessary
Sometimes, after a man lets out his grumbles he will come around and say yes to your request without any further prompting. But other times, he will resist by trying to argue his way out or turn the request around on you. Be tactful—calmly and succinctly let your partner know that your need is just as important as his. Then, make your request again.
Here are some examples:
- You’ve made a request and remained silent through your partner’s grumbles. Then he says “I’m too rushed. Can’t you do it?” You should respond “I’m rushed, as well. Would you please do it?” Then take another long pause.
- After a few grumbles, your partner responds to your request by saying “I don’t feel like doing that right now.” You calmly respond “I don’t feel like it either. Would you please do this for me?” Follow with a long pause.
Just like in your first request, avoid validating your second request or convincing him it’s important. Don’t try to make your need seem greater than his, only equal to his. Match his resistance with a brief statement. Then ask (don’t demand) again for what you need.
If for any reason, your partner still denies your request, go back to Step Two. Graciously accept his rejection. Letting it go this time will earn you points for your next try. Just because you think you’ve moved on to Step Three doesn’t mean you can forget what you learned in Steps One and Two: asking the right way and accepting no for an answer.
Through this entire process, it is important to remember that your male partner needs to feel independent, accepted, and worthy in order to be satisfied in love. If it seems like your partner is overly sensitive about being asked for help or overly concerned with being controlled, you want to be gentle when programming him to give you more support. Your partner will eventually be happy to learn what to do to fulfill your needs.
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- Why it feels like men and women come from two different planets
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