How to Ask for What You Want

how to ask for what you wantEver wonder how to ask for what you want? Probably not. But then again, you may not be aware that you struggle with asking for what you want. Instead, you’re more likely to notice that you’re afraid of what the other person might say to you or think about you in response.


It’s not easy to express our desires and needs. It is, however, an essential relationship skill, especially in our intimate relationships. It requires conscious effort to learn, but the more you practice doing it, the easier it becomes. Here are some tips about how to ask for what you want.


Avoid Reacting to the Other Person

If you’re stating what you need in an emotional reaction to the other person, stating what you need will sound like a demand. In making a demand, you’re letting them define what you want instead of defining what you need for yourself. What does this mean?


Let’s say that your ex-husband is late picking up the kids for his weekend visitation. He arrives an hour late and apologizes, explaining that a call ran late at work, which meant more traffic on his way to you. You’re feeling angry as this is not the first time this has happened. You’ve had to delay your weekend plans again for him.


Reacting to him might go something like this: “You need to call or text me if you’re going to be late!” Reacting this way does communicate what you need, but who do you know that responds well to a demand?


Try saying something instead like, “I would like you to give me the courtesy of calling or texting me if you’re going to be more than 10 minutes late. Would you be willing to do that?”

A statement like this engenders more empathy between you and the listener and increases your chances of being heard. Plus, it’s more self-defining: You’re communicating what you need instead of talking about the other person.


Know What You Want

This sounds like a no-brainer. But many of us, especially those in recovery, can’t easily connect with what we want. Many people had to disconnect from their emotions and needs in order to emotionally survive dysfunctional family relationships.


To connect with what you want, ask yourself what you need. What would you want to happen? What specific behavior are you requesting? How would you know that you’re getting what you want? Developing a clear vision in your mind’s eye of what you want can help you formulate your request.


Ask for Specific Behavior

Any request that we make is a request for a behavior from someone else. The clearer, more specific, and structured the request, the better your chances of being understood.


For example, notice the difference in these two requests: “I want to take a day trip with a friend this weekend. I’m wondering if you can take care of the kids.” And, “I’m planning on taking day trip with Marcie on Saturday. I’m leaving at 9 am after breakfast and will be back around 6 pm. Does it work for you to watch the kids and take them to Aiden’s birthday party at 1 pm while I’m away?”


The first request is vague and states an intention only. “‘I want to take a day trip'” is not a commitment to behavior on your part, and it therefore does not prioritize what you are really needing for yourself. You’re sharing the request because you need this day trip for your self-care. So don’t be afraid to ask without fear. The second request is much more specific about what you’re planning to do and what you’d like from the other person.


Be Willing to Negotiate

After you’ve shared your needs by stating your request, it’s up to the other person to decide how to respond. A healthy relationship will support your needs while also recognizing the needs of the other person.


For instance, your partner might agree without reservation to hold down the fort while you’re away. But he may also decide that that doesn’t work for him, or that he may need something from you after you return to take care of himself. This is when key statements of negotiation come into play, e.g.:

  • “I’m not willing to do that, but here’s what I am willing to do…”
  • “I can do that, though after you get back, I’d like to take a drive along the coast to relax for a few hours. How does that sound to you?”


Negotiation in relationships is the art of asking yourself what you need, sharing it, and finding a solution that works for both parties. Ideally, this solution does not involve compromise as this can lead to anger or resentment.


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Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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