Demands vs. Requests - Do You Know The Difference?By Dr. Margaret Paul
March 22, 2021
Are you confused about the difference between requests and demands? You are not alone in this confusion.
Are you confused about the difference between making a demand and making a request? It's easy to be confused about this.
"Margaret, what's the difference between a demand and asking for what you need in a relationship?"
Asking for what you want and need in a relationship is important, but it becomes a demand when the other person does not have the right to say "No" without getting punished in some way by you.
Most people don't like to be controlled, so when they know there will be negative consequences to saying no, they are likely to say yes and then go into resistance.
For example, you might say to your partner, "I'm very tired tonight. Would you mind doing the dishes?" If your partner responds with, "I'm wiped out too. Let's leave them and do them tomorrow," and you get upset, saying something like, "I can never count on you," then your question was a demand.
In the above example, if you had responded by saying, "Okay," then the very same question was a request. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a request and a demand until you or the other person says no – and then you see what happens.
Let's say you had responded by saying, "Well, okay, but you know it's really hard for me to leave the kitchen a mess at night. How about you keep me company and we do it together?"
Your partner might say, "Sure." But what happens if their response is, "No, I don't have the time. I have some things I need to get done tonight before I can go to sleep." Once again, you are faced with either accepting your helplessness over your partner, who did not respond positively to your request, or getting upset, in which case it again turns into a demand.
What happens if your partner is a resistant person and just sits there in front of the TV, making no move to help you?
This is the kind of situation that is very difficult. Accepting our helplessness over another is one of the biggest challenges in relationships. It's not just helplessness over whether or not your partner helps you with the dishes. The greater issue is helplessness over your partner's lack of caring.
When a person goes into resistance, they lose their caring. Sometimes the resistance is in response to your attempts to control, but sometimes it has nothing to do with you. Many people bring their resistance from childhood into the relationship and feel controlled by any request.
If you are dealing with a resistant partner, the first thing you need to do is be sure that you are making requests rather than demands. You need to let go of trying to control your partner and then see if he or she starts to respond with caring. This may take some time. If you have been controlling, your partner might automatically respond to your requests with resistance. It may take time for him or her to realize that you are no longer trying to control.
However, you also need to be prepared for the possibility that your partner's resistance may have nothing to do with you. If he or she came from very controlling parents, the resistance - and the resulting lack of caring - may be deeply entrenched. This is a very painful situation.
Say, for instance, that you really are asking, not demanding, and that your partner still regularly refuses to help with household chores in a way that feels equitable. You have a number of options in this situation:
Find the means to hire someone to do some of the things that your partner refuses to do.
Accept doing them yourself and give up making requests, making sure you are not becoming resentful, which requires being very compassionate with yourself regarding the heartbreak and helplessness over the lack of caring.
If your partner will go to counseling with you, this could help.
- If your partner won't go to counseling and refuses to acknowledge and deal with the issue, and if the lack of caring is unacceptable to you, then you may need to end the relationship.
Entrenched resistance is a very difficult issue and might prevail, even if you are requesting rather than demanding. Regardless, it is always worth it to explore within yourself, so that you learn to tell the difference between the two.
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The path of love is not the easy path - it is the road less traveled. It requires letting go of power and control over others and outcomes. It requires strict adherence to truth, to living and speaking the radical truth. Today, be truthful with yourself about what path you are on - the path of fear, control and avoidance of pain, or the path of courage, truth and love.
By Dr. Margaret Paul