Making the Ask…without pushing their buttons
It is that time of year again. The Terry Fox Run will be this Friday and there is a flurry of young children asking their parents and neighbours to give them money. Allow me to give some background information for my American readers. Thirty years ago, this young man had lost a leg to cancer and yet attempted to run across Canada. While he died before completing his run, his dream of raising awareness and funds for cancer has been realized to a far greater extent than even he could have imagined. His courage inspired a nation to take action.
Every year now, school children across Canada run in honour of his memory and get pledges in the name of cancer research.
Our daughter was first exposed to the legacy of Terry Fox two years ago when she was four. She had started school and the Run was one of the first activities that the school promoted. Since her father is a professional fundraiser, we were thrilled at the opportunity to teach Riley how to “make an ask”.
That first year, Eric sent around an email to the staff in his office, alerting them to the fact that his daughter would be coming to ask them for money. The request was fairly straightforward: Please listen to what she says and then ask her questions. Why is she raising money? Why is this an important cause for her? Eric then made it clear that the staff did not have to donate money, because learning to be gracious with a “no” is just as important skill set for Riley to develop as being grateful for a “yes”.
When she was four, she was so nervous that she flipped her long, brown hair as she stammered, “Will you support…my…cause?” Last year, she wasn’t a novice anymore so she went for the jugular, “Will you please give me money so that children don’t have to die of cancer?”
She is incredibly effective. The first two years, her class brought in more than any of the other classes in the school and Riley was personally responsible for a quarter of those funds, even though there were 20 kids in her class. Needless to say, we are glowing with pride.
But our pride exceeds the satisfaction of a parent who is teaching their child simply how to succeed. It goes further than watching our little girl grow up. It even surpasses the delight of seeing her grasp the foundational understanding that we are all responsible to give our time and money to causes that are larger than ourselves.
You see, over the past several years, Riley has been – in a very deliberate fashion – learning and practicing a skill set that many adults do not have – The Ask. This year, she has realized that 3 of her grandparents died of cancer and so the Terry Fox Run is even more important to her. She has her own page on the Terry Fox website here – in case you would like to donate to her cause.
Success gurus will be quick to point out that, to get wherever it is that you want to go in life, you must ask for what you want. In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield shares a story of going to a seminar at which his seat had a yellow folder sitting on it. But he hated the colour yellow. The instructor then told the class that, if they did not like the colour of the folder that they had, they should ask to switch with someone with a different colour. Turns out, the lady next to Jack hated the colour she had too and when the two of them spoke up, expressed their desires, and consequently traded folders, they were both much happier.
Folder colours? Really? Is it that important?
The story illustrates the fact that most of us put up with things that we do not really want in our lives. Why? Perhaps we were not given permission when we were kids to have an opinion. Everything in our childhood was scripted around what the adults thought was good and right. Perhaps we learned that we should always sacrifice what we wanted for the desires of others. Or maybe, we just never learned to ask for what we wanted. And don’t delude yourself, asking for what you want is a skill set that takes time and practice to develop.
Not surprisingly, a lack of this lack of skill set shows up in our sex lives. If you can’t make an ask in other areas, you surely aren’t going to be able to do it in the most intimate, vulnerable, exposed area of your life. And yet, if you cannot clearly communicate what you want in your sexual relationship, it becomes more and more difficult to fake your satisfaction over the years. “I just can’t do it anymore” is a refrain that I have heard far too often.
So how do you start? How do you reverse years of allowing your partner to think that everything is hunky-dory when it really isn’t? This is a question I explore with many of my coaching clients. And while I must stress that change in this area does take time and patience, here are a few pointers to get you started.
1. Take the time to clearly define in your own mind what you want.
What is it about your sex life that you want to change? Don’t be satisfied with vague concepts – get specific. If you “want more foreplay”, then you need to understand what “more” looks like. Does it mean that you want your partner to kiss you on the mouth for several minutes before attempting to touch you anywhere else? Does it mean that you want to be flirted with throughout the day? Does it mean that you want to be able to hug without it leading straight to sex? Does it mean that you want to orgasm first? Knowing what you want will give your spouse the tools to succeed in making the changes with you.
2. Prepare the person to whom you are making The Ask.
This is especially important when you have been in a long-term relationship and your partner thinks everything is going great. Just as Eric sends out an email to prep people in his office before Riley goes in for The Ask, your spouse might need a bit of warning ahead of time. Saying, “I want us to get better and better with time and so I have been thinking about some changes to make to our relationship.” If your spouse does better with the written word, then leaving a note in his/her lunch bag or on the mirror might work the best. The key to the preparation is that you pique interest.
3. Choose your timing carefully.
Men, even if you have followed step 2 above, launching into that conversation with your wife at the end of a long day of juggling work and kids is probably not going to bring success. You will most likely have a very angry woman on your hands who feels like this is just another area in her life that she is screwing up. Women, if your husband is settling in to watch his favourite team play on TV, that does not make him a “captive audience”. You might be better served to send the kids off to Grandma’s house and whisk your spouse away for a weekend – or at least an afternoon.
4. State The Ask in a way they can hear.
“Our sex life sucks,” is NOT the way you should introduce the subject. If you are talking about it together, focusing on what you want to see grow is much more positive. Talk about what you do appreciate in your sex life, and then you can flow into ideas that build on the foundation you have. Bring them into your fantasy – your perfect sex life. Invite them to be the star in your imagination. Use terms that they understand. Discussions that are unclear will only serve to exacerbate the problem. Don’t be embarrassed to be specific in your wants.
5. Watch and wait.
As Riley has learned, sometimes people say, “no”. For whatever reason, they are not in the place to join her in her cause. Likewise, your spouse might say no. The idea of even talking about your sex life might be overwhelming for them. Your sex life is not a sprint. The purpose of this is not to get to the finish as quickly as possible. Sex, like relationships, is a journey. Building memories together is the glue that bonds and memories take time. Your patience can overcome their fear.
Just because you ask, does not entitle you to a yes response. Remember you have spent a good deal of time considering what it is you want. Allow them time to consider what you are asking. Give them a chance to reflect on what you want…and to think about what they want as well. You may very well be opening a door for them too – maybe they want more too! Help them express that by listening and not interrupting.
We have a rule in our household that every request that is made deliberately needs to be respected and honoured with consideration. If my husband comes to me and asks something of me, I need to listen and consider. (I am ignoring this principle in my life regarding his repeated requests for an iPad, but I digress.) The point is that you make love through your conversations as surely as you do physically.
As the discussion unfolds you can direct them to questions that will help them talk to you: What is stopping you from taking this next step with me? What makes you hold back? Is the timing wrong? Do you not like the request? Does it make you feel fearful? Use this time and conversation to look for insight into your spouse.
Seeing things from a new perspective through personal coaching may be all that stands between you and the sex life you have always imagined. If you need a little extra help on this subject, give me a call.