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How to Make a SMART Request of Your Partner

You know that relationships thrive (or wither) based on communication. You need to be able to ask your partner for what you want. And vice versa.

Unfortunately, most of us still struggle with this.

Either we hem and haw to avoid what feels like an uncomfortable conversation. Or we “ask” for change by complaining and blaming. And when we do manage to make a straightforward request, we often make it hard for our partners to understand exactly how to fulfill the request.

Imago has a solution for that: the SMART request.

When You Ask Your Partner for What You Want, Do It SMART

What exactly is a SMART request? The acronym stands for small, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited.

The below examples would not qualify as SMART requests:

  • Be more romantic
  • Listen better
  • Stop being so forgetful
  • Show me you actually care
  • Have more sex
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Quit nagging
  • Help out more

Why? Because while these are all completely valid concerns, they don’t meet all of the SMART criteria. 

What qualifies as being more romantic? How can you show that you care? What are you supposed to be cleaning? When? How much is “more” sex?

So, what does a SMART request look like? 

Let’s use “help out more” as an example. It’s such a vague ask that it would be nearly impossible to clearly say whether someone achieved it or not. Additionally, it sounds like a criticism, and when criticized, our knee-jerk reaction is to think of all the things you would like your partner to do differently, but are not saying.  

But you can make it a SMART request like so:

Small – Take care of the weekly grocery order to help out. That’s specific, small, and fairly simple.

Measurable – You can “measure” whether the other person fulfilled the request or not. Did your partner determine what food is needed, put together the order, go to the grocery store to get it (or have it delivered!), and put the food away? 

Achievable – One could easily deal with a weekly grocery order in a few hours.

Relevant – This request takes a clear amount of work off of one partner’s plate and puts it on the other’s — definitely helpful.

Time-limited – One partner could ask the other to do this for a month. This both gives the asking partner a break and allows the other partner to try it out and evaluate. How did it feel? Was it too much? Was it easy? Can the partner making the change commit to a longer period of time? 

Make sense?

SMART requests don’t have to be task-oriented either. For “listen better,” you could ask your partner to repeat back (mirror) everything you say for a week or during a certain time of day (like right before bed). For “be more romantic,” you might request that they plan a monthly date night for the next three months.

When you can phrase your desires in clear, specific, actionable ways, it’s far easier for your partner to work to fulfill those desires.

That being said, you should never simply jump right into a SMART request.

Before You Get SMART, Utilize the Behavior Change Request

The potential problem with any request — even a SMART one — is that it will sound like a criticism to your partner. This typically leads to a tit-for-tat conversation that puts both of you on the defensive.

For example, if your spouse asked you to do the weekly grocery shopping, you might say, “Well, I would like you to stay on top of the garbage better and not wait for two days before unloading the dishwasher.” 

Because we both have things we would like to be done differently. So why not bring them up right then?

Unfortunately, this kind of back and forth is more damaging than helpful. So, how do you stop it?

With a behavior change request (BCR).

This is where you talk about why this particular action frustrates you rather than the thousand other things that could have. Why it is rooted in your history and deep-seated emotions.

The BCR sets it up so that the requested change is about the requestor, not the requestee

It also ensures that the partner agreeing to a new behavior gets recognized for their efforts. This is vital. Because reinforced behavior stays, while unreinforced behavior goes. 

If you’re ready to make a SMART request, learn more in-depth about behavior change requests first.

The End Result: SMART Benefits Both of You

You can probably see how the partner making the request would benefit from using the SMART technique. They have a need that is not being met by their partner, and SMART provides them with a way of having it met.

But did you know that SMART requests benefit the requestee, too? It’s true!

In part, this is because the partner making the request is likely to feel happier in the relationship –  and therefore treat the partner fulfilling the request better! But it goes beyond this as well.

Generally speaking, when one partner has an unmet need, that need directly reflects an area where the other partner struggles. 

Someone who isn’t particularly helpful around the house, for example, may have had parents who did everything for them. When a partner isn’t meeting their partner’s sexual needs, it may be due to personal sexual issues that they have never explored.

SMART requests create an opportunity for the partner fulfilling the request to grow and explore new aspects of themselves as they work to meet their partner’s desires. Often, the partner will continue engaging in the requested behavior even after the time limit ends. Because they discover that it makes their life better, too.

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your relationship, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Copyright @2020 Dana Cole, LMFT