Expert Author Val Heart

My mini Schnauzer dog Einstein just came over and asked for some attention. He wanted a rub and a hug and to share a loving moment with me. And a treat would be nice too, like icing on the cake! He has an admirable and standing policy of always asking for what he wants.

Sometimes it's annoying, sometimes it's inconvenient, sometimes his needs go unmet anyway (although he's a master in the art of persistence)... but most of the time, he gets what he wants and I'm happy to give it to him if I can, once I know what it is.

The simple and sweet interaction between us reminded me of the importance of asking for what I want. I haven't always known how to do that, and have gotten into sticky, painful and frustrating situations because of it.

A number of years ago my boyfriend and I were driving across country on a vacation trip. His idea of a road trip consisted of "keep driving until you almost run out of gas. Then stop, get gas, take a quick pee break, eat if you must, and keep going until you get to your destination. We have an agenda, people, keep it moving!" (Wow! I just noticed that's exactly like my Dad's road trip agenda!)

On this trip, that did NOT work for me. I'd recently learned the importance of frequent stops, short walks, stretches and mental and physical gear shifts every hour or so while on a road trip.

It keeps the driver more alert mentally (which makes for a safer driver and faster reaction times). Did you know it's been proven that watching the road markings while driving actually put us in a hypnotic state of mind? NOT what you want behind the wheel.

Frequent stops also supports our well being, it helps re-energize the body, helps with circulation... and the great end benefit is that you will arrive at your destination not resembling road kill, but actually feeling refreshed.

So before we went on this trip, I had The Conversation about it with him beforehand. I thought we agreed that we would stop more frequently for sightseeing, pee breaks, to walk around and stretch, and take much better care of ourselves during this journey.

So here we are, he's driving, driving, driving... for hours. I kept hinting: Wouldn't it be nice to stop and shop...? He'd say, "no, not really..." and keep driving.

Wouldn't it be lovely if we pulled over for a minute to see the scenery? "No, not interested, you can watch it from the car window, can't you?"

Even the classic, I have to pee - pull over at the next stop wasn't working... he just kept driving by each possible place, and I got madder and madder.

What was wrong with him? I'm a mild mannered, easy going person but I lost it. My stress level was in the red zone and I couldn't take it anymore. I screamed "Stop this car right NOW!"

Before he even screeched to a stop, I leaped out of the car and ran 50 feet away. I stood there shaking, trembling, and so angry I couldn't see straight.

When I could speak again without spitting or foaming at the mouth, and I knew he was listening to me finally, I asked him. Why didn't you pull over when I told you I needed to stop?

With a puzzled look he said, "But you never told me you needed to stop. You only asked me if I wanted to stop, and I didn't want to."

Wow. Once I calmed down enough to think about it, I realized he was right.

Every time I thought I was asking him to stop and pull over, I used the wrong language. I thought I was being nice when actually, I was only offering confusing, powerless, ambiguous messages.

I didn't ask for what I wanted. I didn't respect or empower myself enough to be clear in my communication about what I actually needed, what worked for me, what did not work for me...

And he had no way of meeting my needs, because my needs weren't his needs and he wasn't a mind reader.

It was a pivotal moment in our relationship, and a pivotal, empowering moment in my life.

Your animals need to know exactly what you want, otherwise they're confused. Your needs are often not theirs, and your viewpoints don't always match either.

When we don't get what we need and want, it creates significant stress in our lives. And that undermines our health and well-being, and can make or break a relationship.

Empower yourself by deciding right now to make a habit of asking for what you really want, directly, clearly, respecting your needs and wishes, validating yourself, creating healthy boundaries.

A funny thing happens when you do that. Others will be free to ask for what they want too. And your relationships will have the opportunity to go deeper, become richer, and more nurturing.



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