How often do you bite your tongue to keep yourself from criticizing or complaining about your partner? From the little things, like failing to pick up their dirty laundry, to the bigger issues, like emotionally withdrawing, our partner’s actions can trigger us into frustration.
Instead of arguing, ask yourself, “what can we do to make things better?”
This is where Behavior Change Requests come in. The idea is to generate specific, actionable items that get to the heart of your partner’s behavior, as well as your subsequent frustration. At the very minimum, Behavior Change Requests are a step in the right direction to rid your relationship of unhealthy behavior.
Defining a Behavior Change Request
A Behavior Change Request (BCR) is a positively phrased, actionable behavior that we would like from our partner in place of the behavior we find so irritating. The purpose of BCR is to learn more about each other’s needs and allow ourselves to change our behavior to fit these needs. To be effective, a request must be both specific and reasonable.
For example, telling your partner you don’t like their attitude is a very vague and inapplicable statement that still leaves much misunderstood. Instead, state the behavior that bothers you, such as, “I don’t like it when you yell over me when you get frustrated.”
Likewise, your request should be fair and reasonable. Telling your partner, “I want you to find a different job to spend more time with me” assumes that your partner can simply quit their job to satisfy you.
Begin with reasonable and attainable behavior, such as “I feel you value your job more than me. I want you to dedicate 30 minutes when you get home to discuss our day.”
The Mechanics of Behavior Change Requests
Behavior Change Requests originate from the Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT) program developed by psychotherapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.
Developed in the 1980s, IRT believes the conditions in which we were raised and learned to love predispose us to certain types of behavior. With this thinking, IRT assumes that irritation or sadness from a partner’s behavior is triggered by a deep-rooted want, need, or fear that have not been accessed.
For example, adults who grew up in large families or with siblings who treated life as a group activity may find themselves wanting a partner to spend constant or large quantities of time with them.
On the flip side, adults who were raised more independent or without constant affection might seek a relationship in which they crave space from their partner.
There is nothing wrong with either of these scenarios. However, they do create a certain set of behaviors that we exhibit, as well as create expectations of what our partner should provide.
Why a Behavior Change Request is a Symbiotic Choice
Generally speaking, some behaviors are unhealthy and detrimental to relationships – not communicating, lying, or acting superior, to name a few. We can choose to change these behaviors for our partner if we wish, and in turn, make our relationship healthier.
Behavior Change Requests allow both individuals to dig deeper into why they act the way they do and how it makes them feel. When you bend against your resistance to change to help your partner heal, you help mend a wound your partner may have not even realized they had – from fears of abandonment to learning how to be independent.
Learning the “why” behind your own actions will help you to learn more about yourself. This symbiotic choice strengthens the individuals in a relationship as well as the relationship itself.
How to Ask Your Partner for a Behavior Change Request
Your partner can’t know what you want if you don’t communicate it. When asking your partner for a Behavior Change Request, be as straight forward as possible.
Hendrix and Hunt recommend this formula:
When you (list frustration behavior), I feel…, then I react by…, to hide my fear of… I want (list your underlying need). Specifically, I would like (state the corresponding behavior change request).
Construct one to three specific requests you have on how your partner can help with your needs, staying as positive and detailed as possible.
By working together and expressing your needs and feelings with Behavior Change Requests, you and your partner can build a healthier, happier, and stronger relationship.