The Importance of Stating Preferences

This post is for all of my people who are good at "going with the flow." My people who are flexible, adaptable, and able to take life as it comes. You're often excellent at "reading the room" and discerning other people's needs and moods. You're a truly wonderful friend and partner, likely an internal processor, and may sometimes feel very unknown and very unheard. Why does this happen?

It's mostly because the people I just described often struggle to state their preferences. Here's how this might play out. A friend has had a rough day and she asks you if you want to go see a movie. Here's the dialogue that might run through your head, "I really don't want to see a movie. Not a huge fan of spending my money on something like that, and I don't like sitting for that long. I'd rather stay home. But, I know my friend's had a bad day and she really likes movies. I care about her so I can rally and go with her." Finally, out loud, you say to your friend, "Sure! Let's go see a movie."

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this scenario. In fact, that's a good friend in action- someone who is willing to lay down their wants and needs for someone else. However, I think that this problematic in that the internal conversation you had with yourself was never said out loud. What we often see is that the next time your friend wants to see a movie, she automatically assumes that you'd want to go with her, because in her mind, you love movies! You've never told her that they're really not your thing. In your effort to be a good friend, you became a little less known. 

Ideally, in the same scenario described above, your response would be something like this. "You know, I don't really love going to movies. But, I know you do, and I know you had a rough day, so I'd be more than willing to go with you." In that process you actually still end up going to the movie, but your friend has learned something new about you. This may seem small, but it makes a world of difference. When we're "go with the flow" people and good at figuring out what other people need, we can lose our sense of self in our pursuit of loving and serving those around us.

A few things to remember. When we state our preferences to each other it is with the acknowledgement that they are truly preferences and not demands. Often my clients worry that in their stating their preferences they will be bulldozing their friends and partners by demanding that "It's my way or the highway." Quite the opposite- as in the scenario above, we often still end up doing the things that we don't want to do. Except now our friend can really see that our going to a movie is really an act of love and (minor, but significant) sacrifice.

Also remember, this is not about creating guilt. We don't state our preferences to make other people feel bad about theirs or to give us an excuse to be a wet blanket while we're participating in non-preferred activities. You don't get to be a massive pain the entire time- remember, you chose to go to the movie- no one made you! This is about knowing and being known by others. This is the meat of relationships and what will lead to a mutual sense of satisfaction and joy between two people.

And finally, remember that this is an investment in the long-term health of your relationships. The people I described often experience an imbalance in relationship where their partners feel very loved and known, but that feeling is not reciprocated. They're upset that their partners can't read them as well as they can read their partner. Or, when two internal processors are together, they are often both just taking random stabs in the dark acting out of what they think their partner wants but not really having a clue! Talk to each other. Preferences are not demands. They are a huge part of what makes you, you and that's worth talking about.