Expressing ‘Positive Needs’ Can Stop a Fight Before It Starts, According to a Relationship Scientist

We’re all guilty of it: Rattling off the minor—or major—irritations we have with our partner from a place of exasperation. (“Did you seriously leave the water pitcher out on the counter again? Ugh!”)

But, according to the Gottman Institute, which takes a science and research-backed approach to relationships, there’s a much better way to articulate the change you want to see.

It comes down to something they call “positive” vs. “negative” needs. Basically, it’s the idea that improvement is much easier to come by if you cast it positively. In other words, if you need a behavior to change, describe what you would like to happen instead of what you would like to stop.

For example, the water pitcher left on the counter. Instead of venting about it in a frustrated and passive aggressive manner (hello, negative), try this: “I want to drink a cold glass of water when I’m thirsty, so please put the Brita pitcher back in the fridge after you use it.” (Positive.)

Another example: You say, “I just need everyone to stop bothering me for 15 minutes! Is that so much to ask?” vs. “I could really use 15 minutes of quiet time right now. Can you help me achieve that?”

This tactic takes the guesswork out of how your partner can better prioritize your needs. It also helps them be an active part of solving something for you instead of just being a blocker or making them feel defensive.

Squabble averted? That’s the goal.

Two Magic Words That Diffuse Any Argument, According to a Mediation Expert

Rachel Bowie

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...
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