The no. 1 relationship killer (demands!)

Nov 9, 2021

Mike Korman

I’m a certified coach therapist supporting and guiding those desiring more compassion and connection to themselves and in their relationships. I weave together nonviolent communication and mindfulness.

One of the biggest relationship killers that I see are the demands that we place on one another. 

“I want you to listen to me.”

“I want you to spend more time with me.”

“I want you to come home by 9pm.”

“You should also go and study nonviolent communication so that we can communicate better.”

Speaking in this way is so normal and it is so difficult to change. 

Yet demands are the cause of great pain in our relationships. 

What happens when people demand things from us?

If my partner says to me “I want us to be spending more time together” I immediately feel a contraction inside me. I feel irritation. I start to think “don’t tell me what to do”. 

I also might feel fear. 

On one hand I’m afraid of what might happen if I say “no”. I think, ‘if I say no then she might leave me and I’ll be alone’.

On the other hand I’m afraid that I’ll ‘abandon’ my own needs, for freedom and choice (that I choose how to spend my own time), in the name of my partner’s love and acceptance of me.

More than that, my own personal story will be impacting me. 

“You’re not a good enough partner.” 

“You need to be giving more of yourself”. 

This brings up a whole world of pain in me and I’m likely to attribute responsibility of this pain to my partner – “If she wasn’t so demanding then I wouldn’t be feeling all this pain!”

So I notice that when someone demands something of me, I feel great tension and often a lot of pain.

What causes someone to be demanding?

A person can only make a demand, which is a form of energy that has the fragrance of desperation or dependency, if they are themselves in distress. 

They are in distress because they are momentarily confused. They believe that their beautiful needs (to be seen and heard, to matter, for togetherness) can only be met in one specific way by one specific person (that I will spend more time with them). 

In Nonviolent communication this is called confusing needs with strategies and it is one of the most common and painful communication patterns that we have. 

So what’s a strategy? A strategy is a way to meet our needs. 

There are always thousands of strategies to meet any one need. My partner’s need for being heard and seen could be met by speaking to a friend, journaling, going for a walk and being with herself, drawing, creating something, going to a therapy session, or by me indeed spending more time with her but just not at this moment and there are so many other possible ways.

But when someone is in a ‘demand state of energy’ they don’t see these other ways. They believe there is only one way – me and right now.

In that moment my partner is believing that their very need for being seen and heard and listened to is entirely dependent on me. That if I don’t say yes then that need will die. 

It’s literally a fear that we will die. 

This is because once upon a time this was true. As a baby if I wasn’t heard and seen and listened to, I would not have survived. 


How, therefore, can we respond to demands?

I want to respond to a demand in a way which creates more connection between me and the other person. 

This is far from easy, but it’s possible and it’s so powerful and beautifully human when it happens. 

The first step is to care for my own needs. 

I tell myself “I won’t say “yes” unless it’s really what I choose to do”. This gives me a sense of security, that I won’t abandon myself and my needs for freedom of choice and authenticity for the need to be loved or appreciated by the other person. 

Now that I feel emotionally safe I can embark on the second step. 

The second step is to listen to the others’ needs. 

What are they needing beneath the strategy “you need to spend more time with me”? 

Love, to be appreciated, to be seen, togetherness, fun, connection and more. 

When I can touch their needs in this way, even without asking them whether they are true for them, I feel compassion arise from within. 

My heart is open to them and I can enter a caring dialogue with them about how we can both have our needs met. 


As an exercise, you might like to try the following:

  1. What is a demand that someone made of you recently?
  2. How did you respond (what did you think about them, what did you feel? What did you say?)
  3. What might you be needing (e.g. autonomy)?
  4. What might they be needing (e.g. support, security, growth, connection)?

Any questions/thing resonate? I’d be glad to hear in the comments. I just love to feel connection with my readers…and to know that my work is having an impact…

Mike Korman
I’m a certified coach therapist supporting and guiding those desiring more compassion and connection to themselves and in their relationships. I weave together nonviolent communication and mindfulness.

Reach me directly here...

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