One of my friends has a severe case of white-coat anxiety. Even after taking two different tranquilizers, she sometimes can’t bring herself to get out of the car and walk into a doctor’s office. If she does get into the office, she has, in the past, suffered a panic attack in the exam room.
So when she asked me if I would go with her to an appointment, I of course agreed.
This appointment, however, was like no other appointment she’d ever had. Rather than rush through the exam and attempt to get it done despite her anxiety, the doctor sat with her in a meeting room and asked her lots of questions about her fear. He listened intently for a while, and then he said: “So our goal for this visit is to find a way for you to feel comfortable and in control. I always think it’s important to start with the goal.”
When he said that, her entire body softened, she exhaled in relief, her face brightened, and she couldn’t help but grin to show her happiness.
The doctor then suggested various ways the exam could go, including many that would allow my friend to participate in the process. The visit went so well that my friend had tears in her eyes as she hugged the doctor goodbye.
His parting words were sage, “Whenever you encounter a difficult situation and you need someone’s help, state your goal and ask the other people how they can help you achieve it.”
It made me think of the late motivational guru Stephen Covey who, in his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggested we all start with the end in mind. Define your vision, mission or goal, and work tirelessly to achieve it. It has worked in countless business settings. It just worked for my friend and her doctor.
Could it work for our relationships, too?
I decided to find out after three days in a row of my stay-at-home husband suggesting we eat out for dinner. The fridge was bare and our home-cooked options were slim. Plain noodles again? I’m not against him having a night off every now and then, but we’re on a tight budget and home-cooked meals also tend to be healthier, less bloat-producing, and more conducive to keeping my middle-aged spread in check.
My usual way of addressing a situation like this would have sounded like this: Look, you’ve got six hours of downtime every day while the child is at school. I understand that you want to do things like read cycling news on the Internet, tinker with your bike, read the paper, and ride your bike, but frankly you’ve been slacking. You haven’t been cooking or shopping or even cleaning all that much. You’ve been coasting, as if you have no responsibilities. Your title as a stay-at-home husband is a job title. Your role is just as important as mine. Imagine what would happen if I decided to do all the things I’d rather do instead of work? This arrangement can only work if we both play our parts, and your part requires you to stock the kitchen with food and cook healthy dinners. That’s the deal. Why aren’t you holding up your end?
If you can see this from my perspective, then you’re probably all like: “Right on. You tell him, sister!” If you can see this from my husband’s perspective — perhaps because you are a stay-at-home mom or dad yourself — then I’m guessing you can see what’s wrong with this tactic. It’s blaming. It’s divisive. It’s bossy, and it’s demotivating. It’s the kind of thing that is bound to start a nice juicy fight or, at the very least, instill a cold frost over my marriage for a good long while.
Still, I had a problem and I wanted to address it. I thought about the good doctor’s advice. What was my goal? What did I really want? After thinking about that for a while, this is what I decided to say to my husband: “For financial and health reasons, I’d like for us to eat out no more than once a week. Can you help me pull this off?”
When he said he would, there was zero tension in the room. And right now, do you want to know where he is? He’s at the grocery store buying what he needs to make dinner for tonight.
Try it. It might work for you, too.
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.