The Difference Between Demands and Requests and Why it Matters

There’s a world of difference between a demand and a request. A demand is when you tell someone what to say or do. Demands alienate others by inferring that their needs are not as important as ours.

A request is when you ask another to say or do something. Requests can increase connection-if you are open to hearing “No”. Seems like the difference between the two is obvious but is it, really?

Submit or rebel?
There are two ways you can respond to a demand. The first is to submit. That is, you do what the person is asking. Perhaps it’s easier to go along with what is being asked than to negotiate something different? Yet going along, for the sake of ease or harmony, especially if you do it regularly, can leave you feeling resentful.

Doing things when and/or how someone else wants you to, rather than the way you would prefer, may lead to a loss of autonomy. You could set up a pattern where you lose your ability to choose and where they become accustomed to you going along with what they want. This is especially likely if the person making demands is an authority (parent, boss etc.).

Your other option, when presented with a demand, is to rebel or say “No”. Rebelling may require mustering up your energy, strength, courage or all three! Rebelling may leave you feeling free or empowered as you take a stand to prioritizing your own needs, building confidence that your needs matter-both to you and to others. You may feel proud that you are meeting your need for autonomy or choice rather than prioritizing someone else’s needs. Saying no to someone’s request may boost your self-respect and also teach others to respect your needs. It could also leave the other person thinking that their needs don’t matter to you, thus adversely impacting the relationship.

How to tell the difference
It only becomes clear whether a demand or a request has been made when the other person hears your “No”. If they attempt to convince you to cooperate by shaming, guilt-tripping or other attempts to manipulate your behavior then they’ve made a demand. If you buy into these tactics, you could end up feeling worse about yourself than if you had gone along with their demand in the first place!

Restoring choice and collaboration
Rather than submit or rebel, I suggest getting curious instead. Ask about the needs that would be met by doing what is being asked. Curiosity helps the person get clear about their need, which they usually are not aware of (***more about this later) and also lets them know that you understand what they need. Curiosity demonstrates care for their need, which increases goodwill and harmony between you. Getting curious also preserves choice and turns the conversation into a collaboration, so both parties can simultaneously get what you need.

***We live in a culture where people are not aware of our needs. Usually we jump over our needs and instead move into strategies. Strategies or “fixes” create conflict while needs create connection! Getting clear about the underlying needs of both parties allows you to find a strategy that meets all needs without conflict or compromise. Meeting all needs is a matter of getting creative: finding a way to meet both parties needs simultaneously, which preserves and protects harmony.

Do you fear that meeting the needs of both parties will take more time? As a mediator, I’ll assure you that mutually agreeable outcomes happen within 20 minutes of both parties understanding the other parties need, making this a very efficient use of time and energy, especially when you consider future ease in the relationship. Doing so requires pausing in the moment, getting curious and communicating-three habits we are not accustomed to. In my 16 years of experience, the efficiency and collaboration that result are more than worth the required change in habits.

Their relationship appeared similar to my marriage when I was 18 years old (I was divorced by the time I was 24). I had heard demands over and over again “Why don’t you put out?!” “You are not doing your wifely duty!” and/or experienced “wham, bam thank you Mame” with no hint of my satisfaction being important in the process of meeting his needs. Over our six-year marriage, the only time my ex physically touched me was when he wanted sex. Over time, my instinct was to recoil rather than participate. Eventually, we went to a therapist and were given homework to course-correct our marriage: he was to be physically affectionate without pursuing sex. After six months, not one attempt had been made to do this homework, so I ended the marriage.

Increasing physical Intimacy, an example
An example that comes to mind is a client who was frustrated because his girlfriend was not co-operating, to meet his need for intimacy. He wanted my support, as a communication coach, to learn how to convince her to cooperate. I spoke with his girlfriend and noticed that she rebelled at nearly every word he spoke. Clearly, she was attempting to protect herself. I suspected that his girlfriend had constructed her unrelenting boundaries after having submitted to his demands so many times that intimacy with him was no longer an option. I suspect that, over the course of their relationship, she had become more and more resentful as her needs had not been taken into consideration.

Their relationship appeared similar to my marriage when I was 18 years old (I was divorced by the time I was 24). I had heard demands over and over again “Why don’t you put out?!” “You are not doing your wifely duty!” and/or experienced “wham, bam thank you Mame” with no hint of my satisfaction being important in the process of meeting his needs. Over our six-year marriage, the only time my ex physically touched me was when he wanted sex. Over time, my instinct was to recoil rather than participate. Eventually, we went to a therapist and were given homework to course-correct our marriage: he was to be physically affectionate without pursuing sex. After six months, not one attempt had been made to do this homework, so I ended the marriage.

A request for heterosexual Men and one for Women
If you are a man who makes demands for sex, I have a request for you. Would you be willing to make requests, rather than demands, for physical affection i.e., not shame or guilt-trip your partner when she says no? Doing so will allow you to enjoy sex more often, and to more deeply enjoy the process when she does agree to be intimate. When your partner is enjoying herself and is at choice it will even reduce your families medical bills (by contributing to her physical health and emotional well-being). If you haven’t been taught how to have sex that pleases your partner, this is a learnable skill. Schools and/or your partner can teach you these skills which could even save your relationship.

A request for women who are with partners who make demands, rather than requests, for sex. Would you be willing to find a partner who honors your need for pleasure, or to teach your partner to make sex pleasurable for you? If so, you will be supporting the health of your entire body as well as contributing to the long-term success of your relationship. If so, I trust you will both be glad you did!

Terri Moon is a communication coach, mediator and Heart-Based Communication trainer. She supports relationships based on honesty and curiosity, to meet the needs of all involved, rather than attempting to change or coerce anyone to cooperate. Sign up to receive her free Heart-Based Communication tool at terrimoon.com