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A client of mine, Erin, feels like she has the same frustrating conversation with her husband on at least a weekly basis.
She’s an external processor, so after a stressful day at work, she finds it helpful to come home and talk about all the challenges she’s dealing with. For her, it’s just a way of decompressing and venting out her feelings of the day.
Her husband, on the other hand, is a problem-solver. He’s logical by nature, plus his job requires him to be in solution-mode all day long. So the moment she starts talking about her problems at work, he starts offering solutions.
The problem is that, when Erin’s in venting-mode, she’s not ready to talk about solutions. She just needs to release some stress without the pressure to DO anything about it just yet. So she gets frustrated by him constantly trying to “fix” the problem, and he gets frustrated that she’s not open to his solutions.
Erin has tried to ask him to just listen when she’s venting, and he gives it his best effort. But because he cares about her happiness, and because he’s such a natural problem-solver, it’s hard for him to simply listen when she’s complaining.
So eventually, the conversation devolves back into him offering solutions, her shutting them down and feeling unheard, him feeling aggravated and helpless, and ultimately … them both feeling disconnected.
She asked me, “Is there a better way I can ask him for what I need in those situations?” I told her, “Sure, there are always ways you can communicate more clearly. But I don’t think that’s going to change much for you here. What you really need is to stop going to the hardware store for milk.”
In this week’s blog, I’m sharing what the heck I mean by this, plus some ways you’re probably “going to the hardware store for milk” and how to get what you *really* need from your relationships, your career, and every other area of life.
WHAT THE HECK DOES THAT MEAN?
I wish I could remember where I originally heard the expression “stop going to the hardware store for milk,” but it’s one of those adages that’s been in my head so long I can’t remember NOT knowing it.
Essentially it means that, at a certain point you have to stop trying to get something from a particular source that’s incapable of giving it to you.
If you keep going to the hardware store, hoping to find milk, you’re going to be perpetually disappointed and frustrated, and you’ll keep badgering the employees for something they’ll never be able to give you. You’d save yourself (and everyone else) a lot of time, energy, and annoyance if you just went to the grocery store instead.
That seems obvious in the context of hardware and grocery stores, but most of us are doing this in our own lives all the time. And it’s exactly what Erin was doing with her husband.
Erin needed someone to simply listen to her, sympathize, and validate her feelings. Her husband was trying to be that for her, but it wasn’t his strong suit. She was asking something from him that he wasn’t equipped to give. So they both wound up frustrated.
So instead of continuing to scour every aisle of the hardware store, trying to find milk, Erin tried a new approach.
On the days when she needed to vent about her day, she called a friend on her drive home who isa great listener. By the time she got home to her husband, she’d already released a bunch of her pent-up emotions from the day and felt validated in her feelings. And then she was more than ready to talk with her husband about solutions, which he was more than happy to provide.
She got her needs met by someone who was happy to lend her a listening ear, and then her husband could support her in the area where he shined the most: solving problems. Win-win!
STOP TRYING TO GET ALL YOUR NEEDS MET IN ONE PLACE
The reason so many of us are guilty of this is we expect to get most (if not all) of our needs met from certain sources.
We expect our partner to fulfill our every need: for love, for connection, for understanding, for solutions, for romance, for joy, for support, for advice, for companionship, for encouragement, for inspiration, for validation.
We expect our career to fulfill our every desire: for purpose, for fulfillment, for happiness, for connection, for engagement, for intellectual stimulation, for abundance, for freedom, for growth, for direction.
We expect our family to fulfill our every longing: for acceptance, for understanding, for unconditional love, for friendship, for emotional support, for guidance, for praise.
While you absolutely should be getting most of these things from these sources most of the time, no one and nothing can give all of this, and especially not all the time.
Not only should you not expect that, but it’s not healthy to get all of your needs met from one source all the time! That’s a recipe for codependence and unhealthy attachment.
It’s normal that someone or something you love won’t be able to give you everything you need 100% of the time. You’ll save yourself a lot of angst if you stop going to that source for something it simply can’t provide for you.
- If your dad isn’t the best at emotional support, stop going to him when you need someone to empathize with how you’re feeling.
- If your boss is terrible at validation, stop seeking affirmation from her.
- If your friend is a constant complainer, stop going to him for reassurance and positivity.
- If your sister lives her life with her head in the clouds, don’t go to her for practical advice.
- If you like your job except that you don’t feel super close with your colleagues, don’t try to get all of your needs for connection met at work.
- If your new business is still uncertain and unpredictable, stop trying to get your need for stability from it right now.
Instead, appreciate what you CAN get from that source, and look for ways to get that need met outside of the relationship or the job.
Maybe a coach or therapist can validate your feelings and help you talk through your challenges objectively. Maybe a part-time job can give you some stability. Maybe joining a group or starting a hobby can give you a sense of fun and connection.
Just like a financial advisor would tell you to diversify your investment portfolio, I’m telling you to diversity your sources for getting your needs and desires met.
And if a particular source — a job, a relationship, a hobby, etc. — isn’t providing much of anything anymore, it’s OK to let it go for good.
So tell me, in what ways have you been going to the hardware store for milk? What’s another, healthier way you could get that need met instead? Share with me in the comments below.
Kristen (& Rachel)