How to Know If Your Requests Are Reasonable

Factors that determine whether a request is OK to make (or refuse).

Posted Aug 19, 2020

Fizkes-Getty/Canva Pro
Source: Fizkes-Getty/Canva Pro

Is it OK to ask my partner to stay with me when we’re at a party?

Is it reasonable to ask her to kiss me hello and goodbye?

How about “always answer my texts”?

Whether a request is reasonable depends on two things:

  1. Is it a one-off request or an ongoing expectation?
  2. What are the consequences for non-compliance?

Ongoing Requests (Expectations)

Let’s look at ongoing requests, such as expecting your partner always to do the laundry or watch the children. To the extent that these requests are sexist, they may be unfair if not unreasonable (e.g., expecting your wife always to watch the children; expecting your boyfriend to keep the driveway clear all winter, or your car running year-round).

Unless your partner likes these activities, he or she may resent being pigeon-holed into a chore simply on the basis of gender.

If you’re both capable of shoveling the driveway, doing laundry, grocery shopping or watching children, why should only one of you be solely responsible for these tasks?

Again: If one of you likes to shovel or do laundry, it’s fine to let that partner claim that as “their” task. But if that’s the case, try to claim something else as “your” ongoing chore.

Expecting your partner to do the chores that your father or mother always did, even though neither of you enjoys those chores, is unreasonable. Instead, divide up the chores in a way that’s fair to both of you.

Now let’s talk about one-off requests, such as “Call me when you get there.”

One-Off Requests

What makes a one-off request reasonable has very little to do with the request itself. Short of something illegal or dangerous, you can reasonably ask your partner to do just about anything.

If your partner asks you to wear something he especially likes on you, that’s not unreasonable. If you don’t want to do that, then the two of you can talk about it. 

Some requests may be triggering for you or your partner. That doesn’t make them unreasonable. It means there’s something the two of you need to talk about.

What makes a request unreasonable is the potential negative consequences if the person doesn’t comply. That is, is it really a request, or is it a demand in disguise?

If your partner can’t say no without getting the silent treatment for a week, your request is unreasonable. 

If you can’t say no to your partner without it starting an argument, then your partner’s request is unreasonable. 

Reasonable Means Optional

Your partner is not your employee, let alone your slave. He doesn’t have to do anything you ask him to do. 

If you make it clear how you feel about certain requests, such as “Don’t go on dates with other people,” and he does it anyway, then you have some thinking to do.

In a healthy relationship, both partners are allowed to make requests of each other. Also, both may say no without damaging the relationship.

The subtext under a reasonable request is: I would like this, if you’re willing.

The subtext under an unreasonable request is: You’d better do this for me, or there will be trouble.

In short, if you or your partner isn’t allowed to say no to a given request, then that request is unreasonable.

Otherwise, you can both feel free to make any request you like: Will you bring me my slippers? Rub my back? Watch my favorite show? Text me when you get there?

It's OK to Say No

Requests may be either granted or refused. It’s OK to refuse even a reasonable request. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to. 

Refusals to meet requests may be an indication that you hold different values. These can be discussed in a reasonable way, and perhaps negotiated. 

Compromise is needed in any relationship. But as long as you're not expecting gender roles to determine chore assignments, and your requests aren’t demands in disguise, then just about any request is probably reasonable.