Dear Therapist: Communicating Needs to Your Partner

Communicating Needs to Your Partner

Dear Therapist:

Recently, I had a heart-to-heart talk with my partner about a need I have that I had never told her about — she felt terrible thinking that for the entirety of our relationship she had let me down. I think that’s a bit extreme, but it became a big issue. Weeks later she brought it up again and this time she asked, “Why haven’t you asked me if there is something else I need from you too?” This took me aback. Imagine my surprise when I finally asked and she responded, “No, nothing.” Is she joking? What should I make of this?

Sincerely, Hanging on My Needs

Wow! This is one for the communication books indeed. How do we communicate our needs to our partner? What is the right timing? Also, should we assume if our partner is not meeting our needs that we may not be meeting theirs as well? Should we always consider opening it up to not only speaking our needs, but asking about the other’s needs too? So many questions.

If this is a new relationship, it may have taken you awhile to realize which of your needs are not being met to even be able to articulate them to the other. It sounds like you have decided to be “all in” and that feels like a time to start discussing one’s essential relationship needs.

It sounds as though this was a difficult conversation that had you both upset. First, you are explaining something difficult to your partner. In return, your partner has to hear what you are saying. If it’s been awhile that you have been together, it may be hard to hear and one may get defensive.

It is out of this type of set-up that I think it is important to ask the question to your partner. “Is she having all of her needs met by you?” Now that you hear it this way perhaps you feel vulnerable to the answer. Where will that conversation lead? Everybody likes to have the illusion of meeting their partners’ needs. Rarely is it the case that our partner does meet them all, but expressing what is most important to let them become aware to try and meet your needs feels important.

Do keep in mind that no one person can meet our every need. Is this need a make or break deal? Or is it a need that you can get fulfilled elsewhere or by yourself? There is always the give and take in the relationship. My guess is this need you have expressed is really important to you and needed to be expressed.

It is sort of a shock to hear that there is no need of your partner’s that is not being fulfilled. However, take note! She wanted you to offer her the opportunity to tell you if there was something not being met. So, she wants two-way communication with you regarding both of your needs.

Recognizing our needs and communicating them to our partner in a way that moves the relationship forward and does not hurt the other is key to growing together as a couple. The risk is worth it even if there is fear of what you will hear or how the other will react.

Leaning In

Lean In – What do you have to lose?

Have you ever had something come up in your relationship with your partner and you get this funny little feeling that the person is not exactly pleased with whatever it is you are or are not doing? Often when this happens, the person getting the hint clams up and begins to judge or criticize one’s self regarding what the partner wants the person to do.

All of a sudden you have one person secretly hinting at something he is upset about and the other feeling bad about one’s self and trying to move to “fix it.”

Guess what’s missing?

Communication of course. However, if someone feels like she is being criticized, it’s often easier to judge self, criticize self, vow to do better, and then try. However, the whole thing sounds arduous and doesn’t leave two people feeling closer, but rather passive in how things are communicated and then, without even knowing it, resentments can build.

What’s an alternative? Lean in!

The idea is simple. When you get that feeling that your partner is displeased, naming it rather than taking it on and figuring it out on your own is the first step.

When you bring it up, do so in the spirit of curiosity. What is your partner trying to tell you? Perhaps it’s that she wants you to help out with housework around the house without being asked. Noticing that is the issue and then naming it with the other, and then asking, “How does it feel to do all of the chores and not have any help?” or “Why does this matter to you?”

Ask questions that open your partner up to telling you more about what she is experiencing in the here and now moment, as well as how this evolved to matter for her. This is also an opportunity for you to let your partner know your side of the story as well. By listening to one another, you can learn a whole lot more about one another and then strive to find a solution that works for both of you.

It won’t be perfect, but in leaning in and opening up the conversation, both parties will have a better sense of what is going on around the topic and who we are in regard to it. From there, compromises can be made and solutions found. More importantly, you will not have taken something on that may or may not be yours and your relationship may gain a further depth of understanding.

Maintaining a curious stance about your partner is key throughout the journey.