Here are 5 steps to communicating needs:
1. Identify your need
Many times when we find ourselves getting annoyed or irritated by our partner, there is actually an underlying need not being met. Let’s look at fictional couple, Jack and Jill. Jill gets irritated every time she has to ask Jack to take out the trash. Jill thinks it just has to do with Jack being bad at chores. She also thinks he is lazy. However, if Jill looks beyond the surface issue, she finds that every time she sees the trash full, she feels like she is alone in the relationship. That Jack does not see how much she does and, ultimately, that she does not matter to him. The next time you find yourself feeling deeply frustrated about a seemingly small issue, try and look beyond the issue at hand – you might find there is a deeper need not being met.
2. Pick your moment
So you have identified your unmet need in the relationship. Now when do you bring this up to your partner? This is the second important step to communicating needs effectively in the relationship. The next time you and your partner argue, you will likely be reminded of it. However, bringing up anything in the heat of the moment is not the best idea. Once a couple is in a reactive place, it is nearly impossible to absorb what the other is saying. On the other hand, when things are good between you and your partner, you might shy away from discussing your unmet need in order to avoid stirring things up. While the fear of breaking the peace is understandable, it is actually the best time to sit down with your partner and convey your feelings. When we are calm and relaxed, our defenses are down and we are more inclined to listen with a loving ear.
3. How to begin
In relationships, it is so easy to identify what our partner is doing wrong, is not doing at all, or needs to do more of. In many cases these instances are all valid and true. However, when approached with a handful of shortcomings, places for improvement, etc., your partner is inclined to become defensive. Before you know it, the two of you might quickly jump to that reactive place I mentioned earlier. Instead, try approaching your partner from that space deep down inside of you that is being affected – from that emotional place you find yourself in when you notice that your needs are not being met. Let’s go back to Jack and Jill– instead of Jill saying “When you don’t take out the trash I feel like you don’t care about me at all,” she might try saying “Lately I have been feeling really sad because I feel like I don’t matter to you.”
4. Open arms and ears
So what happens next? In an ideal world, your partner would respond to your concern with open arms and a dedication to start showing you just how much you matter. Sadly in the real world, a partner will respond by sharing unmet needs of their own, some of which might have contributed to the behaviors that are making you feel like you do not matter. Remember Jack and Jill? Well, there is always a chance that Jack might not take out the trash because after he experiences so much criticism and anger from Jill. He feels like he can never get anything right and he starts to back away to protect the relationship from even more fighting. When Jill sees him backing up, she gets the message that she does not matter to him. You might feel your defenses popping up in these moments, but the best (and hardest) thing to do is to take a breath and really listen to what your partner has to say. Remember that we hear the most from a calm, relaxed place. If you listen patiently, and keep talking from that vulnerable place, you will learn so much about each other, and ultimately find that your need gets met.
5. Seek Support
Sound complicated? That’s because it is. Relationships involve such a variety of deep emotions, and your loved one tends to push buttons you did not even know you had. At times, when we experience issues with our partner, it is almost impossible to navigate through the myriad of emotions and communicate needs effectively. When it gets to this point, a therapist can help. Couples counselors are able to help organize what is going on and promote positive shifts in the relationship in order to help couples experience their relationship in an entirely new way.