5 Steps to Communicating Needs In Your Relationship

Communication forms the backbone of any successful relationship, serving as the vital connective tissue between partners. Within this intricate web of dialogue lies an essential element: the art of expressing needs. However, voicing these needs can be as easy as deciphering ancient hieroglyphs. In this blog, we’ll embark on a journey to unravel the mystery, offering a roadmap with five essential steps to master the art of communicating your needs within your relationship. Get ready to discover the power of effective communication as we delve into strategies that can transform the way you and your partner understand and meet each other’s needs.

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 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.

In the intricate dance of relationships, the ability to effectively communicate needs stands as a cornerstone for mutual understanding and growth. As we conclude this exploration of the five crucial steps to express needs within a relationship, remember that this journey isn’t about perfection but progress. It’s about embracing the messiness of human connection, and acknowledging that learning to communicate needs is a continual process of growth and understanding.

By implementing these steps—cultivating self-awareness, practicing active listening, expressing needs clearly, fostering empathy, and nurturing ongoing dialogue—you’re paving the way for a more harmonious and fulfilling relationship. Embrace the power of communication, recognizing that it’s not just about speaking but also about truly being heard and understood. So, embark on this journey with patience, empathy, and an open heart, and watch as your relationship transforms into a space where both partners feel valued, seen, and supported in expressing their needs.

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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

I focus my practice upon the empirically-based and proven research methods of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

I’ve seen these techniques consistently get results and I truly believe they are the most effective at creating positive, long-term change.

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