Discussing Relationship Needs
Have you ever said something like “I need more time to myself!” then got a reply that was so far from what you needed to hear that you just gave up? I know how frustrating this can be, so let’s talk about how to discuss relationship needs.
Staying with it when we don’t get the response we’re looking for the first time can be one of the hardest things about getting our needs met in relationships.
If you say “I need more time to myself” and your partner says something like…
- “I don’t get any time to myself!”
- “You go to your yoga class.”
- “We’ve got two kids, what did you expect?”
…you might feel like giving up.
Maybe you withdraw altogether?
It can be hard enough to say what you need in the first place!
Staying with it when you’re feeling angry, frustrated, or let down like this isn’t always easy.
But when we give up, nothing changes.
If you really want to get your need met, you need to stay with it.
When I see one partner pushing back against the other’s needs, it makes me really curious. (Because generally we do want the people we love to get the things they need.)
And the partner who stated the need is usually curious too, but most of the time it comes out something like “why are you saying/being like that?!”
If you can slow it down a bit, and ask gently, from a place of genuine curiosity (and empathy), you’re much more likely to learn something helpful.
Here are a few examples of how you could do that:
“When I said I need more time to myself and you mentioned how you don’t get enough time to yourself either, I felt sad and lonely. I imagined you weren’t interested in trying to change this. I want us both to be able to get our need for time to feel like ourselves met. Will you tell me a bit about what the lack of alone time lately has been like for you?”
“When I said I need more time to myself and you said that I go to my yoga class, I felt frustrated. I see me going to my exercise class as meeting one of my basic needs, but I imagined you see it as a luxury. Then I wondered whether maybe that hour is quite hard for you. What is it like for you when I go to yoga?”
“When I said I need more time to myself and you said “we’ve got two kids, what did you expect?”, I felt angry. I imagined you thought I should just give up on the idea of having time to myself, but I don’t want that for either of us. I’m curious about why you responded like that. What’s it like for you when I ask you to take care of the kids so that I can get some time to feel like myself again?”
You probably noticed that all of these examples end with a question about your partner’s experience.
This is because most of us are pretty open to helping people we love to get what they need – as long as we’re getting what we need too.
So giving some space to their needs can help open up your conversations. It can shift the tone from one where you’re battling to get what you need to one where you’re working together to facilitate each other’s needs.
Discussing Different Relationship Needs
Sometimes conversations about needs in relationships can get sidetracked because your needs and your partner’s are quite different.
For example, I’m an introvert and a highly-sensitive person, so I need lots of alone time.
My husband is very different to me, so he could easily say things like, “well I don’t expect you to take the kids out so that I can get time at home on my own!”
But he’s actually only likely to think something like this if his needs are not getting met, or my request crosses one of his boundaries.
What’s more helpful than comparing needs is for each of us to take responsibility for our own needs. That means communicating them clearly, and asking for and taking what we need in order to get them met.
Accepting Different Relationship Needs
The better you know yourself and your partner, the easier it will be to communicate your needs and both get them met – even when they seem contradictory.
Some of the differences in our needs are about differences in our personalities.
Have you ever taken a Myers-Briggs personality test?
It can be a great way to start a conversation with your partner about things like whether you feel energised or drained by social interaction, and whether you prefer to plan things or be more spontaneous.
And how about the 5 Love Languages test?
This is a great one for getting a better understanding of how you express love, and what makes you feel most loved.
Often we only discuss differences like this when something has happened to create tension around them.
Talking about this stuff when we’re happy and relaxed can help us to look at the differences between us a bit more dispassionately.
It can help us to see how our differences are actually our strengths, as long as we respect and value them (and each other).
How To Discuss Relationship Needs
When you’re thinking about how to discuss relationship needs, the top things to remember are:
- If your partner doesn’t seem open to meeting your needs, consider whether their needs are getting met too
- It’s normal to have different needs and give to each other in different ways
- The better you know yourself and your partner, the easier you’ll find it to assert your needs
Get In Touch
It’s not always easy to discuss relationship needs and other issues. If you would like to join my waiting list for relationship counselling (on your own or with a partner), or book a relationships after kids coaching call, you can contact me here. You can also join the mailing list here.