Emotional Honesty: Communicating Your Wants and Needs

It’s been a long time since I did one of these relationship-advice style posts.  What I want to talk about is good communication habits, getting your needs met, and how these fit into emotional honesty.

Healthy adults have wants and needs.  These are good to have, and they contribute to being a whole person.

These can cover all sorts of areas, and can overlap until you can’t quite figure out whether you need something or just want it a lot.  Generally speaking, in a good relationship, you don’t really have to.

Now, I’m not talking about basic needs, like food and shelter, or expensive wants, like an Ashford Joy.  I’m talking about personal needs and wants, the sort of thing you need to make you feel safe and comfortable and the things that you want that make you happy.

There are three major areas where there might be a failure to communicate in this area.  The first is failure to identify.  This is your job.  Nobody can really determine what you need to be happy but you.  Below I have some hints and suggestions about how to identify these needs so you can get them addressed.  The second, then, is failure to acknowledge.  This can be an issue with either party: you don’t tell your partner what you need, or they don’t listen when you do.  The third is failure to respect.  This usually falls on the listener; if I tell you what I need, and you ignore it, that’s an issue.  So, how can these problems get addressed?

Let’s start at the beginning.

The first, and most important, step is identifying your wants and needs.

If you’re a list person, make a list.  This is going to take a lot of self-examination, but it’s something that can be done whether you’re in a good place emotionally or not.  What about your situation makes you happy?  What makes you unhappy?  What would fix that problem, or what’s missing that needs to be present?  What’s changed?  Take your time and think things through.  You can also talk to close friends or parents, people who know you well, if you’re stuck on what something means.

Some hints/tips/things to think about:

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?  Everyone needs time to recharge, and for an introvert, that means time away from people – even their partner.  If you’re an extrovert, are you spending enough time with groups of people, or have you and your partner holed up away from the world? That might be fun for awhile, but eventually it will be exhausting.

Do you feel burdened – with your current level of housework, for example?  This is one of those things that’s easy to shove down resentment until it turns into a screaming fight about loading the dishwasher or taking out the garbage.  It can be anything, though: paying the bills, for example, is a huge burden for me. I have a hard time dealing with money and it’s very stressful to have to do so. Jack, on the other hand, loves handling the budget.

Do you feel appreciated?  I am a total slut for praise.  If you regularly tell me that I’m clever and wonderful and you see how hard I’m working, I will do anything for you.

Can you tell your partner anything?  This is a big need for me – I need to feel like I can tell Jack anything, even if it’s bad, without worrying that he’ll be mad at me. Notice that this is not the same question as, “Do you tell your partner everything?” Not everyone has the same kind of best-friend relationship with their partner as I do with mine, and there’s nothing wrong with having someone else in your life to tell your deepest, darkest secrets to.  But if you wrecked the car or lost your job or found out that your mom has cancer, could you go to your partner with it?

– A list of other suggestions, more in the general sense of things you might need – feel free to elaborate as desired.  Trust. Respect. Freedom. Safety. Comfort. Sharing. Understanding. Partnership/Teamwork. Laughter. Love. Sex.

Once you have a good idea of what you need and want, it’s time to take a look at the ones you’re not getting.  You might want to divide your list in two: needs/wants that are being met, and needs/wants that need work.

That brings us to step two: being acknowledged.  Bring your list to your partner.  Say something like, “I love you and I’m happy with you (assuming that you do, and that you are), but I’m not as happy as I could be.  Would you help me?”   Share both halves of the list with them, so they can see that there are needs that they’re meeting.  If you’re happy in your relationship in general, emphasize that you not having all your needs met doesn’t make your partner a bad person or a bad significant other.  Solving this problem is about communication, not about their failure.

Somewhere during step two, you start to slide into step three: being respected.  Talk.  Negotiate. Listen.  Make sure you don’t turn the conversation into a competition!  This isn’t about the sacrifices either of you are making or who has the right to feel a certain way. Everyone’s feelings are valid and everyone should have their needs met.  Respect also needs to continue past the conversation itself – if you discuss your needs with your partner, and they agree to change something, they need to make the change and keep it up.

In an ideal situation, you make your list, you bring it to your partner, your needs get addressed, and changes are made to improve your relationship.  Fantastic!

If you bring it to your partner and they are unwilling to address any of your issues, then you might want to suggest couples’ counseling or consider re-evaluating your relationship.

Asking that your wants and needs are met by your partner and your friends is not selfish. In fact, never demanding that your needs get met is more selfish, because you end up building up resentment and then lashing out at people around you, who are then confused and upset by the sudden aggression/tears.  One of the things Isabel did to me was essentially train me to suppress all my wants and needs, and then blame me for the inevitable breakdown when the resentment got too much.  When I brought a need to her, she would tell me that either it was her need that I was failing to meet, that I didn’t have the right to need whatever it was, or that filling the need wasn’t her job.  In a functional relationship, BOTH partners get their needs met.

I have found that, once you have the initial conversation about getting your needs met, it opens up a channel of communication for the future.  The first conversation may be hard, but future discussions about tweaking or adding things to the list will be much easier.  Once I realized that Jack needed to spend a certain amount of time alone per week, I shifted my schedule to make sure that he had it. Now that I’m home all the time, I periodically check in with him to make sure that he’s still getting his alone time.

One more thing:  One person does not have to meet all your needs.  This is why you have friends.  If one of your needs is spending time engaged in a hobby your partner doesn’t enjoy, your partner needs to make sure that you have the time to do it, but they don’t have to do it with you.  I go to knitting group and hang out at TYF while Jack’s at work.

Hopefully this will help you get your needs met in your own relationship.  Questions, comments, helpful suggestions, ways you and your significant other did or did not work things out, always welcome.

~ by Amber on April 16, 2011.

One Response to “Emotional Honesty: Communicating Your Wants and Needs”

  1. Reblogged this on My Blog.

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