If you've ever received a text message from a partner that says, “We need to talk,” then you know how it feels when someone doesn't know how to ask for what they need, in addition to telling you what they want: You feel a sinking sensation or a stab in the gut that makes you think that person is automatically leaving you. But when you're communicating what you need in a relationship, it's important to remember that there are two people who are impacted by your actions.
Your needs are constantly changing and evolving, particularly over the course of a relationship. In order for it to last, you need to have a partner who is willing to respond to the changes, to be able to identify what those changing needs are, and also to be able to meet and provide your partner with what they ask for.
Serious conversations probably shouldn't start over text message, but it's also the primary mode for most people to make plans. When you get in the habit of regularly communicating what you need in a relationship, then you might not even feel the need to set aside time for a large, serious talk. Viewing the relationship as an ongoing and evolving process means that you can have these talks in little pieces, rather than getting everyone worked up for a serious and possibly difficult conversation.
Here are some other strategies for how to ask for what you need in a relationship in a way that keeps everyone feeling safe and comfortable and loved.
1. Remember Every Conversation Is Not Make-Or-Break
When you are stating what you need in a relationship, your needs shouldn't have to get to the point of them being an ultimatum. Either a person can do something because they have the emotional or material resources to accommodate your needs, or they can't. If it's gotten to the point where you are saying, “Either change this or I am breaking up with you,” it might already be too late for your relationship. It's hard to thrive as a couple when you feel like someone is going to bring an axe down over your head.
2. Understand Your Partner Can't Read Your Mind, And Communicate What You Need Calmly
Nobody can intuitively know what another person needs to be happy. Just because your partner doesn't automatically know what you need, doesn't mean you aren't supposed to be together. A relationship isn't about two halves finding one another, but two whole people deciding to be together. Your missing piece isn't out there waiting for you, and no one person is going to give you everything you need.
I am open to the idea of soulmates, but I also believe that partnerships are construction projects. When you are asking for what you need in a relationship, don't allow your possible doubts about the relationship to seep into the conversation. Your partner will probably sense your doubts, and it will build anxiety into the fabric of the relationship. This isn't about breaking up; it's about staying together.
3. Don't Make It Personal
When you are communicating what you need in a relationship, keep in mind that your partner has needs, too. You are both two imperfect humans, and that doesn't make either one of you better than the other. If your needs are not compatible, then that isn't about personal failings — neither is the fact that your relationship needs some work. This isn't about what your partner isn't giving you, but what potential you see for your partnership.
When you are talking about what you need, make sure to ask your partner whether you are giving them what they need, too, and how you might be a better partner for them. One person shouldn't be changing themselves entirely for a relationship, nor should the relationship be the thing your happiness hinges upon. It's about rising and falling away from one another continually, like the tide.
If you approach talking about your relationship as a constructive project, where the two of you are participating equally, then it takes away the implications of shame or the feelings of uncertainty that might make your partner anxious about whether the relationship can last at all. Being in a relationship is a choice you make every day. Remember that the reason you are talking about these things in the first place is because you want to stay together. Otherwise, you'd already be gone.
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