“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
~ Brené Brown
At its core, this is about learning how to communicate your needs in a way that can best be received by our partner.
If our partner is able to hear us without jumping to the defensive, the chance that our needs will be taken into account are immensely increased.
Problems tend to arise when we wait too long to express ourselves, building walls of resentment in the meantime.
When we finally can’t take it anymore, we may explode or come across as blaming and angry. It may sound something like this: “You never take me out to dinner anymore. You don’t care about me and aren’t putting any energy into this relationship!” A partner hearing this would certainly feel attacked and get the message that they just aren’t measuring up. This creates an environment of dejection and hopelessness: “I can’t make her happy. I can’t do anything right.”
But, wait! There’s another option.
We can refuse to allow the resentments to build. Continuing with the example outlined above, we don’t have to wait until our partner has failed to take us out to dinner for several months straight. We have the power of positive reinforcement going for us. When we “catch him” doing something we appreciate, we don’t keep it to ourselves. Expressing gratitude for behavior that we like in our partner is the surest way to keep it coming. “I so enjoyed our date last night. When you plan a romantic evening out with me I feel so valued. Thank you.”
If you are feeling that your partner is still not carrying his fair share of the relational load, be sure to communicate from a personal perspective.
Share how it feels to you to not believe that the relationship is balanced, but do it from a place of expressing your feelings, not pointing the finger at his failures. “I-statements” are tried and true ways of expressing our feelings in a way that diffuses our partner’s jumping to the defensive.
Rather than saying “You aren’t putting effort into our relationship,” try “When you don’t put aside some quality time for us, I feel like I don’t matter to you. I feel so special when you take me to dinner on Friday nights.” Shifting the focus makes all the difference in healthy communication with our partners.
Marnee Reiley, LMFT - www.YourOCTherapist.com
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to know and understand yourself; in such a way that you can help others know and understand you too.
This is even more paramount when it comes to relationships; especially with your significant other. Being clear on who you are makes it easier to express yourself to your partner. Otherwise, you will play lots of guessing games. And that’s no fun.
Part of knowing and understanding yourself is being clear on your requirements, needs and wants.
If this is not clear in your relationship, you are bound to run into misunderstandings and not getting your needs met. In fact, this is the reason why couples have so many different challenges in their relationship; because one or more needs are going unmet. When this happens, it may seem to him like a bunch of whining is going on, when all you want is to be heard and understood. This MUST be done in the very beginning. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done later if you missed it. It just means that the sooner you’re clear, the better. When you’re clear, and this is made known up front but he seems to be slipping, address it. Don’t let it continue as is. The mere fact that it continues says both of you agree to what’s happening.
If you were not clear initially, now is the time for clarity.
Upon your awareness of a need going unmet, make it known and have a discussion from there about it. We do teach people how to treat us. If someone is behaving in a way that disturbs you, don’t let it continue without saying something; because you’re establishing an unwanted pattern or habit. This makes you just as responsible as him. Habits are hard to break, because they fight to stay in our lives. So, stop the old habits and bring on new ones.
Making this known is not being “needy”.
It’s just being clear about what you do and don’t want in your life. Be careful not to start what you won’t continue; or let get started what you dislike. This is honest, upfront communication. Before you are all up in your emotions, be clear on this. Express yours. Listen to his.
Ultimately, if you feel as if you’re putting more into the relationship than he is, you owe it to yourself and to him to share these feelings.
If he genuinely cares, and you believe he does, something will change. If not, this should let you know who actually needs to make a change.
Barbara Ann Williams, LPC, MS – www.barbaraannwilliams.com
All of us have emotional needs, many of which crop up in a long-term relationship with our partner. Sometimes it’s difficult to know which needs are appropriate and healthy and which ones are merely leftover emotional baggage from earlier in our lives and previous relationships. One of the most important needs is feeling that your partner is putting sufficient effort into your relationship so that you feel that what you’re both doing more or less balances out.
Here are some tips for getting what you need:
#1,. Reflect on your needs
The first things you want to do if you feel things aren’t right between you is to a self-assessment. The worst action you can take is pushing your partner to put in more effort when you’re not doing your share. So, take some time to see if you’re doing less than is appropriate, just about enough, or above and beyond normal expectations. If you’re honest with yourself and can see that you’re doing more—sometimes much, much more—than your partner is, you know that something is wrong.
Note the areas in which you’re overdoing and your partner is underdoing: housework, quality time together, sex, socializing, sharing emotionally, etc. That way, when you speak with your partner, you can be specific and not vague or unclear. The more specific examples you can come up with, the better the conversation will go. For example, rather than saying, “You’re not putting in enough effort,” you’ll be able to say, “You’re not doing your share in cleaning or cooking, planning date nights or initiating sex.”
#2. Ask if your partner has time to talk about the relationship
This question in itself will give you lots of information about the “effort” situation, which is what you’re looking for to understand what’s going on with your partner. Ask at a time you know your partner has time to talk and notice the reaction you get. If it’s, “I can’t believe you want to talk about the relationship again. That’s all you ever seem to want to talk about,” this isn’t a good sign of interest or effort. If it’s not the right time, your partner should say something like, “Well, right now’s not great, but I’d love to talk about it later tonight right after dinner. Is that good for you?”
Being willing and able to talk about the relationship is one way of showing interest and effort in making it stronger. If your partner shows no interest (while saying it’s there) by refusing putting aside time, you will need to point this out and continue to return to the subject of having a discussion until it happens or you know it won’t.
#3. Be specific about what “effort” means
The book The 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman does a beautiful job explaining how differently we all feel about receiving and expressing love. If by “more effort” you mean that you don’t hear “I love you” enough, that’s very different than wanting your partner to clean up the bathroom or kitchen once in a while. People offer effort and show love, caring and commitment in different ways, so the more specific you can be, the more your partner will understand what you want.
Note your partner’s reaction to your comments. Are they defensive? Do you feel heard and understood? Are your desires being validated or ignored and devalued? If you’re asking your partner to spend more time with you in the evenings and you find yourself talking to a body whose eyes are glued to the TV, you can use that as an example of feeling taken for granted.
#4. Talk nice and be assertive
Don’t attack your partner, but also don’t apologize for your needs. In fact, forget feeling needy. Say what you want honestly and clearly. Don’t ask in a way that makes your partner sound like a bad person for doing this or not saying that. But, also, don’t ask in a way that sounds as if you’re partner is doing you a big favor by occasionally, say, initiating sex. You don’t want to attack, but you also don’t want to sound like you’re begging.
Practice in front of the mirror with the words you want to use. Watch your body language: no arms crossed in front of you or fists all balled up. Use the mirror exercise to feel comfortable with what you’re going to say. Speaking it aloud will help you hear how your words and tone sound.
#5. Check in after your conversation on needs
It’s always helpful after intimate discussions to check in, right after or maybe later in the day, with how our partner thinks it went. You also need to do some thinking about it. Were you effective? How did you feel about your partner’s responses? Did you get too angry and might there be leftover hurt feelings on either side? Give your partner a chance to air grievances if necessary.
Sometimes the best talks are the ones about how you talk with each other. Ideally, your partner would have gotten the news that more effort is necessary to make the relationship work and will cheerfully go about making that happen. If that doesn’t occur, you may need to do a round two using the above points. But, be careful that you’re not having this kind of discussion weekly. If you’ve talked about it enough for someone to “get” what needs to be done yet isn’t do it, it may be time to stop asking for your needs to be met and move on.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
I don’t believe that relationships are a 50/50 proposition.
There will be times when one partner is putting in more energy. However, in the end there has to be a balance that feels fair to both parties.
Dr. Murray Bowen said that, “The degree to which one member of a system overfunctions, the other member will underfunction”.
In this dynamic, one person takes on more responsibility for the functional aspects (emotional and physical) of the relationship than the other.
This is almost always an unconscious process. Usually our position stems from our roles in our families of origin. If you were the responsible one in your family, you will be prone to repeat that role in your grown up relationships. If you are used to managing, you need to find someone to manage. This explains why over and underfunctioners unconsciously tend to find each other.
If your sense of self is based on care-taking, you need a partner who needs to be taken care of.
If you define yourself as a person needing to be taken care of you have to find a caretaker. While not necessarily comfortable, these roles are very familiar to you. Notice I didn’t say “beneficial”. Any fixed role limits personal growth. Any time you define yourself in contrast or opposition to another you are limiting your ability to reach your own potential.
In effect, the level of functioning of your partner is defining your own level of functioning.
Invariably, the underfunctioner complains about feeling controlled and the overfunctioner feels used or overworked. These perceptions are actually accurate, but what neither partner realizes is that they are self-created.
There is really only one way out of this reciprocal dynamic.
You have to stop playing your part. If you are dancing and you want to change the dance, you have to stop doing the same steps. In this case it almost always means that the overfunctioner needs to stop doing more than she wants to. Underfunctioners rarely initiate this change because they are more comfortable in their role. The difficulty for the overfunctioner is that it is not guaranteed that the underfunctioner will step up. The only guarantee is that if she doesn’t stop, he will never increase his functioning.
This is a real bind for the overfunctioner.
She risks that important tasks won’t get done. These tasks could include important stuff like paying bills or taking care of children or pets, to less crucial responsibilities like sharing in the upkeep of the house. Stepping out of this dynamic can be a big risk!
How responsibility will be shared is something that you really want to address before you’re in so deep that it’s difficult to get out.
Pay attention. If you are doing more than your fair share, complain. But take stock of yourself. Are you falling into a familiar pattern? Are you always the one to do the heavy lifting? If this scenario is familiar, you are going to have to start managing a lot of anxiety to refrain from being the doer.
You will have to give up tons of control and begin to trust that your partner will be someone you can rely on. That is the only way to know if you have a partner willing to share a life and not depend on you to take care of him. If your partner doesn’t step up you need to ask yourself if you are willing to continue to live this way.
Sally LeBoy, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
What makes a good relationship?
There are three factors to consider when you are assessing your relationship. They are:
1. A good relationship will possess what you consider your “must-have” necessities. In other words, you share the same religion, same philosophy of life, same political affiliation, or same moral values. These are things you find very important and ultimately make your relationship solid.
2. A good relationship also has some flexibility, which means you can each be who you are. You love Chinese food, but your partner hates it. You love listening to jazz and your partner doesn’t understand it. You read inspirational books and your partner likes mysteries. Obviously, it’s OK to be different and this in fact makes the relationship more exciting.
3. A good relationship makes concessions. You’ll agree to watch a war movie with your partner and your partner will agree to go to the ballet with you. You’ll learn golf and your partner will take dance lessons. You’ll sit through the Super Bowl and your partner will watch Sex and the City reruns. These compromises show that you care and that “bending” is more important than staying rigid and getting your way.
In other words, your relationship is really good if you allow each other to be who you are, yet are flexible enough to step out of your box to explore each other’s interests.
What really matters, though, is to experience a secure, harmonious, give and take relationship with someone who understands this as well. Cooperation, negotiation, adaptation and conciliation are all essential tools for keeping the relationship healthy and long lasting.
Is it too much to want your relationship to be good and to expect your partner to want the same thing? Of course not. So, if something is missing and you feel things could use some improving, then it’s time to talk about your expectations of each other and see if those expectations could be met.
A man who is not willing to make adjustments in his behavior, who is not able to understand your desires and can’t put the extra effort into making the relationship a good, safe, fulfilling one, is not worth your energy.
Don’t worry about feeling needy when you discuss things. Worry about being in a relationship that needs a lot of work with little reward.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
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