How to Communicate your Needs in a Relationship

Our partners cannot read our minds, which, in all honesty, is probably a good thing, but it might prevent them from meeting some of our unspoken needs. However, nobody wants to come across as whiny, clingy, or bossy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get our wishes across without sounding like attention-seekers or pushy people?

Great news: we can! Although the words are so similar, it is entirely possible to communicate our needs to the person we love without appearing needy. And we can share our boundaries and desires without giving the impression that we are bullies. It’s all in how we deliver those messages, which is essential to a healthy relationship.

Before we can ask a partner to meet our needs, we must have a clear grasp on them ourselves, which is not always as simple as it might sound. It can help to put pen to paper and brainstorm, focusing on what we would like more of rather than what we don’t want. Thinking about the things that serve us, that make us feel loved, safe, and satisfied, as well as what that looks like specifically to us, can be an excellent starting point.

Remember that you are both playing for the same team. Sometimes we subconsciously adopt the mindset of “me against you” in relationships, when the healthiest, most successful approach is more along the lines of “you and me against the world.” While communicating our needs is vital, including it as part of a comprehensive effort to foster a safe and fulfilling relationship benefits both partners. Research shows that considering what’s best for the relationship instead of just what is best for us as individuals can improve the partnership.

Making it a point to bring up our needs when we are calm will likely result in the most favorable outcome.  While it may be difficult to do as we sort through our feelings, asking for something specific is usually more effective than a more vague or general request.

Put respect at the forefront. Treating our significant others the way we want to be treated can go a long way, and playing the blame game or making accusations is far less likely to garner the results we desire. Using “I” statements, such as, “I feel lonely when you work late all week,” as opposed to “You” statements, such as, “You work all the time and leave me here alone,” is less likely to provoke a defensive or hostile response. Instead, it allows both people to work together towards a solution.

Start small. Spilling a laundry list of desires might make us seem overly needy. It could also leave a partner feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and heavily burdened. Sticking with a single request is an excellent way to begin. Also, requesting a behavior change rather than a change in values, motivations, or attributes tends to come across in a more caring manner. Saying, “I feel valued when you take time to wash the dishes,” can sound kinder than “Could you please be cleaner?”

Show gratitude when your partner meets your needs. Our significant others want to meet our needs. The chances are good that they already do many things with this goal in mind, which is largely why we are in our relationships. Research shows that when we call out thoughtful actions, our partners feel good about themselves and the relationship and are encouraged to do more. Appreciate your partner’s way of loving you. It is also vital that we set realistic expectations and value our partners’ contributions to our lives.

Remember that it’s a two-way street. We should strive to learn what our significant others’ needs are and find ways to meet them. Consistently checking in with a partner is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship and pinpointing any issues early, so they can be resolved before they become significant problems. Asking positive questions like, “What do you need more of from me?” and “What do you love about our relationship?” can be excellent ways to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

Be willing to compromise. Our core needs, such as esteem, love, and safety, should always be non-negotiable. However, we can negotiate how our needs are met. Being overly demanding has been shown to damage relationships. Compromises should feel good to both partners and take individual personalities and preferences into consideration. For instance, you might wish that your introverted partner would stand outside your window holding up a boombox playing a meaningful song a la “Say Anything” (if you have never seen it, check it out), but your significant other might feel more comfortable serenading you in private.

Always make self-care a priority, as well. As amazing as a partner might be, humans are, well, human. We all fall short, and no one person will ever meet every need for us. Looking to other relationships, such as friends, family, and even pets can help. More than anything else, striving to love and accept ourselves is vital.

Seek support. Relationships are complicated. When we have a hard time stating(or even knowing) what we genuinely need, struggle with feeling too dependent on someone else, or have trauma from previous relationships, they can become even more challenging to navigate. When they do, a therapist can help you work through these concerns and shift toward a happier, more satisfying connection.

By:  Tricia Goss with support from the June Health team.

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