Expressing Our Needs In Relationships
Many people find opening up and being vulnerable to be intimidating, even if it’s with their partners whom they love and trust. Of course no one wants to be branded as “needy,” however, we all have needs and knowing how to express them to our partners is critical to a healthy relationship. Finding the power to lean into vulnerability can lead to rewarding results.
What Does it Mean to Express Our Needs to Others?
Expressing our needs to our partners is more than letting them know what we want more or less of or of the actions that we want them to take. It is giving context around the issue, defining how it makes you feel, and giving a request for how it could be improved. For example, if your partner is spending too much time sending pictures and memes to friends on social media, you might phrase your needs as “I feel disconnected when you are snap chatting with your friends while we are together. It makes me feel like you’d rather be with them in those moments. I wish that you would limit your use when we are spending time together.” (Great use of “I” statements 🙌) While it can be scary to express needs to our partners, similar to the example above, we often find that the root cause of the issue is a miscommunication. On top of that, our partners are open to hearing and understanding our needs.
Needs come in different forms, and it may not always be our partner’s responsibility to meet our needs. When it comes to couples, needs can be:
Physical needs: Such as intimacy or engaging in activities together (cooking, game nights, etc.)
Emotional needs: Such as feeling safe, not judged, accepted
Why is Verbalizing Our Needs Important In Relationships?
Shake the myth that verbalizing our needs means weakness and lean into being vulnerable! Expressing our needs can help increase trust and communication in the relationship.
It also opens the door to meaningful conversation in couples to share what is working in the relationship and what is not, and it provides a space for both partners in the relationships to feel heard.
And this may sound familiar, but our partners ARE NOT MIND READERS. It is not appropriate to place blame on our partner if we are not verbalizing our needs. If our partner does not know about your needs it becomes more of a barrier in fulfilling them. Expressing our needs allows our partners to react appropriately.
Barriers To Verbalizing Our Needs
While there is a laundry list of barriers to expressing our needs, here are a few ones that frequently come up. It is important to remember that the reward of sharing our needs outweighs the risk, and we need to break down these barriers in order to grow our relationships. Barriers include:
Anxiety to share our thoughts
Feeling it to be selfish to share our needs
Feeling complacent in the relationship
Allowing anger and frustration to take space
Expecting perfection immediately and not wanting to be patient (Relationships take time and effort)
Unhealthy past relationships
How to Express Your Needs
Practice using “I” statements and removing “You” when sharing our needs.
Using “You” can feel threatening and often allows one partner to shut down and not feel safe to continue a conversation. Using “I” takes ownership over our feelings without placing blame.
For example, saying “I feel frustrated when I come home from work and the dishes are still in the sink” is better than “you made me mad when you didn’t do the dishes.”
Recognize that there is a good time and space to have such conversations. The middle of the day when your partner is preparing for an important meeting is not one of them. Respect each other’s responsibilities and duties outside of the relationship. Create time that works for BOTH parties. It is important for each partner to be in a healthy headspace to have such conversations. For example if one partner says “I am tired and feel anxious” it would not be effective or productive to have a conversation because the other partner would not be respecting the others need to reset.
Activities That Can Help You and Your Partner Express Your Needs
📥📤 Needs Exchange
How It Works:
Step 1: Each partner writes two sections of their needs. One section is for “needs of mine that are being met in the relationship and how they are being fulfilled.” The other section is for “needs that can be improved on.” (Here are some ideas of needs to get you started - acceptance, accomplishment, intellectual stimulation, control, independence, safety, creativity, freedom, excitement, intimacy, harmony, recognition, adventure)
Step 2: Share your lists with each other
Step 3: Brainstorm with each other different ideas to meet the “needs that can be improved on” and lay out a plan to meet those needs
💌 Love Languages Quiz
By learning how we receive and express love, you can learn how to better express your own needs.
Meditation can also be helpful in expressing our needs as it allows both parties to relax, reset, and refocus on the topic at hand.
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Alexandria Dobrikovic, MSW, works as a Behavioral Health Outpatient Therapist. She brings five years of clinical experience, working with a range of populations including children, adolescents, families, and adults. Alexandria utilizes a client-centered approach while relying on her training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI). Throughout her career, she has established herself as a strong and empathetic advocate for her clients with the aim of empowering them to meet their goals. Alexandria has a passion for supporting her clients in their unique journeys. Alexandria holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from John Cabot University and a Master of Social Work from University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice.
Rebecca Thompson, LSW brings years of clinical experience in many areas including mental health, sexual orientation, trauma, grief/loss, personality disorders, couples, families, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Rebecca works with individuals in all stages of life and believes in using a holistic approach which recognizes the importance of addressing body, mind, emotions, and spirit to achieve and maintain health.
Information regarding Rebecca’s private practice: https://www.aewellness.org/aboutus