how do I tell my partner what I need?

It usually starts with a vague feeling that something isn’t right,  but we aren’t sure why we are unsettled, frustrated, irritable with our partner. A sense that we are becoming adversaries rather than friends, point-scoring rather than cooperating, sometimes solidifies into feelings of antagonism, hurt and frustration and leads to rows and accusations, both taking up defensive positions where the other is ‘wrong’.  As we start to argue more, we put up a defensive wall,  preparing our next reply – quite unable to listen to, or hear what our partner is saying.

This feeling seems to surface at two different times in our relationship – first,  after we have been living together for a couple of years, the desire to fall into bed with each other at every possible opportunity has subsided a little, and we are getting to grips with the realities of living with a man or woman who is quite different from us.  Our beloved’s ideas on virtually everything –  cleanliness, tidiness, the need to be organised or not, bedtime, sport-watching, parenting, friends, and above all the importance of communicating within a relationship turn out to be entirely different from ours.  What seemed charming and funny at first now irritates the hell out of us.  How do we tell our other half, without endless arguments, that we are not feeling okay?

This growing sense of being at odds with our partner also frequently develops when there is a big change in our couple life – a baby is born, we get promoted or one of us starts working shifts,  someone in the family is seriously ill, children leave home.  Any major life event alters the balance in our relationship, affects our individual needs and means that if we aren’t talking and listening properly to each other, there will be tension and problems.  When we are feeling under pressure, unsupported, or verbally attacked, we seem to shut down mentally. We blame our partner for not listening, not understanding, not helping, but the way in which we talk to them causes them to shut down too.

So here’s a few suggestions for restarting communication and getting you functioning as a couple again:

  • The way in which we say things can change everything about our relationship.
  • If we want to communicate that our needs as a person are no longer being met, it’s no good starting with ‘you are… you did, you were…..’
  • It works better if we say ‘I have been feeling…I am feeling…..I need…..’
  • If we shout or ask aggressively our partner can’t hear
  • When we say what we need gently, calmly, repeatedly, there is a better chance they can listen
  • We need to….’ has a much higher chance of a positive response that ‘You need to’
  • Getting what we need in a relationship is not about asking for less, it’s about developing the confidence to ask for more.  But it’s how we ask that has the most to do with success or failure in getting our needs met.

All of the above is easier said than done.  It takes time to change the way we ask for what we need, and it takes practice too.  Sometimes we need professional support to begin with, and it’s better to seek it before that point-scoring becomes personal; once we start to wound each other it becomes very hard to listen and much more difficult to care………

 

 

 

the little things make a difference….

If you ask a happy couple why their relationship is good, I’ll bet it’s not because he proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower with a huge diamond solitaire, or because they had a villa in the Seychelles for their honeymoon.  It won’t be because he once filled a hotel room with red roses and left the key to a new pink Mini on her pillow, either, (as one very unhappy client once told me he had done).  No, if you ask a happy couple why they get on so well, it’s much more likely to be ‘the little things’ that make the difference.

Clients who are arguing a lot, or who have grown silently apart, want things to change, and they come for counselling because they don’t know where to start.  And they are often surprised, and a bit sceptical, when I suggest that they begin by doing small things differently.  No one thinks that always kissing their partner (even just on the cheek) as they leave the house can make much of a difference. Couples are puzzled when I suggest they look  their partner in the eyes and smile when they arrive home; it takes less than a second to do.  It takes two minutes to ask each other how the day has gone, and show you are listening through eye contact, nodding, any facial expression which means that you have heard. Holding hands while watching the tv, sitting on the same sofa, giving each other a kiss before going to sleep, putting the kettle on when your partner comes in tired; tiny things which can seem pointless to a couple who haven’t had sex for three months, but intimacy is about closeness, and it’s the small, caring actions that show we care and bring us back together again.

It’s a great myth that we always have to feel differently before we can behave better towards each other; it works the other way round too.  There’s a lot of research evidence that doing positive things, starts to change the way we feel.  So smiling, eye contact,  and just sitting together help us to feel closer and more sympathetic, and doing small things for each other has the same effect. All the stuff that takes about five minutes, but we get too lazy to do: feeding the dog, taking each other a cup of tea in bed, filling the car up with petrol, pairing the socks rather than leaving them in a heap; small, apparently insignificant actions, none of which takes much physical time, but which show that we are aware of the other’s needs, and that we want to care.

I’ve been talking about how we show our love for each other on a daily basis, but  no matter how much we care for each other,  couples also need some fun together if they are to stay happy.  It doesn’t need to be about grand, romantic gestures, just bringing home a bottle of wine, or a bunch of flowers on a Friday evening, booking a babysitter and getting some tickets to a film, planning a weekend away without the kids; more ‘little things’ really………….