Ever felt like he just didn’t understand you; that you weren’t getting anywhere? You need to read this.
When your partner asks “what’s wrong?” who among us hasn’t answered, “nothing…” while secretly fuming, internally screaming, “if you don’t already know, I”m not going to tell you!”?
We’ve all wished our partners could magically read our minds. That’s because asking for what you want is hard. No one likes initiating a serious conversation: it requires being totally honest, making yourself vulnerable, and grappling with issues that can feel insurmountable.
But when something doesn’t feel good in your relationship, there’s not much choice except to talk about it. The secret to getting your needs met in your relationship is that there is no secret. You just have to ask. But, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
And, if you’re anything like me, the mere thought of broaching a touchy subject with your SO is enough to give you a stomach ache. I’m afraid of coming off as needy, or “too much” – afraid I’ll be rejected, hurt, or dismissed. And I’m afraid that whatever I say, it will come out wrong. The communication gap often feels too wide to bridge.
So, for those times when you’ve got to put on your big-girl panties and have that tough conversation, here are a few things to keep in mind…
Talk, talk, talk
As a rule, women like to talk more than men do. Like, a lot more. But when our stream of chatter is met with silence, or monosyllables at best, we wonder if our partner is really listening to us, or engaging with us at all. We wonder if we’ve said the wrong thing, or if our partner is angry.
But relationship expert and daughter of famed Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus author and psychologist John Gray; Lauren Gray says we need to get over this.
“For women, talking and sharing is a form of intimacy,” she explains.
“For men, talking is the tool they use to get a point across in order to achieve a goal or solve a problem.”
So, next time you pour your heart out to your partner and get crickets in response, don’t assume he doesn’t care about you and it’s all over.
“His silent treatment is not a sign that he doesn’t want to be intimate with you. It’s not a rejection,” explains Gray.
“It just means he’s comfortable and confident in your relationship.”
And if you find yourself doing the lion’s share of the talking in your relationship? That’s fine too, says Gray.
“Don’t feel bad or self-centered for it. Communication in a relationship is not meant to be tit for tat.”.
Are you listening?
“A woman experiences intimacy through sharing her feelings, stories, and experiences – but only when a man sits in front of her, looks her in the eyes, and really listens,” says Gray.
“She needs to feel heard.”
So, if your partner is checked out, avoiding your gaze, and not making you feel heard, what should you do? Again, you’re going to have to use your words. Talk to him about exactly what’s bothering you – is he looking at his phone, watching TV, or interrupting?
Mirroring is a listening technique in which one partner repeats back the ideas or feelings they’ve heard their significant other express, to check you’re both on the same page, and it’s a strategy many couples counselors teach their clients. Couples therapist and author of Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix, explains how it works.
“Tell your partner the message you would like him to hear. The message should start with ‘I’ and describe your feelings. Your partner then mirrors your message. If you feel your partner didn’t understand your message, explain again and have him mirror you until the message is received.”
So, for example, you might say, “I feel upset when you make weekend plans without talking to me first.” Your partner then mirrors the message back to you to demonstrate he’s heard the idea you’re trying to communicate to him, by saying something like, “So, it sounds like you get mad when I do things on my own without consulting you. Is that right?”
If he doesn’t mirror it back accurately at first (say he instead responds, “It sounds like you want to oversee every aspect of my life and control what I do”), go back and clarify your initial message, continuing to mirror until he gets it.
Keep it positive
Another way to ensure smooth communication is to use what relationship guru and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, calls the “soft start-up” when you raise an issue with your partner. That means focusing on the positive, relaying facts instead of being critical, and refraining from accusations and blame (which takes serious practice, so don’t beat yourself up if you slip up the first few times using it).
Gottman’s guidelines for constructive conversations include describing what is actually happening, rather than using judging statements. For example, you’d say “I picked up your socks and put away your dishes for the last three nights in a row,” instead of, “You’re a slob and I’m sick of cleaning up after you.”.
He also suggests keeping your requests positive, if you can. Rather than asking your partner to stop doing something you don’t like, focus your attention on instead asking for what you do want. For example, you’d say “Please include me in making plans with your parents,” instead of “Stop making plans with your parents and not telling me.”.
Relationships aren’t easy. Everyone says it takes work to make love last, but no one ever seems to anticipate just how hard it can be. Thankfully, learning to take responsibility for your own needs rather than making it your partner’s job to instinctively know them (no one, no matter how compatible they are with you, will ever be able to do this, FYI), speak up for yourself, and communicate effectively can go a long way toward making your relationship go the distance.
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Comment: How do you get your needs met in your relationship?