How To Ask for What You Need in Your Relationship

One of the main issues that the couples I work with bring to me is that neither of them is getting their needs met. Or, sometimes, one is getting theirs met while the other feels unloved and isolated. The first thing I do is to have them get present with each other. This usually means sitting and facing one another in silence until they rediscover their love and connection. Once that happens, we are able to move on to speaking and listening from a place of compassion and understanding. Pretty much every time, when their various needs come up, they both realize they have had resistance to hearing what those needs are because, on some level, they have a belief that it means they are failing as a partner. More importantly—and even more detrimental to the relationship—they also discover that they have not been showing love to each other because they have had automatic judgments about their partner’s needs, as well as their own.

For instance, a man who really needs to hear that he is loved and appreciated may be judged as being too sensitive, or weak. Likewise, a woman who really needs to receive gifts to know she is loved, may be judged as being a gold-digger or too materialistic. While society has been feeding us certain specific ideals of what needs our genders should have—honestly, society tells us we shouldn’t have needs at all—most of us feel like we are dying inside from not getting the love we crave, because it isn’t showing up in the way we can receive it. You may even be thinking that “feeling like you are dying inside” is an exaggeration, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is not.

We all have our own unique life experiences and points of view. Even if we grew up on the same block, or in the same house, our views of the world can vary quite a bit. While it can be more obvious that a woman experiences the world differently than a man, we have to also understand that no two men, or women, are exactly alike either. Of course, even with understanding this on a conscious level, we still have unconscious biases and programming that informs us otherwise.

I happen to be a man who, for whatever reason, feels loved when people tell me so. Hearing that someone wants to spend time with me, finds me attractive, thinks I am funny or sees something I have created and acknowledges the heck out of me for a job well done, fills me up. Yet, for years, I was in relationships with women who withheld that because they felt I shouldn’t need it, should be more self-confident or figured they were showing me love in other ways (that worked for them) so I should be happy with what I got. The result was that I felt worse; I not only felt unloved, but I also felt that there was something deeply wrong with me because I “wasn’t self-confident enough.” “Should” I have been more self-confident? Maybe. But by whose standards? What if I wasn’t more self-confident? What if that was all the confidence I could have at that time in my life, given my life experiences? What if, “I really appreciate you and you did a great freaking job,” was something that actually would have lifted my confidence? And what if I was totally confident enough, but there was something else at play?

A few years after that particular relationship ended, I was introduced to the book: “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate,” by Gary Chapman. This book explains five ways that we give and receive love. With this knowledge, we know how to show love to our partners in the ways they can feel it, and we also know what ways we feel loved. According to Gary Chapman, the five love languages are: acts of service, physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation and receiving gifts. I discovered my primary love language to be “words of affirmation,” with “physical touch” being an extremely close second. Over the years, in fact, those two have traded the primary and secondary positions.

Feeling vindicated that I had proof that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I went out into the world, and into relationships, where I quickly discovered that to many, it still didn’t matter what a book said: I was still seen as a “needy” man because I desired acknowledgment from my romantic partners. I was judged, felt judged and ultimately judged myself for needing this one thing that I was really good at providing for others, but was not “supposed” to need for myself.

In discussing this with a dear friend who had been experiencing similar judgments as a woman, we wondered how amazing it would be if we could say to each other: “Hi, my name is ______. My primary love language is “words of affirmation,” and because of my own set of life experiences, traumas and chemical make-up, what I really could use at this time is for you acknowledge the heck out of me as often as you can, to let me know that you love me and care about me. Would you be willing to do that?” And for her to say, “Hi, my name is _______ . My primary love language is “receiving gifts” and because of my own set of life experiences, traumas, and chemical make-up, what I really could use at this time is for you to offer me tokens of your love, to let me know that you love me and care about me. Would you be willing to do that for me?”

It can be that simple.

The reality is, our needs and desires come from somewhere. Sometimes they are based off of what was modeled to us, but more times than not, they come as a result of something that was missing for us as children. I know that my partner has a need for “quality time,” for instance, and while my understanding of “why” that is her love language may help me connect more deeply with her, what is really most important is that I make sure we have time together just for us…because I love her; that’s how I know that she will know.

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