February 15, 2021
How to Identify & Express Needs to Revive Connection in Your Relationship
Written by Rachel Eddins
The need for love is embedded in the very fabric of your being.
Your brain actually pursues romantic love with long-term intentions. The chemicals released through romantic feelings place you in a calm state, give you a sense of security, and even reduce anxiety and stress.
Being in love is good for your physical and mental well-being, self-esteem, and relationship satisfaction.
Over time, though, you may lose sight of that fact. Then a holiday such as Valentine’s Day reminds you that your romance is supposed to be alive.
Yet, feeling connected to your partner shouldn’t be saved for a specific day of the year. They should last all year long!
How can you achieve this?
Spend time identifying and communicating your needs in your relationship and vice versa. When our needs are met, we are content.
What are Your Relationship Needs?
We know that effective communication in relationships is essential for satisfaction and long-term connection, but you may feel like something is missing in your relationship.
Communication in relationships is key, but to communicate effectively, you need to know what you need.
Healthy relationships are friendships and meet the basic needs of each partner involved. Friendship is about nurturing the relationship for the benefit of each partner. They are about supporting, sharing and giving to one another.
By identifying, expressing and meeting each other’s relationship needs you foster friendship and intimacy.
Knowing Your Needs & Your Partners Fosters Connection
Each of our needs are unique. If you’re aware of your partner’s needs, you can respond to their needs (vs your own preferences) and vice versa. If you make your needs known, your partner can respond appropriately to you.
Too often we make the mistake in relationships of giving our partner what we need ourselves without asking or knowing what they need. This can lead to resentment if you feel you are giving, but your partner feels that something is missing.
Conversely, if you are not sharing your needs with your partner, you cannot get frustrated if they aren’t met. This is another relationship trap in which we expect our partner to know automatically how to meet our needs. Or, perhaps our needs were rejected when we were younger and we don’t feel safe sharing our needs.
Identifying Unmet Needs, Why We Lose Our Connection
When you first started dating, all you needed to be happy was each other. Relationships tend to seem so simple when you first start going out. But as time goes on, cracks develop, and you find yourself frustrated.
Think about what it is that is upsetting you. Tune in deep to find your primary emotions. Are you feeling alone and needing more connection? Are you feeling inadequate and needing more appreciation?
Get underneath your anxiety and frustration to identify what you are really feeling and what you really need in your relationship.
Effective communication in relationships is about sharing the vulnerable parts of yourself vs. reactivity. You might be aware of what you are feeling but unsure of what it is that you need.
Some Unmet Needs could be:
- You may not feel valued. Maybe your significant other is starting to take you for granted, and you just want to feel like you are important and acknowledged by them.
- Perhaps you’d like some room to express a little more individuality. Couples frequently refer to themselves as “we.” This is romantic and sometimes accurate. This merging of identities can also represent too many boundaries being crossed.
- You may have security concerns, whether it be financial, physical, or emotional.
- Your partner may not be giving you the emotional support that you desire. You try to open up about concerns, and your partner doesn’t seem to be listening or has his/her face in an electronic device. These days, we can sit together on the couch but feel like we’re on different planets.
- In a similar vein, your partner may not be encouraging you when you’re down, and you could really use the encouragement.
- Sex could be lacking passion. The frenzied lust of early attraction is a gift that can become a trap. Our intimate lives evolve as we do. Without steady communication, this reality may appear as an obstacle. The needs that aren’t being met don’t necessarily have to be of the emotional type.
- They may not give you the trust that you feel that you deserve.
Use Your Emotions to Identify Your Relationship Needs
You might be experiencing a combination of these unmet needs, or even something not mentioned here. Relationships are complicated and require some work to be successful.
Use your underlying emotions to identify what it is that you are feeling. Your feelings give you information about what you need.
For example, if you feel alone, perhaps you require more quality time with your partner or encouraging words of affirmation. What you need could vary depending on what love languages you speak.
Complete the checklist of relationship needs below to identify your most important needs.
Identifying Your Relationship Needs Worksheet
Instructions for the Relationship Needs Worksheet:
The following is a general list of relationship needs. Go through the list and check off the ones that are important to you and then check off what you believe are important to your partner. Then rank yours and what you believe are your partner’s 5 highest needs. Then go ahead and discuss with your partner your guesses and assumptions and then take a little while to clarify each of your top 5 needs
|To be told that I am loved||☐||☐|
|To be told, that I am valued and a vital part of my partner’s life||☐||☐|
|To have a sense of belonging to and with my partner||☐||☐|
|To be respected as an individual||☐||☐|
|To be needed for other than the role and tasks I perform||☐||☐|
|To know that I am a priority in my partner’s life||☐||☐|
|To know that I am special, above everyone else in my partner’s life||☐||☐|
|To feel that my partner is proud to call me his or her own||☐||☐|
|To be trusted as a responsible partner||☐||☐|
|To feel that my partner would choose me again||☐||☐|
|To know that I am and can be forgiven for my transgressions, flaws and inadequacies||☐||☐|
|To be accepted—flaws, fallacies and all||☐||☐|
|To know that my partner and I are, above all else, close and trusted friends||☐||☐|
|To be desired and desirable||☐||☐|
|To be appreciated for who and what I am and do||☐||☐|
|To have passion between me and my partner||☐||☐|
|To be touched and caressed||☐||☐|
|To be kissed, even if casually||☐||☐|
|To be hugged or held||☐||☐|
|To know that I am welcomed in my partner’s personal space||☐||☐|
|To be physically welcomed when encountering my partner||☐||☐|
|To know that I am part of a couple when interacting with the world||☐||☐|
|To be encouraged and welcomed by non-verbal communications||☐||☐|
|To have a satisfying and rewarding sexual life||☐||☐|
|To know that my personal spiritual values are supported without judgement||☐||☐|
|To feel that my partner respects my spiritual needs||☐||☐|
|To share a spiritual life, even if that spiritual life is experienced differently by my partner||☐||☐|
|To know and feel that my individual beliefs and differences are respected, if not shared||☐||☐|
|To be remembered with calls and acknowledgements when apart||☐||☐|
|That my partner will plan and structure his or her activities to include me||☐||☐|
|That social activities are shared rather than experienced individually||☐||☐|
|Appropriate tenderness and support when in public||☐||☐|
|To be encouraged and supported physically and emotionally when in public||☐||☐|
|To hear sweet things in a social environment||☐||☐|
|To be encouraged and supported in social situations||☐||☐|
|To be treated with politeness and regard in social situations||☐||☐|
|To share fun and joy in social situations||☐||☐|
|To be connected with my partner||☐||☐|
|To share joy and laughter||☐||☐|
|To feel that I am the most important person in my partner’s life when in a crowded, busy social environment||☐||☐|
|To know that my partner will stand by me in times of distress or conflict||☐||☐|
|That my partner will rally to my aid if needed||☐||☐|
|To have input and control with regard to the emotional aspects of our relationship||☐||☐|
|To be supported by my partner||☐||☐|
|To know that my partner is loyal and committed||☐||☐|
|To know that my relationship will not be put at risk and hang in the balance because of disagreements and confrontations||☐||☐|
|To know that my partner is 100% committed||☐||☐|
|To know that my partner is there for me in times of third party conflicts and problems||☐||☐|
|To know that my partner is a safe and soft place to fall into.||☐||☐|
The “Love Languages” Can Help You Identify Your Relationship Needs
These are the five ways that love is communicated in relationships, specifically romantic ones. The five love languages are the patterns people commonly use to give and receive love.
- Acts of service
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
- Physical touch
Have you heard of them? Everyone feels and expresses love, but what one person considers a loving act may be completely off-putting to the next.
Understanding your love languages as well as your partners can be incredibly helpful for navigating a long-term relationship.
Your primary love language will be the one you consistently identify as a loving act, regardless of whether it is touch or service, or gifts. That action will speak the loudest to you.
The significance of all the others depends on how much value you place on them.
Identifying & Expressing Your Needs to Your Partner Effectively
So you’ve recognized your important and/or unmet needs, but how do you express this to your partner without making them feel like the bad guy? After all, it’s very likely that they don’t even realize what they are doing (or not doing).
Try not to vent or accuse when you bring the subject up. While this may feel therapeutic at the time, you’ll actually be causing more problems, both now and later.
No one likes to be accused, and your partner will probably get defensive, causing the conversation to end with little hope of resolution. Before you start discussing your partner’s issue, clearly think about your unmet needs and some possible solutions.
Demands and Expectations Generate Resentment – Express Needs, Not Demands
Needs are not wants. Needs also change and transform or fluctuate based on which needs are currently met. Responding to each other’s needs fosters a deeper, caring connection in your relationship.
However, identifying and expressing needs can only foster connection if they are not demands. Demands assume that punishment or criticism will occur if the need is not met. Each partner should be able to choose to meet a need. There can be many loving reasons why a partner may not be in a position to meet your need at that moment in time.
Following are suggestions to help you express your needs in your relationship in a positive way.
Defining your exact thoughts and feelings here is important.
- Are you angry, confused, or depressed?
- Is the issue minor and started recently, or is it a major issue that has been going on for years?
- Was there an event that marks the start of these feelings, such as getting married or having a baby?
How to communicate better in a relationship
Start with a soft start-up, complaining without blaming. Describe what is happening without evaluating or judging. Add phrases such as “please” and “I appreciate when you.”
Be sure not to store things up! Bring things up – a laundry list of items can feel like an attack. Focus on connecting through your vulnerable emotions vs. your angry emotions – “I feel sad when… “.
Slow down, breathe and regulate your emotions when you approach the conversation.
Refrain from asking “why” questions.
Focus on making a clear statement about what you need.
Try to use “I” statements instead of “you” accusations, even if the issue is caused by your significant other. For example, instead of “You live like an animal who can’t clean up after himself!” try “I feel frustrated when I find things left all over the floor.”
When suggesting possible solutions, ask for a specific change in behavior instead of going after your partner’s core traits.
Rather than a vague “Please be neater,” you could say, “It would mean a lot to me if you would put the dirty clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor.”
Don’t keep unmet needs to yourself.
Nonviolent communication fosters connection
Nonviolent communication is a way of communicating with others that fosters compassion and connection. It fosters greater care and connection in intimate relationships.
The process of nonviolent communication involves observing, feeling, needing and requesting. Following are the steps of feeling, needing and requesting.
Expressing Our Feelings & Relationship Needs
Avoid using words such as that, it, because (followed by any word other than I) or focusing on the other person’s actions. This masks accountability for our own feelings.
For example, what not to do:
- I feel that…
- It bothers me ….
- I feel angry because you…
- When you don’t… I feel upset.
Instead, communicate both your feeling and your need. I feel…. because I ….
- I feel infuriated by those spelling mistakes because I want us to have a professional image.
- I feel angry the supervisor broke her promise because I was counted on getting that long weekend to visit my brother.
- Mommy feels disappointed when you don’t finish your food because I want you to grow up strong and healthy.
Judgments are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs
Judgments, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.
- You never understand me. Need to be understood is not being fulfilled.
- You’re working late. Need for intimacy not being met.
When we express our needs indirectly, others are likely to hear criticism and pull further away or attack.
The more directly you can connect your feelings with your needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately and even, meet those needs. Rather than thinking what’s wrong with everyone else, focus instead on your own needs and what you would like to request of the other person in relation to those needs. That substantially increases the likelihood of getting your needs met.
The cost of not expressing your needs can be unhappy relationships, loneliness, anger.
How to Express Requests of Others for Actions to Fulfill Our Needs
When our needs are not being fulfilled by others in our life, approaching it in a thoughtful way is more likely to elicit a positive response vs coming off sounding like an expectation or a demand.
- Focus on positive action language, ie., what you ARE requesting vs what you are NOT. Wording a request in the negative – “don’t do x” is confusing. What you are requesting is not clear and kids especially are likely to focus on the remainder of the sentence and not “hear” the don’t part. Negative requests are likely to provoke resistance.
- Word your request in the form of concrete actions that others can undertake avoid vague, abstract, or ambiguous phrasing.
- When expressing only your feelings, it may not be clear to others what you actually want them to do.
- Be conscious of what you are actually requesting.
- Identify your feelings and needs and include them so you are making a request not a demand.
- To make sure our message is clear, ask the listener to reflect it back. “Is that clear?” Clarify that you are wanting to check out whether you’ve expressed yourself clearly, not testing their listening skills.
- Express appreciation when the listener tries to respond. Rather than “you didn’t hear me”, or “that’s not what I said”, try, “thank you for telling me what you heard. I can see I wasn’t as clear as I’d have liked, so I’ll try again.”
- Requests are perceived as demands when others believe they will be blamed or punished if they do not comply. A genuine request indicates we only want the other to comply willingly and we can respect and show empathy towards the other’s needs if they don’t want to comply.
A Note on Communicating Your Needs in Relationships
Most of the time, people are willing to help make their loved one’s life easier if approached in the right way. Effective communication in relationships is about connecting and sharing without attacking.
Communication and listening are integral elements to building a healthy relationship, so here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on this journey.
- Be Patient – Don’t put a deadline on reconciliation. Healthy relationships never stop changing. The process of change can be confusing — especially without a healthy dose of patience. Your marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourselves.
- Communicate Clearly, Honestly, and Often – This can sound obvious. To increase connection, just connect more. But communication is an art form, and it requires your full attention. Leave nothing to chance. Set aside regular time to communicate. Create a safe space in which you can both speak frankly.
- Practice Gratitude – Even during times of strife, you have plenty to be thankful for. Appreciate each other regardless of the current situation. Gratitude is an excellent guide for rebuilding a connection.
- Reconnect to the Origins of Your Connection – More than nostalgia, this is more like a rekindling. What you experienced in the early days of your relationship helped shape your connection. Returning to your roots, so to speak, will reignite many of the emotions you felt at the time. Remind yourselves of the passion that first brought you together.
Consider Couples Counseling
Suppose you find yourself in the same perpetual arguments, struggles or feelings. Learn more about cultivating a happy and healthy relationship with couples counseling.
To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
Go to the next journaling exercise: My Partner Profile
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