To be fulfilled in relationships, first and foremost we need to be able to understand our needs. Listening to our emotions will help with that. However, when we have already diagnosed “the problem” - our need in the relationship that is unmet - what do we do then?
This is actually where the true work starts as we need to be able to assertively communicate our need to our important person.
This is where a lot of us struggle. We are coming from different backgrounds and very few of us learned how to ask for what we need at home. When we were young, our needs might have been downright dismissed or, maybe, there was so much going on that we ourselves decided not to talk about our issues in order not to add them to the pile.
In addition, if early on we came to the conclusion that others’ needs are more important than ours, we might have lived our lives trying to please everyone else rather than ourselves and at this moment of time we might not even know what our needs are.
So how do we ask for what we need, if we have never asked for it before?
A lot of us do it in a roundabout way. Imagine a situation where you have a need for your house to be clean but your partner keeps leaving dirty dishes in the sink. You are experiencing irritation each time you see it, but instead of addressing the issue head on, you might be ignoring it (and boiling up inside) or using sarcasm and saying something like “Right, I am just a slave here who is going to do everything and you can just relax all of the time”.
Actually, there is a whole plethora of passive-aggressive behaviors we engage in when we are upset with our partners. They include: silent treatment, exclusion, patronizing language, making wistful comments, etc. We usually employ them to make out partner feel guilty. At some level they are known and familiar to us, although we probably noticed that the impact of them on our relationship long term is not that great.
The problem with those behaviors is that the passive-aggressive energy you are sending to your partner is that of criticism and rejection. They might do what you want and clean up this time but is it actually bringing more love and affection to your relationship?
How about we if we were to be honest and transparent about our needs instead?
It takes a little practice to develop distance towards your emotions if we have never done it before. In the scenario above, while it is true that your partner did not do what they committed to and it keeps repeating, you are giving your relationship a favor if you are going to act as a “bigger person”.
How about if, instead of going to your typical passive-aggressive strategy, you took a breath and then from a place of calm say: “Hey I am tired. You left the dishes in the sink again. You know it’s important to me that our living space is clean. Would you mind cleaning up?”
The difference is: we are calm, we are speaking about our feelings and needs in the first person, we are being transparent, we are pointing out the exact behavior of our partner which we are not happy about and we are asking for what we need.
We are also in a peaceful way letting go of a lot of piled up anger and giving our partner a chance to “fix” the mistake.
This all might sound very new and odd in the beginning, if it is not how we are used to communicating with our partner. We probably won’t get the tone of voice exactly right and some of the anger will show.
We are however committing to creating a relationship based on mutual respect and kindness, at the same time, letting our partner know that we and our needs are important. And that creates an immense change long term.