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Assuming our partner “just knows” is a trap.
When we enter into long-term relationships, it is easy to automatically assume that our partner knows exactly what we need to feel fulfilled, seen, and loved. As if clairvoyance is part of the package. And while it very well could be in some cases, it’s probably just icing on the cake.
Assuming our partner “must know” is a setup for disappointment. Even if they know sometimes, they can’t know all the time. And unless we properly express our needs, it’s never going to be enough.
Growing up, I remember the “I shouldn’t have to ask you” phrase being pulled on me when I failed to do something that was expected of me but not well communicated. I felt like a failure. I felt small.
And surprise, it made me want to show up and do things even less.
Clearly expressing our needs, in all areas of our relationship, is absolutely fundamental for a relationship to thrive in intimacy, authenticity, and deep connection. This applies to sex, taking out the garbage, and birthday celebrations alike.
It can feel incredibly vulnerable to express our needs from the place of “I,” instead of making it all about the other person. Talking about our feelings without blaming or shaming can be scary, but it works wonders to bring us closer together and, ultimately, get our needs met.
The issue is that most of us never actually learned how to voice our needs as children, so we continue to play out the same patterns over and over, often feeling unloved when things don’t go our way.
As children, we associate love with getting our needs met, primarily when it comes to emotional and physical safety. If early on, the need for emotional safety somehow doesn’t get met, that experience of not being loved can feel like a death, and the child will do anything to not feel this gut-wrenching sensation again.
Over time, the child develops strategies to repress or mask the needs, in an effort to feel loved and connected. Maybe they learned it’s best to stay quiet. Or maybe they needed to be overly dramatic to be heard. Perhaps people pleasing, being good, and repressing their emotions was what it took to feel validated. All of these are different flavors of the same story: “How do I need to show up in the world to get love?”
And as adults, we continue to deploy our old childhood strategies, even if they never quite work.
From the place of this mask, expressing our authentic, intimate feelings and needs is risky. Because for the inner child, rejection is our biggest trigger. So we stay quiet, yet we expect our partners to “just get it” and meet our needs. We then feel unloved if they don’t. And despite our best efforts to feel loved, this only creates more distance.
It’s so easy to fall into this place of smallness when we don’t feel loved because our needs are not met. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of victim mentality. We don’t express our needs, so our needs don’t get met, and then we feel unloved and unseen. From this place of smallness, we hold back from expressing our needs even more. Rinse and repeat.
But learning to express our needs authentically is what fosters deep connection, intimacy, and trust. Yes, it’s incredibly vulnerable at times, but it works!
Here are three simple steps to help us clearly express our needs and feelings to our partner:
1. Connect to your primary emotions.
Feelings can be confusing and unpleasant, but they guide us home. There are four primary emotions: fear, anger, sadness, and joy. At any moment, we are experiencing one or a combination of these emotions, but most often we are not aware. When we connect to our feelings, we can connect deeper to our needs, take care of our inner child, and tap into a higher self-awareness.
2. When expressing your needs to your partner, talk about you and your feelings, not them.
“I love soft caresses on my neck” is more inviting than “touch me softer.”
“I would feel really loved if we took a trip for my birthday” will get you much farther than staying quiet and then getting disappointed when your partner can’t read your mind.
“I’m feeling really overwhelmed about the dirty kitchen. Can you help me tidy it up so that we can have time to connect after?” will gain more than complaining about them not doing enough.
3. Don’t blame, shame, or guilt your partner for not meeting your needs.
Attacking or invalidating the other most often leads to defensiveness on their part, which will further the distance, hurt, and disconnect on both sides. Remember, everyone wants to feel loved.
Remember, authentic and vulnerable expression of needs supports intimacy and connection. Staying small and quiet, hoping the other person “just gets it,” only perpetuates the distance between you.