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Expressing Needs Without Being “Needy”

Today’s million dollar question: How can we get more of what we want/need from our partners without coming across as “needy?”

Here’s the thing – we all have needs. While our partners can’t meet our every need or cater to our every whim, most loving partners want to please us and make us happy, to the extent they are able to. Things tend to break down in the execution, often because we don’t make our needs or desires terribly clear. We expect our partners to come equipped with mind reading abilities (which rarely come standard, by the way), and we get angry or disappointed when their powers of telepathy miss the mark.

Dr. John Gottman hit the nail on the head in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work“The problem is that the less clear you are about what you want, the less likely you are to get it.”

Gottman created a pretty simple formula to help us bring up potentially sticky issues in our relationships. The format keeps things short and non-defensive by design, so our partners are more apt to hear what we really need and then understand what they can do to help.

It goes like this:

  • I feel _________________________
  • about (factually state the issue without judgment) _______________________.
  • I need or would appreciate _________________________________.

So, if you’re upset date nights have fallen by the wayside since your baby was born, you might be tempted to say:

“All you care about is the baby! It’s like I’m invisible. It’s clear I’m no longer a priority and whatever baby wants, baby gets. I’m sick of this!”

but you suspect unloading on them like that will backfire and decide to bite your tongue. Your partner may counterattack or get defensive, or if they begrudgingly agree to a date night, you can probably chalk it up to the guilt trip versus any real desire for quality time together. Connection has to come first.

Try this instead:

“I am feeling disconnected since we have not had any date nights yet this year. I know things are really crazy right now, but it would mean a lot to me to have some quality time together. Can we look at the calendar and pick a time this month where we can get out and do something special, just the two of us?”

Think of a need or concern that you have not clearly expressed to your partner yet. Practice plugging it into this formula and then give it a shot. Remember, focus on a positive need (what you want more of) and give your partner an opportunity to be a part of the solution, not the source of the problem (Gottman).

Bonus Resource: Check out this video featuring Dr. Sue Johnson (she co-developed Emotionally Focused Therapy) as she explains why it’s so important to depend on our partners and express our needs.

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