WASHINGTON, February 3, 2014 — I often work with individuals in relationships who tell me they are not getting what they want from their mates. I listen to them describe what is missing from their relationships, and I hear how long they have been waiting for the particular thing they want: attention, romance, help around the house, or just some sort of connection.
It doesn’t matter what that something is, exactly; all these people have something in common. The first thing they share is that they aren’t getting what they want. The second commonality is that they have tried everything they can think of to get it and nothing has worked so far.
Often when people try and fail to achieve the result they are after, other feelings start to develop: frustration, anger, sadness or a sense of disconnect from their mate. This is the state in which I usually see couples when they come into my office for relationship counseling.
I am always interested in the process: how people go about getting what they want from their partner. Most of the time I hear one or the other say, “He already knows what I need,” or “She is well aware of what I don’t like.” If only that were true. When people live with these statements I know they suffer from difficulty in their relationship.
Unfortunately, most couples have a great capacity to live in discomfort with the person they love. Most people assure themselves, “It’s not that bad,” and then brush what is bothering them under the rug. If the situation doesn’t get addressed and the discomfort turns into a real problem, one of the partners eventually erupts and says something. And it probably sounds like this: You never spend any time with me! or, You are too busy with your friends – I don’t feel like a priority! or, You make me feel like you don’t even want to be around me.
Partners will hear these frustrations, but none of the above sentences convey an invitation to do anything about the discomfort. No solutions are offered. Instead, these phrases are just complaints that tell one person that he or she is inadequate at making the other person happy.
This is probably not news to the other partner. But when the partner hears that they are the cause of their beloved’s distress, that person often feels blamed. Most people feel a fight coming on when they are blamed for something.
Although the partner who believes they are conveying what they want to their mate is desperate for the situation to change, it almost never does. The mate may know there’s a problem, but they do not know what to do.
What I know to be universally true is that individuals in a relationship are desperate for a connection. Each one wants to feel like their partner likes them and wants to be around them. They want to feel special and valued. They want to feel safe, happy and loved.
Most people living with difficulty in their relationships are not getting what they want because they do not know how to ask for it in a way that their partner can hear it. I remember one woman I worked with told me in a sweet imploring way, “I just want romance. I need romance.” I said to her, “Why don’t you tell him?” She answered forcefully, “My husband already knows it.
It felt so harsh. That husband must feel as if he hasn’t measured up and is doing every thing wrong. And what does more romance look like anyway?
After we talked about this for a while, I learned that the wife just wants to feel loved and would like if her husband could hold her hand once in a while and sit close without being asked. She wanted more spontaneity.
He said he could do that. They softened toward each other and held hands as they left my office.
People don’t want to come across as demanding but they may not know another way to get their needs met. In a relationship we have to remember to ask politely for what we need — not in a demanding way because we haven’t received it, but in a loving way so our beloved will want us to feel good and give it to us.
Requests should feel reasonable: wishes stated without an emotional charge. “Honey, I would love it if you would hold my hand.” “Babe, can you sit next to me?” Requests like these are invitations, lovely suggestions to bring your partner closer.
Going forward, if you feel you need something, invite your partner to help. More often than not, your request will be granted, and you both will be happier for it.