How to Communicate Your Needs: A 5-Step Guide

We all have needs, but sometimes it can be difficult to convey these needs to our partners. We might struggle with how to communicate what we are missing in the relationship. Or, it can be difficult to know how to approach our partner for fear of being misunderstood. We might also fear what will happen if our partner refuses to meet our needs. Below are five steps to help you through communicating your needs.

1. Identify your needs

Many times when we find ourselves getting annoyed or irritated by our partner, there is actually an underlying need not being met. Let’s look at fictional couple Jack and Jill.  Jill gets irritated every time she has to ask Jack to take out the trash.  Jill thinks it just has to do with Jack being bad at chores and being very lazy. However, if Jill looks beyond the surface issue, she finds that every time she notices the trash is full she feels like she is alone in the relationship, that Jack does not see how much she does for their household and relationship. The next time you find yourself feeling deeply frustrated about a seemingly small issue, try and look beyond the issue at hand – you might find there is a deeper need not being met. Figuring out what is really missing is the first step to communicating needs effectively in your relationship.


2. Pick your moment

When do you bring up an unmet need to your partner? Choosing when to talk about your needs is the second important step to communicating effectively in the relationship. You will likely be reminded of your need the next time there is an argument. However, bringing up anything in the heat of the moment is not the best idea. Once a couple is in a reactive place, it is nearly impossible to absorb what the other is saying.  On the other hand, when things are good between you and your partner, you might shy away from discussing your unmet need so you don't stir up bad emotions. While the fear of breaking the peace in your relationship is understandable, peaceful moments are actually the best time to sit down with your partner and convey your feelings about an unmet need. When we are calm and relaxed, our defenses are down and we are more inclined to listen with a loving ear.

3. How to begin

In relationships, it is so easy to identify what our partner is doing wrong, is not doing at all, or needs to do more of.  And let’s be honest – in many cases these instances are all valid and true.  However, when approached with a handful of shortcomings, places for improvement, etc., your partner is inclined to become defensive, and before you know it, the two of you might quickly jump to that reactive place I mentioned earlier.  Instead, try approaching your partner from that space deep down inside of you that is being affected – from that emotional place you find yourself in when you notice that need not being met.  Let’s go back to Jack and Jill– instead of Jill saying “When you don’t take out the trash I feel like you don’t care about me at all,” she might try saying “Lately I have been feeling really sad because I feel like I don’t matter to you.”

4. Open arms and ears

So what happens next?  In an ideal world, your partner would respond to your concern with open arms and a dedication to start showing you just how much you matter.  In the real world, a partner will respond by sharing unmet needs of their own, some of which might have contributed to the behaviors you dislike. Remember Jack and Jill?  Well, there is always a chance that Jack might not take out the trash because after he experiences so much criticism and anger from Jill, he feels like he can never get anything right. He starts to back away and stop trying to do chores in order to protect the relationship.  When Jill sees him backing up, she gets the message that she does not matter to him. You might feel your defenses popping up when your partner is talking about an unmet need, but the best (and hardest) thing to do is to take a breath and really listen to your partner. Try to remain in a calm head space -- you will actually hear your partner much more clearly.  If you listen patiently, and keep talking from a vulnerable place, you will learn so much about each other and ultimately find that your need gets met.

5. Seek Support

Sound complicated?  That’s because it is.  Relationships involve a lot of deep emotions, and your loved one tends to push buttons you might not have even realized you have.  At times, when we experience issues with our partner, it is almost impossible to navigate through the myriad of emotions and communicate needs effectively. When it gets to this point, a therapist can help. Couples counselors are able to help organize what is going on, and help promote positive shifts in the relationship. A shift in the right direction just might help you experience your relationship in a whole new way!