Sometimes we need to accept and go on with our circumstances, perhaps shaped by our significant other. Other times, we need to stand up and say, “I would like something different.”
My question is how do we know when we should go along, or use our abilities to make changes to our circumstances?
I think it’s important to always feel permission to ask for what you need. If you are in a healthy relationship, asking for what you need will never be a threat. If asking for your needs to be heard becomes a threat, then this is a good sign you need to do some work on the relationship.
I do recognize, however, that there are many times in a relationship where it becomes clear we need to accept some things and be flexible. We hope for the same flexibility from our partner with our needs. Hearing needs and adapting to them are skills healthy couples possess.
Recognize that the only way you will know if you need to be flexible with your partner is if you ask for your need to be considered. If you never ask and identify what you need from your partner, there will never be an opportunity for either of you to accommodate or be flexible.
Of course, there are different ways you can let others know what you need from them. Sometimes we become impatient and demanding in trying to get our needs met, which can trigger a defensive reaction in others, making it appear as if they don’t care about our needs. It’s important for us to know how to ask for our needs in a way our partner is most likely to hear us. Dr. John Gottman describes this as a “soft start-up”, which makes it easier for our partner to accept our influence.[i]
Remember that the issue is not that you have a need. The issue is creating a relationship where those needs can be heard. I think it’s healthy to expect that your needs will be heard and considered in your intimate relationships, no matter how insignificant those needs may seem. Our greatest need in an intimate relationship isn’t that we always get our way. Our greatest need is that our needs are taken seriously by those closest to us. When we are seen and heard by those we love, we are more willing to be flexible.
If a certain need continues to come up for you, it’s probably important that you spend more time on this with your partner. Many needs come up and may or may not go anywhere. We can be flexible and move along. However, sometimes the need keeps coming up and we need our partner to know how important it is for us that this is taken more seriously. Stay with it and continue to expect to be heard. Again, if it throws your relationship into a crisis because this need isn’t going away, it speaks to how important this need is for you.
Sometimes our partner may hear our need and it still doesn’t produce any changes. Keep expressing it, keep working on it, and recognize that sometimes patterns and personalities take time to adjust. In some cases, they may never change, but we can become more flexible and accommodating as long as we know our partner cares about us and is trying to take our needs seriously.
Intimate relationships require a tremendous amount of flexibility. Continue bringing up what’s important to you and allow your partner to do the same. Work to show up for each other’s needs the best you can. Let them know you’re there for them and allow each other to have preferences and needs different from each other. This is the richness and joy that comes with a healthy and intimate relationship.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
You can connect with him at:
[i] Gottman, John M. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Harmony: New York.