In any relationship, I am always wanting to ensure both partners are getting their needs met. By giving to your partner, you are investing in not only that person but also in the relationship.
In fact, I wish we could all see it that way; that when I am there for my wife, my loved-ones, my friends, etc., that I am really investing in us and that relationship.
When people give to others, it is such a wonderful thing and lovely expression of themselves.
Sometimes though, we may be too focused on tasks at hand, or even in that giving to others and not able to best address our own needs. I do not want to see this happen as we all need a balance.
So how do we get our own needs met?
Too often, I will hear things like “he is so selfish,” or “she always spends all our money.” Now it is too easy to hear this and think “wow. That other person is so selfish or not fair.”
Yet, this may not necessarily be a bad thing. If you have been on a plane and heard the speech about in case of the plane losing pressure, air masks will come down.
Now if you have children or other loved-ones to care for, you may want to put their masks on first. However, you are instructed to put yours on first.
Why? Because as you may be losing oxygen, you need to first care for yourself in order to then help anyone else.
The same is true in everyday life.
It never ceases to amaze me how many of us do a better job in caring for others than for themselves. Again, being there for others is a wonderful thing. I love it.
We cannot sacrifice you in the process though. For some, it can be life’s calling, with perhaps opportunities to right the wrongs from their own past – a la not feeling that love and support when we were younger and then spending their lives trying to offer just that to others.
For other individuals, who might keep themselves so busy with work, other responsibilities / life, they claim to have no time for themselves and use the responsibilities to justify why they cannot get more time for themselves.
And then there are many of us who just not used to getting our wants and needs met so we don’t know how.
The problem is I don’t see enough people who are truly happy, as many will come in to therapy hurt and angry and may not immediately recognize why. Eventually, it comes out.
This tends to come out in the form of pent-up anger and much of it may not be related to their partner, or what they initially share as the presenting problem, but rather from years and years of unmet needs.
We cannot just expect others to know how to best meet our needs. You are the best one to know exactly what these things are. Sure.
I can guess but chances are I will liken your needs to my own, and we all know people are different. This brings me to the idea of it’s not always what you say but how you say it.
Allow me to be a bit graphic in sharing this idea. Imagine taking a beautiful written message and folding it up, and shooting it like a spitball.
Now, you may have something important to share but all someone is going to feel is the spit (or anger in your words) if you say it in a mean way, cursing, and so forth.
Your attempt to connect, if we want to call it that, will probably leave the other person in the position to defend themselves as opposed to truly hear your hope and appropriately respond.
As opposed to saying “you are so selfish,” I might encourage something like, “honey, I appreciate how you set aside time each Saturday for the game (tv, time with friends, whatever).
I would really like to find time for myself too. Can you help me with this?” This is but one way to express our needs.
It is most appropriate to ask for what we want in life. This does not mean that we will get everything yet, again, it is alright to express the desire and hopefully some or many of these things will be addressed.
Have you ever made a list of unmet wants and needs? When I ask this question with clients, many have said they don’t want to appear selfish — ah!
That dreaded “s” word again. Isn’t it kind of sad that we liken that word to something bad? I know the opposite, or selfless, can be thought of as a wonderful thing, but we all need to be a little selfish at times too.
Anything you have ever thought of still wanting (tangible or not) can go on this list. Maybe there is a trip you have wanted to go on, or a nicer car, a Kindle, more time in the day to read, time for friends, a hobby, and so forth.
Take time to reflect on the things you have somehow sacrificed along the way. Write them all down. The reality is we don’t have to have them all or do them all, or even in a certain time-frame.
However, I want you to consider the possibilities and operationalize (such as what are the steps to achieving that item, either in money or shifting time) what it would take to secure success with each item.
Some may be long-term goals and those are great too. Don’t be surprised though if a few of these items are attainable in the very near future as when we believe we are worth it, we tend to find a way.
When it comes to wants and needs in the relationship, we need to be clear as to what our role is as well, as I cannot just expect my partner to do this or that and I just observe.
I need to be able to share these hopes and engage in a conversation about my partner’s wants and needs to. It is important to ask them how do they get their needs met, how have I helped (or not) and what they think I can indeed do to best help them.
Then I can share and perhaps my partner can even see ways they can help that I have not even thought of yet (and vice-versa).
This way of connecting is so valuable and necessary in reminding us that we can get the support we need when we ask as well as model to our partner effective communication and success.
About the author
Stuart A. Kaplowitz is a licensed Marriage & family Therapist. In the past 20 years, Stuart has managed various clinical programs and now works out of his own office in Chino, Ca.
Stuart supervises therapists and works with individuals, couples, families and children in enhancing relationships, depression, anxiety, anger, etc.
To know more about Stuart, visit his website www.encouragingyourlife.com.
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