Therapists and relationship experts tell us that communication is one of the most fundamental parts of a relationship. It’s communication that will allow couples to navigate the unsteady waters of conflict into calmer seas. As long as you’re open with your partner about your needs, feelings, and taking ownership for your role in the conflict, you’ll be well on your way to nailing partnership with “good communication” checked off your healthy relationship checklist.
But what we aren’t talking about is why good communication is so fucking hard.
Let’s face it — it is hard, for a multitude of reasons. Egos, fears, insecurities, being in touch with why we are in our feelings, and expressing feelings are all very real barriers to having good communication. I’ve compiled a list of common reasons of why it’s so hard to ask for what we want in our relationships and how to unfuck each one.
1. We think our partner should “just know” what we want.
Hollywood, Disney, Nicholas Sparks, and rom coms have sold us the idea that your soulmate is someone who is so in tune with you, they just know how you want to feel loved, what you need if you’ve had a bad day, how to go down on you, and that hint you dropped about wanting tickets to that thing means that’s what you want for your birthday next month. The truth is, the notion that your partner “should just know” what you want is unattainable. Your partner is a different person than you — a person with their own needs, experiences, and ways of feeling loved. And this is completely and totally okay. In fact, it’s to be celebrated.
How to unfuck it: Bust the myth that compatibility means that your partner should just know what you want. In fact, just assume that they have no idea what you want. And it doesn’t have to be a robotic conversation of things you like. You can simply reinforce things they do for you. For example, if you feel loved because your partner took the recycling out for you, use that as an opportunity to share how it made you feel and how much you appreciate them when they do that. If you feel loved because your partner gave you a hug out of the blue, tell them how much random hugs makes you feel loved. And if you’re feeling like there hasn’t been an opportunity to reinforce what you want, share it directly with your partner — there’s no better time than the present. You can simply say, “One of my favorite ways to feel love from you is words of affirmation, and it would make me feel so connected to you if you sent me good morning texts.” Lay out exactly what you want and how you would feel — and when your partner does it, make sure to express gratitude as a way to show you noticed.
2. We have a fear of looking stupid or needy.
Okay, I’m going to put this in italics because it’s super important: anyone who says your needs are not important or valid is not someone who deserves to be with you. So if you’re holding back because you’re afraid you’re “asking for too much” or you’re “needy,” I’m here to inform you that your needs are important, valued, and something to be honored. In a healthy relationship, asking should feel like you’re having a discussion, not a confrontation.
How to unfuck it: View asking for your needs as a win-win situation, especially early on in the relationship. If you tell your partner what you need and you’re met with gaslighting, contempt, or anything else that doesn’t make your needs feel like a safe space to be held in, then you know that this isn’t the type of person you want to be with long-term. Consider having a conversation with your partner about it, but if they are still not open to hearing you, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship.
Unfuck disclaimer: Be sure to identify if what you’re asking is a need of yours to feel loved, or if it’s needing reassurance or control due to your own insecurities. For example, a female not allowing her boyfriend to see a female friend of his that’s always been a friend is not a need, it’s an insecurity that one is responsible for working on — both for an individual healing journey and for the relationship.
3. We’re afraid of our partner reacting the way our exes responded in the past.
A lot of times we come into new relationships with our past shit — even if we’ve done work on it. And that’s okay. It takes time to really heal deep wounds from those who have wronged us in the past, or made us question the reality of our needs.
How to unfuck it: If this is the issue you’re facing, your new mantra is “this is not that.” Just because partners of the past have reacted in immature ways to you expressing your needs doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again — give your current partner an opportunity to be different. It’s also another chance to view the situation as win-win — if your partner does respond in an immature way similar to your exes of the past, then you know that this is someone you don’t want to be with in the long run, and you dodged a bullet. But it’s important to actually give them a chance to be different…and equally as important, give yourself a chance to have a different, healthier experience.
4. We’re afraid that our requests won’t be heard.
Unlike the previous point, what if your partner responds well to your request in the moment, and then doesn’t do anything to change? This can feel like a real bruise to your ego when you finally build up the courage to open this dialogue with your partner to only be met with no change.
How to unfuck it: If your needs aren’t being heard after a single conversation with your partner, it’s completely okay to have more conversations after that. This may be a new way they’re expressing love, and maybe they’re not used to it. That’s why having these sorts of conversations from the early stages of a relationship are so important — you’ll be able to see how you and your partner work through conflict and practice holding space for each other.
Yes, your needs are important, and we all have different ways of feeling loved and giving love in return. However, through all of this work, it’s also important to put empathy and understanding at the forefront of our requests. You may share with your partner that good morning texts help you feel loved, but if they forget to send them once in a while, it doesn’t mean you should throw away the whole relationship. The truth is, our needs may not be able to be met 100% of the time. Your partner may be going through it, and may not have the energy and attention to give — and it doesn’t mean that they don’t care about you or your needs. It means they’re human, and you are, too. As long as you and your partner are open with each other about your needs and willing to put effort toward understanding each other, you’ll be able to create a long-lasting and fulfilling relationship.