Everyone in the world has needs, but getting our needs met may look different. Some people may demand their needs be addressed, others may silently hope their needs get addressed, and others don’t even think about their own needs and often find themselves feeling burnt out and resentful. When it comes to getting out needs met the basic components are to (1) Identify our needs (2) clearly express and communicate our needs with others (3) respond to our needs that are either met or unmet.
Yes it is really that simple, however many other things get in the way of the process going this smoothly. Fears about identifying and requesting our needs, beliefs about what it means to have needs or how needs are addressed; for example were you raised to talk about your needs and get assistance? Were you met with statements like “if you want it work for it” or perhaps that others were not willing, or available to meet your needs?
All of these things get in the way of asking, but they are beliefs not facts. I believe my partner isn’t going to take action to meet my needs, therefore I do not ask or. I believe my partner isn’t going to take action to meet my needs, so I am uncomfortable and unclear in my request, my partner takes some action but missed the main messages and now I feel defeated.
Identifying our needs is difficult enough, being willing to spend time thinking about our needs and our motivations behind those needs is vital. If we are unable to clearly identify our own needs, is it fair to expect our partner, child, sister, friend to know us ‘better than we know ourselves’? Those cliché’s may be heartwarming to some but they set us up for a lack of communication, lack or requests and greater chance that our needs will go unmet.
To identify our needs we need to be willing to pay attention to ourselves. Notice our bodies, thirst, thoughts. Mindfulness is a great skill to help improve ability to focus and to observe thoughts without acting upon them.
Once we have our needs identified to increase chances of getting our needs met we have to be willing to share what we have learned about ourselves with others. A simple method is to focus on positive specific requests for change.
Positive- what is the behavior or words that you want to see? If there is a specific behavior you want to reduce, what would you see in its place? Instead of “I want you to stop playing on your phone when we talk” what is it you would like to be happening? “I would like us to talk without distractions, no phones, tv etc” or “I would like us to have more eye contact during when we talk”. The importance of focusing on positive is because by increasing the behavior that is desired, the problem behavior will most likely decrease since they are not congruent.
Specific- this is not the time to be vague. What exactly is the behavior? When do you want it to occur? How often? We don’t find time in life, we make time. Setting aside intentional time to engage in the new behavior/activity is necessary until this becomes the new normative behavior. Defining vague terms is the best way to clear up miscommunications. Instead of saying “I want more support from my partner” which could be interpreted as any number of things. What do you think is supportive? Being specific means probing deeper. “I want more support from my partner, for me support means helping with household chores such as vacuuming, doing the dishes, preparing meals, and grocery shopping”. Great that is a good start but how much support do you want? How often? “I would like my partner to increase support by preparing 1 meal each week, and doing the dishes each night”.
Request- with any negotiation this is a request not a demand. Demands create a power differential, where 1 person holds the power to demand and the other lacks power by completing the task. Requests allow relationships to be balanced and offer room for negotiation. Making a request means being willing to hear no. If you are not willing to hear no then you are making a demand.
When we put positive specific requests together we are asking for others to help us meet our needs and providing them with the information necessary to meet those needs. Many people get stuck in the mindset that asking for our needs somehow makes it feel less rewarding when our needs get met. This is a total lie. Asking for our needs to get met provides our friends and family with increased awareness as to what “help” looks like, what behaviors we want/like/appreciate and as a result they will actually be better prepared to meet your needs spontaneously in the future.
This is the second emphasis on request versus demand. In request you are giving the other person and opportunity to choose. Demands followed by a met need are often less than satisfactory because the element of choice was removed. Request allows each person the opportunity to choose each other, choose the relationship.
So the next time you find yourself biting your tongue, or saying “I don’t care”. Remember you ae providing false information to your partner, and this is often the beginning of the vow of silence that breeds resentment, change and intimacy.