Couples relationships are all about needs. Needs for love, affection, sex, help with the kids, encouragement, listening etc. Needs not met, half met or never met at all lead to all kinds of dilemmas. One of the reasons we marry is because we admire something in the other person that we miss in ourselves. We feel loved and cared for and hope it will stay that way.
But our careers develop, family grows and our partner’s needs become more difficult to meet. On top of our spouse’s needs we have demands from work, children, family and life in general. Sometimes these just take their toll and the relationship with our spouse suffers until we can ‘get through this time’. This is however a recipe for marital unhappiness and if it lasts too long, extra-marital affairs or divorce ensues.
Therefore, as a couple it is very important that you talk about what you need from each other. Your spouse will benefit from you telling them what you need, when and even why. So let’s look at 10 steps to talking to your spouse about your needs:
1. Who do I need?
Ask yourself whether you are overly dependent on your spouse to meet your emotional needs. Your spouse cannot be the only person to affirm you. You were designed to be dependent on God. He is the Source of your love, affirmation, worth, encouragement and strength. That’s why Jesus mentions that you cannot do anything without Him (John 15:5). Your partner will be there for you occasionally, but God will be there constantly (Heb 13:5).
2. What do I need?
It is very important that you pin down what you need from your partner. You will have various needs at different times. Identify what is important for you at this time e.g. Do I need my partner to help bathe the children? Or do you need 30 minutes of alone time to recharge?
3. Pick a time
Timing is important. Try not to discuss your need for sex when the children are running havoc through the kitchen at 18:30 and she’s tired and overwhelmed. Be proactive, start earlier the day! Or call your partner aside and ask for a few moments.
4. What does my partner need?
If you ask your partner what they need from you it shows you care and are not just interested in your own welfare. Ask them directly what you could do to make them feel loved and do those things you already know.
5. Be specific
Saying ‘I need you to love me’ is like saying to the waiter at a restaurant ‘I want food’. Being specific helps. You could say something like ‘I have a need to discuss something that’s been bothering me a while. Would you please give me the benefit of listening to me and then give me your thoughts on the matter?’
6. Ask, don’t tell
Some people fall into the habit of demanding, instructing, blaming or nagging. These will just frustrate your partner and create emotional distance between you. Rather ask or make a kind request.
Ideally we want to give ourselves to our partners unconditionally and serve them freely as the Lord wants. To achieve this in the long run, we should work towards win-win situations to fulfill both partner’s needs. If both focus on loving the other person through fulfilling their needs and are willing to meet each other halfway, both would win marital satisfaction.
8. Be the hero
Sometimes you will be the ‘hero’ in the relationship and give in fully. You will meet your partner’s needs at your expense. This will make them feel loved and invest in the long term strength of the relationship.
9. Make a date or arrangement
Once you have discussed your needs, make dates or appointments to fulfill them. You could arrange specific times or routines e.g. we will have sex tonight at 21:00. Or I will help to bathe the children on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
10. Regularly check in
Make it a habit to check in with each other daily. This ensures that you stay up to date with each other and needs are not left unmet for long. It also leads you to feel closer to one another. E.g. early morning or right after work, take 10 minutes and ask each other “What are your needs for tonight or the weekend?”.
In following these steps with a humble and loving attitude, you will grow closer and discover new things together. Drawing from the Lord for your wisdom and strength, you will learn to love each other in new ways.
By Erich Schoeman (Clinical Psychologist), Matters of the Soul (mattersofthesoul.org)