So, you’ve done that hard part. You found an appropriate time, you spoke in “I statements,” you talked about your emotional experience, you didn’t use shaming or blaming statements, and were vulnerable and asked your romantic partner for your needs to be met. Now what?
After you tell your partner that you have unmet needs in the relationship is it now an ultimatum hanging over the relationship? What if your needs conflict with your partner’s boundaries? Is your partner expected to meet every need?
When you bring up an area of concern in your relationship, like most things in a relationship, it then becomes a collaborative negotiation. Just as it would be hurtful for your partner to say you have to meet this need or I’m gone, it would be equally hurtful for a partner to reply that they are unwilling to address or meet this need. It is now time to find the middle ground!
What Does the Middle Ground Look Like? Let’s Dive into An Example!
Ben and Jessica moved to Denver a year ago. Ben is originally from Denver and has a strong friend group from growing up in the area, and Jessica didn’t know anyone prior to moving. Every Saturday Ben goes golfing with his friends and spends most of the day with them. On Sunday Ben is typically exhausted and watches television and gets a head start on the work week. Jessica mustered the courage to talk to Ben about her needs for connection with him and how his weekend habits leave her feeling lonely and not a priority. She expressed that she needs him to spend his weekends with her and prioritize meaningful couple time.
How This Conversation Could Go Poorly
Ben feels attacked and as though Jessica doesn’t want him to spend any time with his friends. He doesn’t understand why she thinks they don’t spend time together because they spend every weeknight together. He then criticizes Jessica for not creating her own support system in Denver and being overly needy of him to meet all her social needs. Jessica becomes defensive and then sets the ultimatum that if Ben spends one more weekend with his friends and not her, she will leave the relationship.
How This Conversation Could Deepen the Relationship and Connection
Ben reflects on how difficult and lonely it has been for Jessica to move to a place where she does not know anyone. He asks Jessica what would make her feel more like a priority. Jessica feels heard and supported and positive about their ability to address this topic. She reflects on her desire for him to still have time with his friends, but also make intentional time for the two of them not during the busy work week. Ben and Jessica continue this conversation and decide to make Friday night date night for them and spend time on Sundays connecting and relaxing together.
Most of the time when a partner asks for a need to be met there is an underlining feeling or emotion that can been met in different creative ways. Jessica shouldn’t expect that all her social needs are met by Ben and expect him to disconnect with his friends and only spend time with her. Ben can express his needs or boundaries around wanting to connect with his friends and still find ways to make Jessica feel more like a priority. When couples turn towards each other with empathy and compassion and not defensiveness, navigating needs and boundaries can feel more collaborative and less like an ultimatum.
Try using the word “desire” or “wish” instead of need. This can make it feel like less of a demand or to-do list. Who doesn’t want to meet their partner’s desire or wish?!
Dr. Brittany Woolford