Many marriages flounder on the rocks of poor communication. Not total lack of communication, but bad communication.
Married partners are good at communicating some things, like anger. Most people are pretty good at communicating anger. But only communicating anger, or only having two emotional states – angry and not-angry – doesn’t lead to a healthy, happy relationship!
So here’s the question – how do I communicate my needs to my husband?
It seems simple, but it eludes many people.
First, it’s important to communicate your needs to yourself. By that I mean you have to figure out what you need. If you can’t even do that, you won’t have anything to communicate to your husband. This, along with other common bad habits that ruin relationships, should be avoided as much as possible, early on into the relationship or marriage.
Think It Through First
It takes some work and thought to figure out what your needs are. There are several categories of needs. Basic needs are for food, water, exercise, a roof over your head, a need for love and support from your husband and other people.
Emotional needs are important, too – the knowledge that your husband takes your moods seriously, that he respects your feelings even if he doesn’t agree with them, that he needs you and values your relationship. Don’t disregard your spiritual needs, either, as many people tend to overlook them. Spiritual needs include time to meditate, to connect with nature and the universe, to ponder the serious questions about what life means and how to live it.
The best way to get a handle on all this is to take some time – a few minutes a day is all you need – and write down what you need. Make lists. Scribble ideas down on bits of paper – you don’t have to show them to anyone, so don’t be shy about putting down whatever comes into your head. Over a period of time, say a few weeks or a month, you will start to see a pattern in your scribblings, and you’ll be able to organize your needs into different categories.
Don’t exclude anything at first. If you hate washing dishes or taking out the garbage or cleaning up the dog’s poop, put that down – I need you to wash the dishes, because I can’t stand to do it.
Make a wish list of your needs: I need to go to the gym and get some exercise at least three times a week. I need to go on a date with my husband at least once a month. I need seven or eight hours of sleep per night. I need a new car. I need to be reminded that my husband loves me. I need a new job. Put down whatever comes into your head, even if it’s not something your husband has any control over.
Set Up Regular Turn-Talking Times
Once you’ve got some idea what you need in your life and your relationship, you can think about how to communicate this to your husband.
I encourage couples to build regular communication into their relationship, so it becomes a daily or at least a weekly habit, rather than a once-in-a-blue-moon thing or something that only happens in a crisis or after a big fight.
One good way to develop the healthy habit of regular communication is turn-taking with a timer. Each partner takes two or three minutes to talk, and during this time they can say whatever they want. Just talk about what’s on your mind, let it all out. You aren’t talking to your spouse at this point – you are talking in front of them while they listen. Don’t address your speech at this time to the other person. Just let your ideas out like a stream of consciousness.
When one partner is done, the other one gets to talk for the same amount of time. They also just speak about whatever is on their mind. It may be something triggered by what their partner just said, but it doesn’t need to be.
The two of you aren’t really having a conversation right now. What you’re doing is giving your partner a privileged peek at what is going on inside your mind, and what’s going on in your life.
When it’s your turn to listen, listen. You may hear your spouse talking about some triumph or defeat at work, something you didn’t know about. Or they may bring up some childhood memory, or talk about their anxiety about money, or fear of getting old, or their happiness at getting to take a walk with the dog in the morning. Just listen to the story of your spouse’s life – you can learn quite a bit.
Keep taking turns as long as you wish. Even if you do this for just a few minutes a day, in the car, or at the breakfast table, or in bed before going to sleep, you will be amazed at what you are learning about your partner.
You will know them much better, much more intimately, very quickly. You’ll know what is on their mind, what they are happy about, afraid of, worried about, what their dreams and desires are. Some of what you hear may have to do with you, but a lot of it won’t.
Regular talks like this help build real intimacy. And they build a strong foundation for healthy communication.
Outline Your Needs
You can use this sort of conversation to outline some of your needs with your husband – just bring them up when it is your turn to talk. Try to keep things impersonal. Don’t demand anything or criticize your partner. Just talk about what you need, what is in your heart. Your husband will hear it. And you will hear yourself say it, too, which is good for you.
Once you’ve built up a healthy foundation of basic, daily communication with each other, you will find it much easier to communicate about other things. If you need to, you can now communicate more directly with your husband, saying something like, “I need your help with the chores, because I’m feeling overwhelmed …” or “I know you love me, but I need to hear you say it more often …” or “I like to be touched and hugged, and would love it if you touched me more often …”
Asking for Something Doesn’t Equal Getting It
One caveat about asking for what you need – you can ask for anything, but you can never be sure of getting it. Marriage is a complicated, fluid negotiation between two human beings.
You must learn to ask for what you need without expectations. That’s not easy. But if you can at least keep your expectations at a lower, healthy level, you’ll find that you’re a happier person.
One great piece of advice I got years ago was, “You can ask your husband for anything, if you’re willing to say it once and then drop it.” Saying it over and over makes it into nagging, which is a step in the wrong direction.
Expressing your needs is within your power. Compelling your spouse to do everything you want is not. So focus your efforts on figuring out what you need and on communicating that to your husband.
He loves you and he will probably surprise you with his support for you, though it may take time and not happen on your desired schedule. Trust in strong, healthy communication, though, and things will work out well.
For more tips on how to build intimacy in your relationship, read my “Mend the Marriage” e-book which helps you and your spouse repair and rebuild whatever you feel is missing in your marriage. You may also sign up for my “Mend the Marriage” coaching program if you need to talk to me in-depth about your situation.