We have been looking at the issue of balancing give and take in relationships. The first post covered balancing needs and wants, the second exchanging patterns of power and control for love and service. In this third post, we’ll explore how communication can help and hurt the balance we are trying to achieve in building a healthy, balanced relationship.
Communication is the nail that often gets hammered in relationship articles. It does not take long to find information on active listening and giving feedback. Every counselor and therapist will tell you that communication is important, but often there is a spike in communication in the year before a couple splits up. Obviously, then, communication is not everything. It is important to be clear about what you really want and need, but it is important to also examine the motives behind the message you are sending.
Can you say “no” too much?
My friend who inspired this series stated that she had been accused of saying “no” too much. It is possible to say “no” too often, but the key is why the answer is “no.” Sometimes we use “no” to punish, or to distance from our partner. They are not meeting my needs, why should I meet theirs? Sometimes there is a physical or biological reason for saying “no.” Whether to sexual intimacy or to a walk in the park, illness or fatigue or even depression can present seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At times “no” comes from a place of fear or lack of trust. All of these “no’s” have solutions.
If you are saying “no” to punish or distance, it needs to stop. Clearly communicate your needs that are not being met. Talk about how it makes you feel. Let your partner know that it makes it easier for you to say “yes” when other areas of your life feel secure.
If you or your partner is saying “no” because of illness, see a doctor. Get a consult. Don’t let physical limitations define your relationship. Most illness can be treated, sometimes the solutions are simple, other times a deeper underlying cause can be uncovered and dealt with to improve overall quality of life.
If there are trust issues in your relationship, maybe it is time to bring in a mediator or trusted counselor as a sounding board. See them alone, or go together, there are issues from the past that can make it difficult to trust in intimate relationships. It is never shameful to seek help. Your relationship is worth it.
Can you overstate your needs/desires?
When your partner is resistant to an idea, suggestion, or activity you would like to engage in together, repeated requests can make the situation worse. Continuing to ask when your partner has declined places pressure on them that can trigger a fight or flight response. Which means that you could be starting a fight, or prompting them to either dig in their heels or distance from you. Unless you are asking for a vital need to be met, it is probably not worth pushing.
Stating your needs and wants clearly is important, as well as where they rank in importance. If you present your deepest desires and your most trivial wants with the same intensity, how is your partner going to know which to prioritize? Because let’s face it, your partner cannot meet all of your needs. And you cannot meet all of their needs. These are facts, no matter who you are with. By letting your partner know what is a big deal and what will have less impact on your well-being, you are helping yourself since it will be more likely that a loving partner will attempt to meet what is perceived to be an important need.
How do we express our needs without manipulation?
Implied threats, constant bargaining, and feigned helplessness are all marks of manipulative communication. They indicate that we feel vulnerable and do not trust our partner to meet our needs simply because they love us. We feel the need to push them or pull them toward our goal of satisfaction. This can be avoided by accepting that intimate relationships require vulnerability. If your partner is really not trustworthy, then maybe it is the relationship itself that needs to be questioned.
Most people who are in a relationship have at least a modicum of desire to see good things happen for their partner. Over time, with poor communication and allowing self-interest to lead our interactions, we can begin to convince ourselves that the other does not care. Choosing to be vulnerable, to communicate openly is risky because it will reveal the heart of the other person. Either they will reciprocate with vulnerability, or they may try to use the openness for their own advantage.
While hoping for the first outcome, we need to be prepared for the second. Many times they are stuck in the same trap of only seeing their own needs and it may take some time and many tries before they understand that you are not trying a new manipulative trick to get your way. Stay open. Be vulnerable. In the end you will have either a stronger, more honest relationship, or you will find that perhaps it is time to let the other person go.
Watch for the next post in the series that will cover Setting Boundaries without Guilt.