Communication in a marriage doesn’t always come easily. Maybe it’s because many married people expect their partner to know what they want without actually telling them. It’s like a secret. They toss out clues that their partner never even sees, and then they get annoyed because they didn’t catch it. Because of this, they think it’s impossible to have their emotional needs met.
You can’t blame your spouse for not doing what you need from them if you’ve never told them. Just because they didn’t know, it doesn’t mean that they are the wrong person for you and that you should break up. There’s no way around it. If you need something from your spouse, you have to ask. They didn’t magically become a mind reader the moment they said, “I do.”
Making your spouse guess what you want is not fair to them. It sets them up for failure because you are judging them on how they do something they never knew they were supposed to be doing.
It is 100% up to you to make your emotional needs and wants clearly known to your partner. Having these discussions takes courage and forces you to be vulnerable. And that will be scary.
Why discussing emotional needs is important
Too much goes unsaid in relationships. But is it really best to bring it up, even if it’s just an insignificant issue?
Take a look at this verse from the Gospel of John:
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
The context of this verse is, of course, knowing the truth about Jesus and his loving sacrifice for us. However, it has implications for our relationships as well. If you don’t tell the truth about what is bothering you, your spouse won’t know. And if they don’t know, then they won’t be free to make the changes that will help you. Not telling them is like keeping them trapped in a prison you designed, and they don’t even know the charges.
If it’s bothering you, it’s not insignificant, and it will come out at some time in the future. And if it comes out in the heat of the moment, the consequences can be disastrous.
Don’t take the easy way out by choosing to avoid the discussion altogether. Ignoring your emotional needs and withdrawing quietly into yourself will only lead to more resentment and anger. It becomes a never ending circle.
Small issues can and do escalate. When we don’t think something is a big enough deal that we should even bother to have a conversation about it, we back away, and when it continues, we get resentful. We may even start building up a storehouse of anger and contempt that we are prepared to launch at a moment’s notice.
Not addressing these issues can lead to a breakdown in all communication, avoiding your spouse, and a lack of affection. These issues can start leading you down a path that you never believed you would take, the road to divorce. So act like an adult and try to solve your adult problem respectfully.
Identifying your emotional needs
Although we can often identify what we do not want in a relationship, we are a lot worse at determining what we do need.
Many of the needs we have stem from unmet needs during our childhoods. When something is bothering you about the way your spouse acts toward you, look beyond the issue that is bothering you right now and try to discover if there is something deeper that you need to address. God doesn’t want you stuck in those situations from your past. He wants you to be free of them.
18 The Lord says, “Forget what happened before,
and do not think about the past.
19 Look at the new thing I am going to do.
It is already happening. Don’t you see it?
I will make a road in the desert
and rivers in the dry land. Isaiah 43:18-19
To discover what those needs may be, you may want to journal and get some thoughts out on paper. Look at some of these questions and write out some answers for them. Then reread your answers and look for emotional needs you may have.
- In my life, I have a right to…
- I feel most energized when…
- In my life, people are not allowed to
- What do I overthink or worry about in my marriage?
- In a relationship, I think unconditional love looks like….
- If I could change something about myself, what would it be?
- What do I think God’s purpose for me is?
- To protect my time and energy, it’s okay for me to…
- What do I wish my marriage had more of?
- What irrationally annoys me the most?
Plan the conversation
When you are ready to discuss these emotional needs with your spouse, remember to keep the conversation constructive and positive. Don’t turn it into a battle where there has to be an ultimate winner. That will make your marriage the loser. Plan a conversation that is free from judging and nagging. Just the facts, Ma’am.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (emphasis mine.)
These conversations about your needs are most effective when they are well planned, not in the heat of an angry moment. Choose a time when your spouse is not distracted. Don’t worry about disturbing the peace that settled in after the argument. It’s better to have these discussions when you are both relaxed, and your defenses are down.
Decide which need to you want to discuss first. Start with something small. Don’t set your spouse up to fail by choosing the biggest, most pressing need.
Think about how you wanted your spouse to react in that situation. Think about what you wanted them to say or do, and explain that to them.
Start with a positive statement. Don’t make the words “We have to talk” sound like an ambush. Tell them something you appreciate about them before you start relaying a bunch of needs.
Talk less. Be specific about one situation that is frustrating you and why. Keep your words to a minimum so that your point will be clear.
Keep a calm tone of voice. Speak clearly and describe your feelings in a nonjudgmental way. Use I-statements instead of you-statements. Focus more on what you are feeling instead of what your spouse is doing wrong.
Patient people have great understanding, but people with quick tempers show their foolishness. Proverbs 13:29
Request a behavior change. Again be specific. And be reasonable. You should be able to see and measure the changes. You can’t see or gauge what they are thinking or feeling.
When you state your emotional needs to your partner, it should be an accurate description of what you want or need in the relationship. Don’t turn it into a demand for what you think you are entitled to. Don’t play the victim.
Let them know that meeting their needs is also important to you. Encourage them to make their needs known to you so you can be a better spouse.
Here are some things that you should remember after the conversation has ended.
You cannot control another person’s feelings or actions — only your own. You have the right to ask, but it doesn’t mean your spouse will always be able to meet those emotional needs. Only Jesus can do that for you.
This conversation strategy is not an easy fix. Depending on what the issue is, it can be complicated and requires a strong resolve on your part.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12
Just because you have to ask for something does not mean your spouse’s willingness to do it means any less. (You’re only doing this because I told you to, not because you want to.)
It’s interesting that something so basic as letting the most important person in our lives into our secret spaces to know what we really need is so difficult for most of us. If something you need is putting a strain on your marriage, take some of these steps toward a more effective communication of your emotional needs.
If you need support making conversations like this happen in your marriage, consider if marriage mentoring may be right for you. We’d love to chat with you and see if we are good fit for you! We offer free 30-minute marriage assessment calls every Thursday, no obligation! Click on this link to apply for one of the limited slots!