"Why are you so upset with me, it's just a night out with friends." This is a familiar problem that couples often face in today's modern world. We just don't make time for one another, and the consequences result in confusing emotions, communication barriers, and a lack of quality time spent together. Embracing our emotions was never a class in school or a discussion amongst our peers, so isn't it fair that as millennial adults we struggle to communicate our needs without throwing a tantrum with our significant other? Learning how to embrace our love language and learn our partner’s language can be difficult work. I’m here to share with you 3 ways to embrace your emotional needs within your relationship.
The benefits of healthy communication between couples are plentiful! It boosts trust in moments of closeness and separation, solidifies reliability when we are seeking support from one another and builds upon a foundation many couples spend ample time and energy investing in these relationships. It's been proven that the safer we feel in our relationships, the more productive we are in the other parts of our lives. When we feel supported by our partners, we are more likely to take risks with our work, feel encouraged to reach outside our comfort zones, and set new goals for ourselves.
Emotional neglect often occurs when partners become unaligned in their needs and drift away from the goal of understanding one another. When the girlfriend feels neglected because her partner isn't showing up on time, she begins to view herself as less important in her partner's life overall. When the husband takes time to plan a date night just for his partner to cancel because they decided to work late that day to finish a project, he begins to reconsider planning date nights again in the future to prevent letdowns and disappointment. It's safe to say that building a foundation of healthy communication can prevent us from getting our backs against the walls during a disagreement and entering the dreaded "fight mode" of anxiety responses.
Below, I'll be discussing the 3 ways in which we can embrace our emotional needs within romantic relationships and align with our foundation of healthy communication, even when life gets off track from time to time. Whether you are in a new relationship and want to build some knowledge about healthy communication skills moving ahead past the honeymoon phase, or you have been in a long-term, committed relationship; these tips and tools can help you and your partner take a step back from the heat of the situation and refocus on one another's emotional and psychological needs. After all, as humans we have a strong desire to connect and be connected; these emotions are communicators to improve your relationship rather than tear it apart.
1. EMOTIONS ARE COMMUNICATORS
Emotions can be seen as mental states of being that are triggered by childhood experiences, maturity, thoughts, feelings, behavioural responses, and degrees of pleasure or displeasure regarding a presenting situation. As humans, we use our emotions as guides of safety versus danger, joy versus sadness, and commitment versus letting go. Emotions help us make decisions about our environment, and most importantly, relationships.
When we are feeling an emotion, it is our anxiety responses that tell us to either fight or run away from the threat in front of us. Our anxiety response developed centuries ago to avoid the threats of our environment by running away from or fighting the scary beasts of the woods as our primal ancestors did as a survival mechanism. However, our modern threats are no longer the same as that scary animal in the woods, and instead, our safety mechanisms are turning into debilitating mood disorders that so often interfere with our relationships. When we seek to communicate our emotions to our partners, it can be easy for us to fall into bad habits of complaining, contempt, and criticism when our fight modes become activated. Are you curious to learn how to prevent complaining while sharing your emotional needs with your partner, be sure to check out this article on the Gottman Institute Blog.
I encourage all of the couples I work with to be curious about emotion, rather than reactive right away. Consider the following questions:
What emotion(s) am I feeling in this moment?
Why was this emotion triggered?
What is the emotion asking me to do?
What is the emotion telling me I need?
By being curious about our emotions, we are allowing the emotions to communicate a need to us, which then helps us to communicate those very needs to our eager partner. Remember, your partner is your ally, not your enemy. For our relationships to succeed, we must fuel our partners with the right tools to support and communicate with us.
2. WRITE OUT A LIST OF NEEDS THAT YOU EXPECT FROM YOUR PARTNER
We often hear the common phrase, "I'm your partner, not your mind reader." Despite the passive-aggressive tone of this comment, there is a lot of truth to it. Our partners are not mind readers and we simply cannot expect them to just know what we need, when we need it, and how we need it. These assumptions often come from pessimistic ideas about our relationships that have formed after a few disappointments, boundary violations, or moments where you questioned your partner's abilities to meet your needs long term. This is often what we label as a cognitive distortion: an irrational and negative thought pattern that has been triggered by a trauma or negative experience.
Cognitive distortions are almost like walking into a room full of mirrors that slightly distort the shape and appearance of your body. Some mirrors make us look taller, thinner, wider, or even a wonky shape! Consider each mirror as modifying the way we perceive our thoughts. One mirror can make us only focus on the negative in a situation, rather than also being aware of the neutrality or positive natures of the situation. Another mirror can make us assume the worst-case scenario every time we encounter a perceived threat. For example, always assuming our partner is going to leave us when we ask them to step up around the house, or jumping to the conclusion that our partners have lost interest in us romantically because they haven't noticed our new hairstyle or that we have been making more of an effort to care for our physical appearance.
Healthy communication is about the specifics. Specifically, tell your partner what they need from you, so they can provide you with your need without jumping through the hoops of your emotional guessing game! Here are some examples of specific needs you may share with your partner:
Quality time spent with one another at least 1-2 nights per week
Taking over particular roles and responsibilities around the home
Planning a date night
Making time for a conversation about the relationship in a positive way
Providing love and affection either physically or emotionally
By being specific about our needs, our partners are more equipped to meet those needs without an argument or disagreement, resulting in emotional drain and compassion fatigue. These factors often deter connection and closeness, which is needed in trust, reliability, and emotional safety. If you are struggling to identify if you are looking at your relationship from a pessimist eye or just plain fed up with your relationship being an endless cycle of disappointment, check out another article on website.
3. CHECK IN OFTEN
Relationships require work, and this is a fact we often realize as the marker of the end of the "honeymoon phase." Instead of the relationship being a job you despise going to every day, make it a job you love and feel honoured to be a part of. Showing up for your partner doesn't have to feel like that crappy 9-5 that wasn't paying you enough. Instead, it can feel like that rewarding environment that supports your personal goals, wishes to see you succeed, and provides you with the reliability and safety you need to be the best version of yourself!
So, how do we make our relationships a job we want to do? The answer lies in consistent, reliable communication with one another. Check -in with one another often to keep the line of communication open and avoid the build-up of negative emotions. This can prevent cognitive distortions from growing in severity and influence over our belief systems. It can also hold space for our partner’s needs, as well as make space for our own to be voiced and acknowledged by our partner. When we check-in with one another, we are not talking because there is a problem to be solved. We are talking because we genuinely want to connect and get to know one another.
I encourage my couples to check-in with one another at least once per week and set a dedicated time and place for these check-ins. This can be done over a meal, on a weekend afternoon when you both have a clear headspace to dedicate to one another or the time before bed when you are settling into your zone of peace. This is a time to connect, to share what is on your heart, and most importantly, check-in on your and your partner's emotional needs.
I hope these perspectives have helped educate you on the importance of meeting your partner's emotional needs, while also embracing your own. While emotions can feel like uncharted territory or a risk, know that this is a normal experience that many individuals face when learning how to embrace their needs for what may be the first time. As we look ahead at our relationships, we embrace the desire to create a relationship built on trust, reliability, and emotional safety by using tools of curiosity, openness, and most of all, acceptance. You are a team, a dynamic duo, and a united front; embrace your needs to embrace your future!
Are you interested in accessing more relationship tips? Check out my Instagram page where I post weekly mental health tips and relationship skills three times weekly. Nicole