These 8 steps will help you bravely express your needs when feelings are hurt.
What would you rather do—discuss your hurt feelings with your partner, or have a root canal? To many people, the latter seems a lot more appealing. The good news is, confrontation doesn’t have to feel so painful, scary, or risky. If you want an honest, authentic relationship, you’re going to have to speak up when feelings are hurt. You’ll have to talk about the hard stuff in your relationship.
Confrontation is something that most people either avoid or do ineffectively. Instead of connecting with your partner when your feelings are hurt, you end up pushing them away.
Most of us do not grow up learning how to communicate effectively. That’s why I’ve made it my mission to study and teach compassionate communication skills for the past ten years. I’ve worked hard on becoming a more effective communicator. I’ve learned the specific steps for expressing your needs while staying open and connected to your partner, and I’m sharing them with you today.
8 Steps to Courageously Express and Negotiate Your Needs…
…without sounding needy or whiny
1. Understand that your needs and your partner’s needs are equally valid and important.
Needs are the core of who you are and what drives your life. If a need is pushed under the rug, it will resurface. It might come back as a mean-spirited passive/aggressive remark, or something more in-your-face, such as withholding sex or raging at your partner. You don’t want to let it go to that extreme. So, begin the conversation with the belief that both of your needs are equally important.
2. Remember how you’ve been courageous in other areas of your life.
You’ve slain big dragons before. Did you ever speak up at work in defense of something important to you? Stand up to a doctor when you were in disagreement? Were you successful? Remember that win. Tapping into this courage will support you in your toughest conversations with your partner.
3. Believe that a mutual solution that meets both individual needs is possible.
You don’t have to both agree on an issue to work things out. You simply want your partner to understand that your feelings were hurt. A need wasn’t met.
People learn how to treat you based on how you take a stand for your needs. Mind-reading doesn’t work. The more you are able to take a stand for the things that are important to you, the better the chance that your needs will be validated and honored.
4. Drop your assumptions and judgments.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a made-up assumption about why someone’s love interest didn’t call or email or whatever. Please stop making things up. Check things out instead. Ask questions. Get curious. Go into the conversation with a beginner’s mind. Assume you know NOTHING.
5. Don’t blame.
Blame leads to defensiveness and/or shame. Again, check things out by asking questions. Keep an open mind. Find out the truth.
6. Preparation helps you gain confidence.
Get clear on what happened, what you’re feeling and needing. Then, practice how you’ll express it. The more clarity you have, the better. I like to bookend my conversations with a good friend. I write out a rough draft of a tough conversation. I reread it several times to make sure I’m not bringing judgments and assumptions to the conversation. Then I call a friend to run it by her. She lets me know if the conversation is ‘clean’, without an emotional charge or accusation. She makes sure I’m speaking about how I FEEL, not what how HE MADE ME FEEL.
When I’ve had the conversation with my partner, I check in with my friend again and let her know I’m done. Having accountability and an objective observer helps me stay true to my intention to stay connected and loving with my partner during my challenging conversation.
7. Listen to understand and connect deeper.
When you’re done talking, it’s important to stay open to hearing what he/she has to say. This is a dialogue, not a monologue. Try to stay open and not defensive when you hear the response. If you want understanding from your partner, you must give him or her the same respect and listen carefully.
8. Breathe and stay present.
This may seem obvious, but deep breathing helps you stay centered and open. Keep on breathing to stay present when you’re having this tough conversation. Your heart might be racing, but focusing on your breath will put both you and your partner at ease.
In order to have authentic, deep, honest relationships, you will occasionally need to have uncomfortable, difficult conversations. Don’t avoid them. Problems ignored do not disappear. They fester and grow. These conversations get easier with practice. So practice, practice, practice…on everyone and anyone, not just your partner or date. You’ll soon become a pro at expressing your needs—without feeling needy.
Please leave a comment about a time when you’ve either successfully or unsuccessfully navigated through a tough conversation.
Photo: Flickr/Will White