How can men talk about needs without women feeling controlled?
I don’t even remember how I old I was when I first started receiving the message that I should never let a man control me. I was taught about consent, setting limits, having boundaries, and developing trust with guys and men. I was cautioned repeatedly to never let a guy tell me what to do.
All good and important lessons. The problem is that I was never told that men will care about me, will want to be close to me, and will want intimacy.
As I think about it now, men came with a warning label.
Here on The Good Men Project, as we talk more about men and relationships, we continue to break down the old stereotypes that have limited men. We know that it’s not true that men are commitment phobic. We’ve seen men talking about and acknowledging their feelings.
Men care about and crave connection, just as women do. They’re looking to be emotionally available to their partners and want their partners to be the same for them. If we’re talking about relationships, we’re talking about acknowledging our interdependence on one another.
Everyone loves when we acknowledge and validate these points. Reminding people that men aren’t just capable of relating but want to relate, gives hope to relationships. It makes us feel loved, cared for, and important to the men we care so deeply for.
What’s more uncomfortable is acknowledging that if we’re interdependent and want that connection, we have to acknowledge that both partners are going to come to the table with needs in the relationship.
It’s pretty accepted that women come to relationships with needs and they’re encouraged to talk about them and express them. This is still an uphill battle for men. We can’t just acknowledge that men have feelings and value intimacy and congratulate ourselves on a stereotype being busted. If we’re acknowledging and respecting that men place value on their relationships, we have to show equal respect for the needs they’ll have within the relationship.
For example, men may want to stay in touch with their partners during the day. Or, they may want time when their partners are unplugged. They may want to be included when their partners are planning activities or getting together with others without including them. They may want to know when they can expect their partner to return home.
While these needs are about wanting and needing a deeper connection, they are often met with resistance. Women can get their backs up, get defensive, and a conflict brews. Why?
So many women have been conditioned to never let a man control them. As a result, when men talk about these sensitive needs, women don’t hear love; they hear control and become unwilling to meet a need in an effort to “never be controlled”. Often, men will respond by backing away, walling off, and becoming less likely to acknowledge their needs in the future. They don’t, after all, want to be seen as controlling or needy by the person they love.
Of course, we know, too, that men have felt controlled when women have asked for similar things. Interdependence and relationships will always challenge our sense of independence. But women have been given support for talking about their needs, whereas men often have not.
How Do We Talk About Needs So That Our Partners Don’t Feel Controlled?
Acknowledge Your Relational Style and Know Your Partner’s
Knowing what we need starts with knowing who we are. Knowing how much time we need with our partners, how much alone time we need, and what intimacy means to us is the first step to knowing what we need from our partners. So many relationships start hot and heavy with couples being inseparable from one another. Inevitably one partner thinks this is the precedent for how things will always be while another knows that they may need to drift a bit once the newness wears off.
Once you know who you are, you have to put yourself out there. Be clear about what you know about yourself and see if that is something your partner is understanding and respectful of. Your partner won’t feel controlled when they feel included and have acknowledged a willingness to be present for you in the way that you need.
Then, take turns. Get a clear understanding of your partner and what they need. Check in with yourself that those are needs you’re willing to meet. You, too, will feel less controlled when you know what you’re choosing.
Talking about needs can suck. It makes us feel weak and vulnerable. We’re open to rejection when we’re talking about what we need. As a result, we don’t always speak of our needs in the clearest manner. Sometimes we’re rushed. Sometimes we state needs in the form of demands.
When talking about needs, it’s important that we’re clear on intent and why it’s important to us. It’s not easy to hear “Can’t you just put the phone down for a second?” We feel accused and reply with defensiveness. It’s easier to put the phone down and feel less accused when we hear “I missed you today. Can we unplug for some couch time?” When your partner knows why something is important, they may not agree with the need but because they want to take care of you, they become more willing to hear and meet your needs.
Be Open to Compromise
It’s really crucial to get clear on what the actual need is…more contact with your partner, more affection, more couple time, date nights, opportunity to problem-solve, etc. Sometimes we get wrapped up in specific behavior changes we want to see our partners make without really identifying the actual need. If you identify that you want to be in touch more or need more space during the day, then you can have an easier time looking at ways your partner can support you in that without feeling shut out or controlled.
When men express a need and women view it as controlling, everyone loses. Needs aren’t about control. They’re about connection and wanting to be close, to be part of a team. Yes, our partner’s needs are bound to challenge us from time to time but if we really listen to the need, and why it’s important, we’ll likely hear the love we’ve been longing to find.
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