How to Express What You Want and Need to New and Long-Term Partners
Talking “feels” is not easy. Talking about what you want and need to a new partner or even a long-term partner is essential expression.
Janie McGlasson, marriage and family therapist, focuses on relationship therapy for individuals. She often works with people struggling with anxiety, depression and life transitions. McGlasson helps people as they experience that need to explore and understand relationships.
Do The Good Stuff asked McGlasson what you should actually do when it comes to talking to your partner, whether it’s a new person or long-term, about what you want and need.
How do you know the difference between what you want and need in a relationship?
This is not always an easy thing to differentiate. I think we’re all a little better at having an idea at what we want. But, while knowing what you want is helpful, knowing what you need is necessary. You can look at your life to determine what you want—who are you normally attracted to? What are your hobbies? How much alone time do you need? How much social time? Your answers to these questions will give you an idea of what you want and how a person could join your life. Needs, however, are a bit more difficult.
I often work with clients to look at both positive and negative connections to figure out what they need in relationships. Meaning, at times it can be helpful to look at that terrible relationship you had a few years ago and see what you were needing that you were not getting. Other times it can be most beneficial to look at positive relationships, like the one with your best friend, to see what needs are getting met. To break it down a little further: a want is something like… if the person is taller than you, a need is something like… a person that is honest even if it is uncomfortable. While it would be nice to have a taller partner, what matters the most is if you feel that you can trust that person to be honest with you.
How do you approach your needs in a new relationship?
Say them early, say them often. This is where knowing your needs is an important place to start. But once you know them, it’s best to speak up about them early so you get clear right away if this relationship is worth your time and investment. Quick note though, expressing your needs is very different than demanding them. Give your partner the chance to respond in a way that is authentic to them first. Then you can decide if their response works for you.
And once you’ve been with a partner awhile, how do you express what you want and need?
Wants and needs change, which is why it is important to establish an open dialogue about them early in the relationship. What felt good, made you feel loved or kept you engaged in the beginning is not always going to be true a few years in. Always know that it is OK to change your mind and say ‘I thought that I wanted this from you, but I’m realizing that I want that.’ Being open about how your wants or needs are changing is a key aspect to long-term relationship health.
What about with do-overs or reunions, when a couple gets back together?
I have to start by saying that I don’t really believe in do-overs. As much as you may want to, you cannot entirely forget about the patterns that were hurtful to you in relationship 1.0. Often times when a couple gets back together, we’ll process with 1.0, 2.0… sometimes even 3.0 language because the idea is that it’s the same relationship, but a newer, better version (and it should definitely be better if you’re going to give it another try). This can be a great starting (over) point because you know what didn’t work and can start off on a new foot, being honest about what wasn’t working for you before and what you want this reunion to look like from here on out.
What additional advice or tools do you recommend women use to express their needs to their partners?
The best, most important tool is your body. Our bodies tell us so much about what we need if we will listen to them. If your chest feels tight, you might be shutting down and needing a few moments of alone time. If you notice a lump in your throat forming then you probably need to have some time to speak and let some emotion out. And, of course, if a touch doesn’t feel good you need to move that hand (or body part) somewhere that it works for you. Tuning in to your body can often help you figure out an emotion—and what you need. And my main advice for knowing, and then expressing your needs is to always be learning about yourself. Learn about your needs by learning how your past has impacted you, what your relationships tell you about your personality, what your work tells you about what is important to you, etc. If you are prioritizing learning about yourself then it is much easier to allow others to prioritize that, too.
Are there any other tips or information you think are important for women to know when it comes to entering new relationships?
Lean on your community. Introduce them to people that you get excited about, ask them what they think that you need in a relationship, allow for their honest opinion. If you know anyone in a healthy relationship, ask them how they got there. Real people are our best resources for knowing what we can aspire to and what we need to get there.