He said the right thing. I didn't know it's what I needed to hear, even.
We had a bit of a rub, a moment where it felt like his needs vs mine.
Sometimes it's so easy to experience someone else's needs as a threat, no?
Which is kinda the way it can feel sometimes since even having needs is so vulnerable...and articulating them can feel even more so. And then when it seems they might be at odds...
Just as the pressure of all of that was building up inside me, he said something like, "Well, let's keep trying [to meet both our needs]. And if over time, it doesn't seem like it's working, we'll check in and see whether our needs need to be reevaluated and how we're gonna deal with that."
As I finally exhaled, internally I was like, "Wow, THAT'S mature."
He didn't draw a hard line in the sand. And he also didn't collapse his boundary. He left room for it to evolve---for a creative solution to show up without having to have an answer immediately. And he was willing to consider that he might not win this one.
He allowed for it to be a work in progress. I allowed for it to be a work in progress.
Which feels to me like even though this particular piece isn't resolved, the relationship is working because it's flexible enough without being overly self sacrificing.
In the meantime, I trust that we both have the internal strength to tolerate the imperfect until we can figure this thing out.
IF we figure it out. Which there are no guarantees about. Which is incredibly vulnerable. Maybe you know the feeling?
But I guess maturity chooses to keep showing up anyway, right? Because I want this to work, even in the moments that're scary, like when our needs may differ.
Since this happened yesterday, I've been thinking SO much about needs. And how this tends to be the place of conflict for so many couples.
For he and I, it's appropriate to give it time and see what develops. But for some couples, you've already given it time. You've exhausted the window of waiting for creative solutions to show up. You need something to happen.
I've been a couples therapist for almost a decade now and I've seen my fair share of couples battling over their needs. Generally, when I support my clients with this, it's because they're either not managing to find a way to be ok with the lack of resolution OR they haven't been able to find their way into a much-needed resolution on their own.
So I thought I'd give you a sense of what that therapeutic process can look like so that you can either go deep with these things on your own or maybe even with my support.
Here are the things I consider and maybe explore with a couple when it feels like one person's needs vs the other or when they'd having difficulty in their negotiations (in no particular order):
- Is this conflict actually about the issue in question? Or does the back-and-forth, not-quite-satisfied status serve to provide a level of distance that's comfortable to one or both people? Because sometimes, intimacy can feel like a threat and people use conflict or dissatisfaction to mitigate that and provide some needed distance. (There are healthier ways to get distance).
- If I unpack and continue to unpack the content, are their needs actually at odds? Or does the field just feel conflictual and more polarized than it is because one or both people carry wounding around their needs and therefore the whole thing feels more charged than it needs to be? This is true for many people because there's a whoooole bunch that can go awry around our needs at a young age. And, check your blame. If there's any blame going on, it'll lock the generosity right up and then there can be very little movement.
- If person A is refusing or reluctant to meet person B's needs, even when they want the same things, is there an issue with the way person B is relating to their needs? Is there something up with the way the request is being made? Does person B have a vulnerability around receiving that needs support? Does person A have a vulnerability around giving or generosity that needs support? Does person A have an understanding about what it really looks like to meet the need; do they know how?
- It's generally helpful for me to wonder into and explore what their relationship would look and feel like if this got resolved. Sometimes, it'd bring up another huge issue hiding immediately behind it, so it might be safe to stay debating this one. And maybe it's even most beneficial (however difficult) to consider letting it go.
- How important are these needs? At first glance, it'd seem like they're very important because we're saying need vs want, but often people get confused about the difference particularly in a culture that sells the fantasy that our perfect partner, "The One" will meet all our needs, otherwise we're just not compatible. I disagree. I strongly stand up for the idea that no one should survive on crumbs in a relationship. And yet, to be able to truly partner with another, we'll face sacrifices. Some of them may be very difficult. So, I explore and help identify what are needs and what are wants and how to be with the fact that not all are getting met. And this is where the familiar "pick your battles" adage comes in. How willing is each person to let the relationship be something other than "ideal?"
- Does this couple need support maturing into the idea that perhaps some days person A's needs get met, but person B's don't, but perhaps the next week it's vice versa? Do they need help recognizing what portion of the time their needs get met and what portion of the time they don't? Some people tend to overfocus on the fulfillment and some tend to overfocus on the lack.
- Is the energy all locked up around "the story" the couple holds around this issue? In other words, is it possible to have both partners feeling met and fulfilled if I can help reduce their internal stress chemistry around it? Is it possible that both people having their needs met at the same time is totally possible and even easeful if I can just help teach them how to find that flow?
- Have they forgotten or never learned how to work as a team? Do they understand that me vs you is toxic and that both of them have equal responsibility to meet the needs of the relationship---which often looks like attending to each other's individual needs because that's how you take care of the "We?"
- Finally, and this is like the end-all, be-all relationship gold: Are they listening to each other? I mean, like REALLY listening? To the point where both people feel really, deeply heard? Because sometimes (not always, but sometimes) that can make ALL the difference.
Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list. But, I bet it can help you see just how nuanced and complex it can be to navigate our needs in relationship. Which I hope serves to bring in more compassion for you and your partner. We're all doing our best. And it's just that sometimes...it's complicated. No judgement.
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Love and compassion,