As a therapist, I see a lot of couples who are working on their relationships. I also see a lot of individuals who are unhappy in their relationships but don’t know where to start to improve them. Are they the problem? Is it their partners? Or is it the dynamics between them? Perhaps all of the above?
Generally, a good place to start is in recognizing your own needs. If you were raised in a home where your needs were invalidated or chronically unmet, this can be a very daunting task. So here are some questions to ask yourself.
1) What hurts the most?
I know it’s not much fun to inventory recent pain, but it’s a critical first step. Because in order to know what you need, you need to follow your feelings.
Maybe you’re not in the habit of doing that. You’re in the habit of suppressing feelings, or second-guessing them. Perhaps you minimize or invalidate them like your family did while you were growing up, or like your current partner is doing.
It’s time to develop a new habit. Your feelings provide crucial information. Whatever you feel strongest about is what matters most.
2) Why does it hurt?
Dig into the source of your pain. Often, we hurt because we feel rejected. We feel abandoned. We feel like we can’t count on the person we depend on most. We feel like our partner doesn’t value us, that we’re not truly loved, that we’re going to be hurt again and again.
That last one is a biggie: fear of future hurts intensify the present pain exponentially. It also degrades our ability to trust. We might become more guarded, but it doesn’t mean that our needs have changed. We’ve just learned to pretend that we don’t have needs.
Or we tell ourselves that what we need isn’t important; we should feel something else instead. We should want something else instead. But the reality is, your needs are hard-wired into you, and the odds are, they’re the same as everyone’s: to be loved, valued, protected, cherished, and supported.
3) Which of those needs from the list I just gave are going unmet?
This will tie back into the first question. It’s all a big circle, really. You hurt because your needs aren’t being met, and you have a right to fulfillment in your relationship. You also have a right to speak up and tell your partner what you’re learning about yourself.
My next blog will provide some tips on how to do that.
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