When my clients come to me, most of them are frustrated. They're not getting what they want and they're not getting where they need to be. For so many of them, that begins in their romantic partnerships. They feel like their partners aren't being present or they aren't making an effort. When you ask them to quantify that, there's usually a common thread running through the foundation.
Communication. My clients (many of them from dysfunctional backgrounds) struggle to communicate what they need. Then, they end up frustrated when their partners and spouses don't meed those needs. It's a self-destruction pattern. If they don't communicate what their core needs are, the people around them can't rise to the challenge and meet them.
Every relationship begins and ends with communication.
We use communication to form the relationship and communication to resolve it (and any issues within). Yet this communication remains the biggest challenge and the biggest hurdle for most of us. We fail when it comes to telling people who we are and what we need.
How? Why? Somoe people assume it's obvious. Others are fearful of stating what they expect in a partnership. In every instance, it's a failure. It's not right to expect people to just know what you need from them. It's selfish. If you want to be seen, heard, and validated in any relationship, then you need to make sure you're telling people how you feel and asking for what you really want.
Communication doesn't happen by osmosis.
If you're in a place where you want deep, affirming connections, then you have to tighten up the way you communicate. There's no healthy romance, friendship, or family connection if you don't know how to talk about the way you feel, what you need, or what you want help with in your life.
Although we've been sold the fantasy of "magical communication" there's no such thing. Your partner isn't going to telepathically know what you need because you're in love. The same goes for family, friends, coworkers, anyone close to you.
There are generally 9 elements to successful communication in any relationship:
- Avoiding criticism
- Striving for de-escalation
- Leaving out contempt
- Complaining healthily
- Limiting defensiveness
- Speaking with empathy
- Double-sided validation
At a point, you must take the initiative and share your experiences, to tell others what you need (and why). You must explain the way you process things, the processes you need to share with them. That's where you get the support, and that's where you're able to be a supportive friend or partner.
If that's not enough to motivate you, then maybe this will be: people can't be there for you if you don't let them in. Opening that door must begin with you letting down the walls and telling people what you expect from the relationships you invest in.
How are they supposed to know if you don't tell them what's going on?
If you're here, then it may be a sign that you're not getting what you want. Maybe you don't feel supported. You feel like the people you love are ignoring you or avoiding you. They may be. All of that may be true. But something else may be true too…
What are the odds you're not letting people into your life? What are the odds you haven't told them, explicitly, what you want and need in order to feel you aren't drowning alone in life?
The people who love you can't support you if you don't tell them how. There are some core truths you need to remember in order to shift your mindset and invite in the love and validation you crave.
People have their own lives
First, you need to remember that everyone has their own lives. All the painful, confusing experiences you have? Everyone around you is having those same experiences - no matter what their life may look like on the outside. We are each dealing with our own anxieties, our own insecurities, every second of the day.
How is someone supposed to know what is going on in your life when they are struggling to manage their own? How could they possibly see your distress, your need for help, if they're trying to keep their heads above water?
Most people are too busy dealing with their lives to pay attention to every intimate detail of yours. If you want their help, you're going to have to ask for it. If you need something from them, you're going to have to touch them on the arm and tell them. Others won't make room for you if they don't know you need the room.
It's a narcissistic expectation
We spend a lot of time talking about the narcissism in others, but we don't always stop to take a look at our own narcissistic tendencies. That's right. Each one of us sits somewhere on the scale of narcissistic behavior. Some of us rank higher, and some of us rank lower. Where you sit often determines how you interact with others.
It's arguable that expecting people to know you need help sits on the relatively narcissistic end of that spectrum. To assume that everyone is watching you, studying you, waiting for the first sign of need, is an unreal expectation. Why would you inhabit that much attention in anyone's life?
Make sure you're not expecting to be the center of the universe in some way. Check your expectations of friends, family, partners. Is what you ask of them unrealistic? Avoid allowing yourself to slide into a narcissistic level of expectation in your relationships.
Crossing lines that don't exist
Asking for help can feel like begging when you've fallen into a pattern of hyper-independence. Fascinatingly, this asking ties intimately into our boundaries (and the boundaries of our loved ones). A connection between two people without set boundaries is unclear. People step over lines they don't know exist.
When you communicate an issue, you make your boundaries clear. Once the words are out there, there are no more excuses. The other person knows where you stand, what you're getting, or what you need from them.
Without that communication, though, they can push and go places you don't want them to. How would they know not to? You haven't explained to them that specific behaviors trigger you or make you uncomfortable. Those "no-go" places have to be laid out on the table for everyone involved to know where they stand.
Their avoidance could be respect
Hurt is the first emotion many people run to when they feel they aren't being heard or helped by the people they love. In the middle of your own struggle, the storm seems obvious. You look around and think, "How does no one else see that I'm drowning in this tidal wave?"
The thing is, your suffering is not always as obvious as you think it is. If it's not a broken leg, a catastrophic death, many people aren't paying enough attention to see the signs. They're engrossed in their own struggles.
A hurricane can hit one country, ripping it apart and killing thousands, and send only centimeters of rain to the country next door. Your storm is huge to you, but it's not so big to those with distance from it.
What does all of this mean for you? It means that their seeming-avoidance may be grace. While you may feel like the people around you aren't reaching out to help, like they're avoiding something obvious, they may think they are being respectful of you and a tough experience you're having. They may keep their distance out of respect
You know what you really need
Yes, some people get lucky. They pick people in their lives who are sensitively in-tune with their needs and emotions. They don't have to ask for much because their partners, friends, or family have enough emotional space to pay attention and act without needing to be asked.
A connection like this seems great. It seems too good to be true…and in a way, it is. Even the most in-sync relationships have their limits. People can to tune into elements of what we feel or what we need, but only we know the full depth what we are experiencing (or have experienced).
If you want other people to truly understand where you're coming from, explain it to them. Tell them why you expect them to treat you a certain way, or speak to you a certain way. Meet them where they're at. Don't force them to act on assumptions to support you.
Get better at being open with those you love.
Holding back in the right relationships will get you nowhere. If you're connected with someone who is healthy, who treats you well, who values you, then you're selling yourself short by not being clear with them about your needs and your feelings.
Get better at being open with those you love; those safe people in your life who have proven that they want to support you in the right ways. Those are the people who deserve to be let in. They deserve to be met on the road, not expected to climb the mountain for you every time you need help.
Do some of the legwork for them. Tell them if something is wrong. Tell them you need support. Ask for things you want and don't be afraid to stand up for yourself when a line is crossed.
This is how relationships get better…through clear and consistent communication. Begin that communication with you and make sure that your expectations, standards, boundaries, needs, and emotions are upfront and on the table every time it really counts with your values and beliefs.
Human connections are only as strong as those parties involved. They reflect the heart of who we are and how we see ourselves in this world. Create better relationships that are founded in communication with integrity.
Harris, V. W. (2012). 9 important communication skills for every relationship. EDIS, 2012(2). https://doi.org/10.32473/edis-fy1277-2012Harris, V. W. (2012). 9 important communication skills for every relationship. EDIS, 2012(2). https://doi.org/10.32473/edis-fy1277-2012