Blog 3: Figuring Out Needs, Responsiveness to Needs: What Ultimately Brings Our Distress to an End
In this 3rd blog in this 3-part series of blogs on emotional communication, I’ll be sharing with you information about the importance of delineating the needs that are at the root of your emotional distress and how responsiveness to these needs is core to bring about change to the feelings and emotions you are experiencing. After you have expressed, or responded to your partner’s feelings and emotions, and you’ve repaired any ruptures, it’s very important to make that next leap to understand the needs that gave rise to the emotions. The concerns, goals and needs underlying your emotions have to be stated clearly, directly and be realistic (e.g.., doable by the other).
Step 4: Expressing Partner- Expression of Concerns, Goals and Needs: Upon completion of the acknowledgement and understanding phase and any repairs in communication, there has to be some type of dialogue related to the needs that underlie the emotions. Figuring out our needs can be difficult and not within our awareness immediately. Try to figure out what you need to reduce the distress and from your partner or for your self to shift your feelings (e.g…, “I really need to just go out for a walk and take a break”…or “I need to be alone momentarily”…or “I need for you to just listen to what’s been going on”, or “tell me everything is going to be okay”). Do you need to just share your feelings? Have someone listen and validate you? Do you need reassurances?
Make the need concrete, doable and realistic. If you say something like “I need for you to love me” or I need for you to care more”—this might be too vague without clear examples of behaviours, or actions or words that you might require. Be specific (e.g. “I need more affection” or “I need more support from you around the home and with the children, such as making sure you are present at dinner to help me cook and feed our child”. Your partner will not be able to meet all of your needs. Partners can meet many needs, but sometimes maybe only partially, and so be prepared to negotiate and compromise.
Step 5: Responding Partner- Responsiveness to Needs: Be prepared to respond to the expressed need as described by your partner, after ensuring you understand what is needed in concrete, clear terms. Do not provide any responses until you are clear about what your partner needs from you (e.g., “what I am understanding is that you need me to be more present and helpful by ….”). Needs for emotional connection, contact, support, affection and sexuality have to be taken seriously as an emotional connection, care, affection and sexuality are cornerstones for the relationship.
Make sure you clearly let your partner know that you plan to take steps to address these needs. If you are unable to meet the needs, it’s important that you be prepared to let them know what is possible, and try to compromise and negotiate what’s possible.
Step 6: Both Partners -Clarifications and the Understanding the Responding Partner’s Emotions and Needs: It’s important that the responding partner’s feelings and needs are also shared about any situation that has caused distress. Turn-taking is important. Your partner might have their own feelings and needs related to what you are expressing. The responding partner can then take his or her turn in becoming the expressing partner related to any situation or incident that was difficult for him or her (e.g., “I would like to share my feelings about the affection in our relationship and what I am needing here”). Clarifying the responding partners feelings and needs related to the topic will help in the process of trying to figure out what they are able to offer as a response and can be used in trying to negotiate and find a compromise between both partners.
Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. is CEO and co-founder of the CFIR. He has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject of attachment, attachment injuries in couples, and attachment and sexuality. He has taught courses at the University of Ottawa in Interpersonal Relationships, Family Psychology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. He has a thriving clinical practice in which he treats individuals suffering from complex attachment-related trauma, difficult family of origin issues that have affected self and relationship development, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, sex and sexuality-related issues, and couple relationships. At CFIR, he also supports the professional development of counsellors, psychotherapists, and supervised practice psychologists by providing clinical supervision.