Struggling To Communicate Your Needs? Here's The Relationship Advice You Need

Read this if you automatically say 'yes' to everything they want.
Marko Geber via Getty Images

You’re reading Love Stuck, where trained therapists answer your dating, sex and relationship dilemmas. You can submit a question here.

When you’re into someone, it’s tempting to say “yes” to every idea they have. But relationships can start to feel unbalanced if one person is more vocal about their needs and desires than the other.

This week, HuffPost reader Jacob asked us how he can get better at communicating his needs, in order to redress the dynamic in his relationship.

“I struggle to communicate and express what I want or don’t want, so I end up accepting whatever is happening,” he said. “My partner is much better at doing that and I struggle to be receptive, because I think ‘why don’t you just accept this too.’ In reality I know that’s not right and we both need to tell each other what we want, but I’m not sure how to improve. Have you got any advice?”

We asked accredited therapist Sally Baker for her help.

Baker says this is a common issue as often couples chose partners that replicate aspects of the relationship they witnessed as children. “If they were raised by parents or primary carers that struggled to express their needs or deal with confrontation they may be drawn to a partner in adulthood that reflects that dynamic.”

Where does this problem stem from?

“It seems like this is a classic case of people-pleasing. Not being able to communicate your needs can lead to you accepting behaviour you don’t condone,” says Baker.

People-pleasing frequently begins in childhood, she adds, “when a young person realises that the love and acceptance they receive from their parents or primary carers is conditional on how they behave not who they are”.

“Very early on young children learn to suppress their own needs to accommodate the needs of the people in power in their young life,” she says. “These formative habits can continue into adulthood and ingrained fear and discomfort at potentially distressing others by disagreeing with them can be a stumbling block to authentic and open conversations.”

The first step in the process of healing from this mindset is to be “a detective of your psychology”.

“If you feel people-pleasing and a reluctance to speak out is something you are prone to do, when did this behaviour begin for you?” says Baker. “How did your parents or primary carers handle conflict in your household? What lessons did you learn from these observations?”

How can you work on it in a relationship?

There’s no getting around it, you’ll need to practice expressing your needs and desires.

“It can feel scary as it feels like a significant departure from your usual way of avoiding authentic communication,” says Baker. “Start small. You don’t have to launch into massive disclosure about how you feel. Instead, try to include an emotional element in your conversations so that you get used to expressing your feelings in different ways.”

A soft approach could be “I’d really enjoy doing X” or “shall we try doing Y together?”

Psychologists have found it can take 21 days to embed a new habit, so give yourself three weeks to focus on speaking with your partner about what you want and need.

“You can tell them this is something you’re going to do and share the insights you’ve gained from a better understanding of past experiences as to why this has been a challenge for you,” suggests Baker.

People-pleasing traits often go hand in hand with an inability to say “no”, so you’ll need to work on this, too.

“Use these same 21 days to practice saying ‘no’ or at least pausing long enough to check in with your intuition to see if what’s being asked of you is something you are genuinely content to say yes to,” says Baker.

Shifting the dynamic does open up the potential for conflict in the relationship, but handling that conflict is key to ensuring your relationship’s longevity.

“Approach difficult conversations without using judgemental language. For instance leading with statements that focus on how you feel and listening to your partner’s responses with empathy, genuineness and acceptance can help keep dialogue moving forward,” Baker continues.

“Remember to breathe and pause before returning comments so that you can be less impetuous and more reflective in your responses. Encourage your partner to engage with you in the same way to keep dialogue open and focused on solutions instead of obstacles.”

Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.

Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost UK