'My Partner Doesn't Think I Can Give Him What He Needs'

Here's how to manage expectations in relationships.
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Picture this, you’re off to see your partner for a romantic dinner. You’re excited to spend the evening, gazing into each other’s eyes until your partner drops a bombshell. They don’t think the relationship is working. You’re confused, shocked, and question looms, ‘where this is all coming from?’.

You thought the relationship was perfect but your partner thinks otherwise. What should you do? This week’s reader Fatima writes in.

“My boyfriend doesn’t think I can give him what he needs. I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly a year now and I thought we were very much in love. However, my boyfriend thinks I can’t give him what he needs. He brought this up a few months ago, claiming I wasn’t as affectionate as he would want him to be and I said I could work on that.
“However he said intimacy is still an issue and he thinks I don’t understand him. When I asked him to give him examples of other ways he feels misunderstood he gave me vague answers. His intuition says there’s something wrong with the relationship. Should we work on this or should we call it quits?”
Fatima doesn’t want this relationship to end but should she be with someone who doesn’t feel that their needs are being met?
Counselling Directory members Loraine Hope and Smaranda Jim advise Fatima with her dilemma.

What would you say to this reader?

Hope can sense how frustrating and confusing this situation can be for Fatima since she experiences a loving relationship with her boyfriend.

She says: “I can hear you’re trying hard to reach out to your boyfriend to figure out exactly where the misunderstanding lies. I can also hear you have tried to incorporate his feedback into how you behave with him, which doesn’t seem to have had much effect.”

Their expectations of each other may be quite different at this time, she adds.

“It seems as though you are both experiencing your relationship from contrasting perspectives. Your individual perceptions are likely to be influenced by a number of factors, in particular your previous experiences of relationships with other partners, friends, or close family members,” Hope says.

Meanwhile, Jim imagines how hard it must be for Fatima being on the receiving end of so much criticism, especially when she thought they were very much in love.

“Communication in a relationship is really vital, the better people convey their needs, the more chances there are for the relationship to survive,” she adds.

What happens when someone isn’t getting their needs fulfilled in a relationship?

Resentment can build when someone’s needs aren’t being met in a relationship.

Jim explains that “disconnection can occur or perhaps they will look to have their needs met somewhere else.

“People aren’t mind readers, we need to tell our partners what it is that we would like from them.”

Equally, she thinks it’s really important that we communicate our desires in a clear way that doesn’t across as blaming one another, giving the example of: “‘I would like you to text me when you arrive at the destination so that I know you’re safe’ as opposed to ‘You don’t care how worried I am when you drive on M25!’”

Hope thinks this couple should focus on a ‘good-enough’ relationship where both people’s needs are sufficiently met and there is a good base to continue improving the relationship from.

She advises: “This mutual goal provides space for rupture or disagreements which allows a couple to grow in strength whilst respecting the individuality of both people. Many people believe this a crucial element of establishing a healthy and long lasting relationship.”

What practical advice would you give this reader?

“It is very normal for couples to have different needs and how we communicate this and feel listened to forms much of the groundwork in forming close bonds with another human being,” Hope explains.

“There can be a lot of joy, self discovery, and of course hard work, in teaching another person how we want to be loved.”

She questions whether Fatima feels understood by her boyfriend and how she interprets her own sense of satisfaction within the relationship.

“We also need to be realistic that, even when we say what we need, that doesn’t guarantee we will get it. We don’t have an automatic entitlement to something, it’s a wish rather than a right,” Jim says.

According to Jim, what we do need, above all, is to feel safe to have those discussions, to have a voice, and to feel listened to. “Half the battle is being able to sit down with the other person and openly negotiate what’s going to happen.”

“If communication is really hard, and one person gets overwhelmed or it escalates into an argument, then agree to pause and come back to it at a later time. If difficulties persist, but the couple still values the relationship, then asking for help from a couple counsellor might be a good next step.”

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