Many individuals I work with, especially those with anxiety and perfectionism, have a difficult time getting their needs met within interpersonal relationships (e.g., partnership, family, friends). We often try to get our needs met in ineffective ways, such as avoidance, indirect communication, or blaming/criticizing. We all want to be seen, heard and loved in relationships. However, the only way we will get these needs met is through effective communication. Below, I have listed five steps to help you communicate better and feel more satisfied in your relationships.
- Describe the situation
We must remember that our perception of a situation is primarily based on our beliefs, emotions, past traumas, values, etc. This is why we only try to use facts when describing a situation we want to resolve. By just stating the facts, we are describing a situation without biases or judgment. We also want to be aware of critical language and replace this with neutral observations. It is also important to remember that your observation does not equal the “truth” of the situation, but more so, what you observed in the dynamic. The other person is also allowed to have their narrative of the situation as long as they are still open to hearing yours.
Ineffective example: “You’re being rude and ignoring me when I’m talking about work.”
Effective example: “I’m noticing you seem distracted when I’m talking about work.”
2. Use “I” statements
When we are upset and angry that our needs aren’t being met, it is common to blame the other person for making us feel this way. However, when we blame and use “You” statements, this will typically cause the other person to shut down or get defensive and attack. We are responsible for our own emotions and regulating these emotions. If we want our perception to be understood, we must use “I” statements when discussing it.
Ineffective example: “You’re making me feel ignored, and it’s pissing me off.”
Effective example: “I feel ignored, hurt, and frustrated when I notice you’re not engaged in our conversation.”
3. Be mindful of emotions
When our emotions are high, the logical part of our brain, called the prefrontal cortex, shuts down, meaning it is difficult for us to use skills. These steps will only work if we are mindful of how our emotions impact our communication skills. Sometimes, cooling down before engaging in a conversation may be necessary. I often tell couples or families to use a code word such as “time to take a lap” if someone notices that emotions are getting high. As you’re reading this, I am sure you can think of a time when emotions got the best of you, and you said something you didn’t necessarily mean. This is also why exploring and understanding our triggers and how they may impact our relationships is essential.
Ineffective example: “HELLO, I AM TALKING OVER HERE!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”
Effective example: “I’m noticing my emotions are starting to get high, and this conversation is triggering for me. Can we talk more about this in an hour?”
4. Directly communicate your need
Now, here comes the tough part: we must assertively and directly communicate what we need! This may be difficult for those with anxiety and perfectionism, especially if there is a trauma history. Two issues may arise here: first, we don’t exactly know what we need, and second, it feels terrifying to communicate it when we do know. This tends to happen if we were raised in homes where our needs were ignored or not attended to properly. If it is difficult for you to recognize what you need, here are some insight-building questions you can ask yourself.
– What do I feel like I am missing emotionally?
– Can this person realistically help me feel this?
– Are past traumas/beliefs/emotions influencing my perception?
– What behaviors do I need from the other person to help connect with this feeling?
The questions listed above focus on the emotional need while considering what exact behaviors we can request from the other person. If we express our emotions without behavioral feedback, it may be difficult for the individual on the receiving end to figure out how to help us.
Ineffective example: “Can you just pay attention when I am speaking? It’s not that hard.”
Effective example: “I need you to be present when I’m talking about work so I can feel seen and heard.”
5. Problem solve together
It takes two to tango is a fitting phrase for the last step of this post. For behavioral change to occur after effectively communicating, both parties need to problem-solve together to make it happen. It is not solely on the other person to make the changes necessary to help you get your needs met. We are responsible for our behavior and how it impacts the other person. In the example I have been using, there could have been numerous reasons why partner B is tuning out when partner A is talking about work. It is our job to learn about their perception so that we can problem-solve and come to a compromise if necessary. This compromise may also mean that we must be more accountable for meeting our needs. If we put too much pressure on someone to meet our needs because we are having trouble meeting them ourselves, we will always feel like we never receive “enough” from the other person.
Ineffective example: “This is something you need to work on. I’m over it.”
Effective example: “I understand you feel overwhelmed after work too and need time to relax. Let’s plan to both have some alone time after work to decompress. I’ll do a relaxing activity to help de-stress and then we can make time to connect and talk about our days.”
Lastly, please keep in mind this blog post is not directed at those who are experiencing abuse in their relationships. We can strongly advocate for our needs if they are being ignored and set firm boundaries if necessary. Remember, for these steps to work, the partner or loved one on the receiving end also has to be engaging in them too!