Asking for what you need in relationships – can you do it?
Read the following statements and notice if any of these myths are part of your inner dialogue right now:
- It’s selfish to ask for what I want or need.
- Other people should just know what I want or need.
- I shouldn’t have to ask for what I want.
- If I have to ask for what I want, it doesn’t really count.
- If I ask for too much, people will leave me.
If any of the above statements resonated with you, it’s likely you have a hard time asking for what you need in relationships.
Why it’s hard asking for what you need in relationships
Difficulty asserting one’s needs is often the result of a fear of rejection, fear of conflict, or guilt.
Let’s look at each one.
Fear of Rejection
In the beginning of a relationship, putting aside your needs may be effective in getting people to like you. Most people respond to agreeableness in others.
You may worry that if you assert your needs (especially if they’re in opposition to other people’s needs) then you won’t be liked, loved or accepted.
Fear of Conflict
If you want to avoid potential conflict, you may avoid asserting your needs.
You don’t want to upset anyone by saying what you really think and feel – after all, they might not agree with you.
In addition, if you grew up in a home where conflict was routinely hidden or avoided, you may not have the skills to deal with conflict effectively.
On the other hand, if you grew up in a home with frequent yelling or fighting, you may avoid potential conflict at any cost, equating conflict with anger.
You may feel guilty asserting your needs. You may feel it’s not ok to burden those around you.
As you grew up, you may have learned that asserting your needs hurts others or is just plain wrong. But all these feelings and thoughts are myths.
Here’s the truth: pushing down your needs ruins relationships.
Why you should assert your needs
Not asserting your needs in a relationship over the long term always backfires.
Two things will happen if you continually hide or avoid stating your needs:
- You will damage your relationship beyond repair by blowing up and letting all those unspoken needs pour out, or
- You will leave the relationship.
Sue and Tara decided to move in together.
Sue has been lonely for a while and really wants this relationship to work. Sue likes to take care of home-related things, so she does most of the grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning.
However, Sue and Tara never talk about who does what now that they are living together. Although Sue likes doing these things, these tasks become too much for her and she starts to feel resentful. Her irritation with Tara grows, but she doesn’t say anything.
Sue thinks Tara should just notice all the hard work she’s doing and offer to help.
Finally, Sue blows up at Tara, yelling at her and calling her selfish. Sue says so many hurtful things when she’s yelling that Tara breaks up with her.
Sue doesn’t blow up. She never says anything directly about what she wants.
She spends a lot of time thinking about how self-centered Tara is and how taken advantage of she feels. She drops hints that she needs help around the house to Tara, but Tara never seems to notice.
She decides that Tara is self-absorbed and that she deserves better, so she breaks up with her.
Asking for what you need in relationships is important
If you need help asking for what you need in relationships, DBT’s Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills can help you learn how to assert your needs effectively, making it more likely that those needs will be met.
You’ll also learn how to assert your needs in a way that will strengthen your relationships and increase your self-respect.