I see a trend in marriages these days. A lot of people complaining, lamenting, asking, wondering, why their spouses don’t provide for their needs in their marriage. Sometimes they’re simple things, like hugs, kisses, or just time together alone. Sometimes they’re bigger things like security, commitment, sex, or orgasms. I’ve noticed a pattern in a lot of them though (not all, but enough to write a post about). When I ask “what does your spouse say when you ask?” the answer is often “… well … I haven’t asked, exactly.”
So, today one of my coaching clients (she gave permission to quote her), when talking about this said:
So, Coach….let ‘er rip! Show me a better way.
But, I think a lot of marriages could be helped by this one, so you all get to benefit from her question.
How does this happen?
Why do spouses fail to ask for what they want anyways? I think it has to do with a false teaching in our churches. Well, it’s not only in our churches, but I hear it a lot in Christian families:
False teaching: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Today, when discussing this issue, I realized that this is a horrible teaching. I don’t know about you, but I heard it from my parents from a young age. I’ve heard my wife’s parents say it too. Actually, I’m pretty sure I have told my kids this as well … and I think it needs to stop. I know why we say it. Usually I think we intend to paraphrase this bible verse:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
But, it has the unfortunately side effect of teaching kids that they can’t say anything that might cause conflict. This, along with other teaching along the same lines teach us to suppress our needs so that we won’t be a burden to others. Now, I agree, ideally, we should all strive to give 100% of ourselves for the cause of supporting and growing God’s kingdom, however, the vast majority of us aren’t there yet. Most of us are still, frankly, fairly childlike when it comes to this stage of Christianity. Honestly, I don’t know any who aren’t. I think we’ve lost all our mentors and elders.
So, until we learn to be completely truly sufficient in God’s love, to be able to be content in all things, regardless of circumstance, we’re going to need to learn to ask for what we need.
I think this is Biblical. We see over and over again in scripture to ask God for what we need. And Jesus spends some time talking about asking in Luke 11:5-11. Now, granted these are about asking God for things, but Jesus’ parable is comparing asking God for our spiritual needs to asking our neighbors to fulfill our physical needs. Surely, it is okay to ask our spouses to help meet our emotional needs.
But, that’s hard to do. Women don’t want to feel needy or nagging. Men don’t want to feel … well, like women. Men are taught that we don’t have emotional needs, which is a load of crap, frankly.
How twisted is this mentality though that we all grow up with? We are upset that we aren’t getting our needs me, but then we fail to do anything about it.
Why you should be asking for what you need
Your marriage has needs. It needs two healthy, fulfilled, spouses to reach it’s potential. If you aren’t satisfied, if you aren’t getting what you need to be the best spouse you can be, then your marriage is suffering, and ultimately your spouse is suffering as well. Because you can’t be the best spouse you can be if you aren’t content and feeling loved.
I think that’s why the Bible says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). It assumes you are going to love yourself first, because you can’t learn to express love if you aren’t feeling loved. That’s why it’s so critical for parents to form good attachments with their children, so that they will grow up to be able to form attachments themselves.
So, if you aren’t feeling loved in your marriage, you need to speak up, so that you can be the best spouse to your spouse.
How do you start asking for what you need?
I suggest an agreement between you and your spouse. Sit down one day, when you don’t have some burning need already on the table, and say something like:
I was thinking we should get better about telling each other what we need from one another. So, I want to make a deal: When one of us has a need in the marriage, we can express it, and the other will do their to consider it and not get angry.
Or, if that feels too scripted…you should just hand them this post. I mean, it’s still scripted, but at least you don’t have to say it.
If they don’t agree to the deal … then you have a much bigger problem. You may want to seek a marriage counselor. If they agree, then you follow up with
Do you have any needs that I am not meeting right now?
If they share one, you had better keep to the agreement and consider it, without getting angry. If you don’t … well, you’ve done more damage than good. Ideally, they would ask you the same question in return and then you can share yours, but give them a chance to express themselves first. If they don’t ask. Maybe wait a day or two and say something like
Remember we were talking about expressing our needs the other day?
And then you have to use all the good communication skills you have learned to express your need. Using I statements, not you statements, and all that. And you should spend some time thinking about what your real need is, so you can express it properly. For example, don’t do this:
Remember we were talking about expressing our needs the other day? Well, I need you to give me more sex.
If you do … don’t ask me for help. Scratch that, you can still ask for help, but my advice is going to start with “Well, first you need to apologize for being an idiot.” Now, exactly how you phrase it going to depend on the need, on your spouse, and, honestly, probably on your gender.
For most wives, your husband loves to swoop in and be the rescuer. If you say something like “I need your help with something” with a tone that makes it sound like you need a big strong man to rescue you … almost guaranteed he’ll do just that. If you ask with a tone that makes it sound like he’s an idiot for not doing it sooner, or that you expect him to do it, well, he may still do it, but you’re going to damage your relationship. Sadly, too many wives do this hourly. I know, because I hear them, in public no less.
For most husbands, your wife loves to know that you have emotions, that you care and want to share vulnerability and true intimacy with her. If you phrase your need in a way that shows you want to connect with her, or that you are sharing something personal with her, chances are that she’ll be interested in sharing that with you. However, if you ask in a way that shows you are weak and need help … this can backfire. You need to show you are asking to connect, but it has to be from a place of confidence, of self-assurance, of strength. Unless your need is sex … then you shouldn’t ask … but that’s a whole different topic. Actually, I’m working on a workshop to teach men how to initiate assertively and with confidence. If you’re interested, email me. Sorry, that one can’t be anonymous, because I’m going to need to communicate with you.
Continuing the conversation
Ideally, asking your spouse to fulfill your needs should happen continuously in your marriage. We have problems with our needs build up to such a point that we either do something stupid to try and get our need met another way, or blow up at our spouses about it (which is also stupid…). Instead, we should be continuously keeping our spouse in the loop. When they say “how are you doing?” don’t just flippantly answer “okay”, and hope they’ll somehow magically know you’re feeling a bit neglected. Answer honestly and truthfully.
Spouse 1: How you doing?
Spouse 2: Honestly, I’m feeling a little disconnected from you lately.
Hopefully, you get to a point that you don’t need them to ask. You can come right out and say you’re feeling a need.
What about with sex stuff?
For some of you, you need to learn to do this during sex. That’s especially hard, because we have this teaching about not expressing our needs, on top of a teaching about not talking about sex, on top of a teaching (perhaps) that you shouldn’t like sex, and certainly never express a desire for sexual pleasure. Of course, these are all bad teachings.
Some of you will need to just blurt out:
Honey, I need some help getting an orgasm.
There’s no shortcut I’m afraid, no way to ease into it that I can think of that isn’t manipulative. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first … but it gets easier, I promise. So many behaviours in marriage are uncomfortable when we start them, even if they are good, necessary, things.
Of course, the wrong way to do this is to say:
You know, you didn’t give me an orgasm…
Please, don’t ever do that. You will damage your spouse’s self-esteem in unimaginable ways.
Have you had to learn to speak up for what you need? Do you have any tips or tricks on how to get started?