My wife and have been having quite a difficult time with our communication recently. Sometimes it feels like she doesn’t know what ‘works’ for me, and how to get the best out of me in a way that would make us both happy. Perhaps she feels the same about me; it’s hard to know because she doesn’t seem ready to talk to me about it.
I don’t feel very complicated emotionally, so I thought it might help if I wrote down a list of what I need from her to function well. Kind of like the instructions that came with the washing machine we bought last week. I know a relationship involves a different level of intimacy and connection – although the new models are getting scarily smart – sharing a simple list of what ‘works’ for each other emotionally could be a good way to avoid future misunderstandings.
- CARING: I need some evidence every day that you do actually LIKE me; or if not, an explanation of why – so I can see what I can change without compromising on my core essence and values. I probably have some bad emotional habits – maybe like being too ready to assume I’m ‘right’ when we have a disagreement? – like nervous tics that I would be better off without, and you can help me see and discard them. You say I seem confident, but the truth is I need regular reassurance that you want the best for me, and that I bring something good into your life. And although you have many other responsibilities – especially to your kids – I’d like to feel that I come first sometimes!
- SHARING: I need to know what’s going on for you, especially when I can feel something’s wrong. Please just tell me. Try to keep it simple and tell me what you need to feel good with me, to feel loved by me. I’ll be ready to do whatever I can to support you with that – especially if I don’t feel that I’m being blamed by you, which is likely to make me either shut down or try to justify myself.
- EMPATHY: My ‘flashback’ fear leftover from when I was a kid is that I’m unimportant and invisible. It’s how I felt a lot of the time with my parents. You can help me leave this behind by showing that you care if I’m upset, and you want to hear about it. Tell me if you can understand what I’m sharing and that it makes sense to you -or if not, ask me to explain. And if this doesn’t seem possible, let’s talk about what blocks to connection there might be for either of us and what we can do to remove them.
- APPRECIATION: When I do something for you, I like to hear that you’ve noticed and appreciated it; that it made you happy and I succeeded in my aim of making you feel loved. Or if not, why not? I don’t want to feel taken for granted; and if I’m using the wrong ‘love language’ or doing something else that doesn’t work for you, I need to know that. If you find it hard to show appreciation, let’s explore together what the reasons for that might be; build a bridge of connection not a wall of separation. And if I screw up, and upset or hurt you, please accept my apologies and be sure that it was unintended.
- RESPECT: It’s important for me to feel that you respect my competence and capabilities; that you trust me and expect the best from me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to check if I know what I’m doing – I’m quite capable of screwing up and doing something silly! – but if you do it in a way that shows that you would expect me to be on top of it (but you’re just making sure) it makes it much easier for me to hear. It’s not about walking on eggshells, or not being able to criticise me or offer some helpful advice/suggestions; it’s showing me that you value me and my abilities, such as they are, and know the effect your words of confidence (or doubt) can have on me
Sometimes, like the washing machine, I do get ‘overloaded’ and that can make me shut down emotionally. I may need some ‘me time’ to understand what’s happened, and what I need most then is a sympathetic ear to help me empty out any feelings that have built up, so that I can function at my best again!
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