Expressing your needs might seem to be a simple thing—and it is if you take ownership of them and do only that. This is not to say it’s always easy to state directly and simply what you need. Some of the most important things about expressing our needs are what we need to leave out!
Use “I” statements – it’s only about you. No commanding, blaming, judging, or dictating how the other person “should” respond. You may feel vulnerable knowing that you have no control over whether your spouse will meet your needs or not. That vulnerability, though, opens the way for negotiation, communication, and true intimacy. There is no coercion involved. In the same vein, don’t add any blame or criticism about your spouse’s action or non-action. “I need you to go with me to the school conferences, and you never support me” vs. “I really need your support at the school conferences. It would be such a help to me if you went too. It’s a way to participate in raising our kids. I would feel less alone.” Don’t even require a response… just let your expression of need rest in your spouse’s court and give him time to think about what you’ve said. If he hasn’t responded before the next conference, you can say “would you consider coming with me tonight?” He might say, “no, I really can’t because…” or “I need to think about it some more, but I have thought of some other things I could do to help” or, “how about if I get some groceries while you’re at the conference?” or “do you really think we both need to go?” The possibilities are endless, of course – but the important thing is that you are not dictating a response. If you are not blaming, there’s no need for him to defend himself, and all the room for him to think of constructive solutions.
It’s better to begin learning to express your needs on something that isn’t extremely critical or doesn’t have major consequences. Start with something that is not critical to you staying in the marriage. “I wish you wouldn’t tell that story about when I got lost” rather than “I feel really hopeless about our relationship and need us to do couples therapy as soon as possible.” Learning to communicate in smaller ways may keep the bigger situations from developing into unmanageable problems.
Practice expressing your needs and wants (it’s OK to have wants, too!) simply, clearly, and with no expectations. It will encourage the kind of communication that will benefit your marriage.