Chapter 11: Ask for what you need
“If you really loved me, you would just know!”
This sentiment reflects one of the most harmful myths of communication. This myth prevents useful communication from taking place and leads to expectations that no one could possibly meet. The broken expectations that follow cause hurt and pain. If we pull back the curtain of this myth to look behind it, we will see the truth: no one can read your mind.
When we grow close to someone, we sometimes feel like we merge together into one person. We’ve seen many of our friends treat couples as if they were one person with the same wants and needs. It happens on the inside of a relationship, too. We sometimes feel that the level of closeness we have achieved will somehow let us merge our minds together. If that were possible, we’d have written a book on mind-merging instead of a book on communication! The only way to make your wants and needs known is to communicate clearly and openly: to ask for what you need.
For example, take a wife who wishes her husband would occasionally buy her flowers. She talks with her friends and complains about her husband. “He just doesn’t understand me,” she says. “If he really loved me and really knew me, he would know what I want.” Her friends will console her and commiserate with her, because they all buy into the myth. She doesn’t even consider asking him for flowers or telling him what she wants, because that would feel like giving in. She feels that if she has to ask, it somehow doesn’t count. That would be losing the “he can read my mind” game. If she loses this game, she doesn’t get what she wants, but she feels justified in being disappointed, because this is the way the game is played.
This is a game with no winners! No matter what expectations she has, he’s not going to read her mind. He doesn’t have an opportunity to make her happy and she’s setting herself up to be disappointed. Why on earth do we do this?
Here’s what might happen if she asked for what she wanted:
“Honey, it would make me really happy if you would occasionally buy me flowers. It would make me feel loved, considered, and appreciated,” she tells her husband.
“Oh! I didn’t know you liked flowers. I’d be more than happy to,” he replies. He buys her flowers the very next day.
She feels surprised that she appreciates the flowers as much as she would have if she had received them as a spontaneous gift. She expected that it wouldn’t count if she had to ask for it, but that was another part of the harmful myth she used to buy into. By communicating with her husband and asking for what she wanted, she was happy instead of disappointed.
Kyeli’s Story: Let’s Talk About Text, Baby!
When Pace is working, she hyperfocuses to the exclusion of everything else. I felt like she would go to work and completely forget about me for eight hours a day, to the point of resenting me for any interruptions. I didn’t like feeling that way; I needed to feel special to her during those hours. I felt afraid to ask for attention, because she reacted with irritation when interrupted from her “work mode.”
I spent a long time talking to everyone but Pace about this situation. Several of our friends kept suggesting I talk to Pace, that I ask for what I need from her, but I was stubborn. Finally, a friend dared me to try asking her anyway. If it devalued anything Pace did for me, what would I be losing? My needs weren’t being met as things were, so it couldn’t get much worse, right?
I worked up the nerve to talk to Pace about it. We agreed that text messages on our phones were a great way to communicate that she was thinking of me. However, I was sure that it would feel artificial, since I’d specifically asked for it.
The first time she texted me, all she said was “I love you!” but it totally made my day! I felt loved, special, and considered. I saved the message and went back to look at it occasionally for the rest of the day.
I asked for what I needed and when I got it, it was no less special for the asking! Who knew?
In reality, the two choices we have in these sorts of situations are: 1) We can wait for others to read our minds and be disappointed and bitter when they fail to meet those unreasonable expectations, or 2) we can ask for what we want or need and at least have a chance of getting it. We advocate choice 2.
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for what we need. We may get attached to the idea of our partners figuring out what we need and surprising us with it, so we build up a lot of resistance to asking. Sometimes the source of this resistance is shame. We may (consciously or subconsciously) feel ashamed of our needs or feel that we don’t deserve to have our needs met. These feelings can bog us down, preventing us from asking for what we need.
Fear of rejection can also bog us down. We may feel like we would rather suffer quietly than risk being turned down. Complete and total rejection hurts bitterly, but in our experience it’s more rare than our fears make it out to be. Usually we can turn the initial rejection into a compromise with some patience and communication.
Kyeli’s Story: Buy Me a Present!
My primary love language1 is receiving gifts. Pace, however, hates shopping and feels stressed at the very idea.
When I expressed my need to receive presents from her, she initially rejected me. Once we dealt with my hurt feelings, we were able to compromise. I now keep an up-to-date, easily accessible wish list (to remove the guesswork) and she guarantees me gifts on at least three occasions: my birthday, our anniversary, and Yule.
This way, my needs are at least partially met without causing her constant stress. It works well for both of us, and is far better than the way things were before I asked for what I needed.
We’re going to offer you a challenge. Remember this challenge the next time you want or need something, but you’re afraid of rejection or you feel like asking for it would devalue it. The challenge is: ask anyway. Try it and see how you feel; see if the asking actually does devalue the receiving. The results may surprise you.
However it works for you, find a way to ask for what you need. Expecting your partner to read your mind is unrealistic and unkind to both of you. Getting your needs met requires clear and direct communication.
1. Love languages are neat and helpful to know about. We recommend reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.