How to Ask for What You Need in Your Relationships

Asking for what we need while in conversation increases our chances of walking away receiving what we needed.
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If a psychiatrist sums up his best therapeutic wisdom as "Figure out what you want and learn to ask for it," then my last post was more on the "figure out what you want" part, and this post is geared more to the "and learn to ask for it" part.

I've discovered in most relationships that end up incurring our frustration, we usually deem it "small enough" that we don't want to go through the effort and awkwardness of having the conversation about it. We are quick to talk ourselves out of it, in part just because we can't picture it. We get sick to our stomachs just thinking about having some uncomfortable "we need to talk" moment. So we try to convince ourselves it's not a big deal, but then we find ourselves slowly moving away from the relationship, resentful that she does x, or doesn't x, like we think she should.

So first you need to know what you need. See my most recent post for helping you to identify that. If it's a feeling or need that is repetitive, then it's to our advantage to figure out what need isn't being met (and often it's not her fault that we have that need, we just subconsciously get mad at her for not being able to fulfill the need).

I'm Not Loving How She Is Responding to Me
But there are times when we're in conversation with a friend, that it's not until we're getting what we don't want, that we become aware of our unmet need. For example, have you ever been telling a story to a friend and then she starts start problem solving for you (or one-upping, or starting to talk about herself, or giving advice)? And you find yourself feeling misunderstood or unheard or defensive or frustrated? Typically we'd just walk away and blame them in some way, "She never listens. I felt judged," and a chasm begins.

But what if, in that moment that she begins problem solving, we actually were able to feel ourselves not appreciating her approach, and asking ourselves, "How is it that I actually wish she were responding?" and then asking her for that, instead? So it doesn't have to be some big awkward, "We need to talk -- my needs aren't being met," conversation, but instead just be one moment where you're helping her help you, telling her what you need to feel connected. Because chances are awfully high that that is what her intention is, what's she's trying to do.

Asking for what we need while in conversation, in the midst of not getting what we want, increases our chances of 1) walking away receiving what we needed, 2) modeling to her that it's okay she asks for what she needs in the future, and 3) possibly teaching her in the long run how you typically prefer her to support you.

Sample Scripts for Asking for What We Need

  • When you need empathy instead of problem solving: "I so appreciate you trying to solve my problem, and I may get to that point when I need that. But right now it's not so much that I don't know what to do as much as I just need someone to empathize with me and tell me they understand why I am frustrated with my boss!"
  • When you need acceptance instead of a sermon: "I can only imagine how horrible my feelings/actions must sound to others. I'm not proud of myself for doing them, but what I really need now, if at all possible, is just someone who can listen to me and accept me even though I'm far from perfect. You don't have to like what I did, but can you help me still see the good in me?"
  • When you need applause instead of one-upping: "Thank you for sharing that story. I definitely want to hear all about x in just a moment. But before we go there, I was hoping you'd celebrate my success with me so maybe we can toast my victory for a few moments and then toast yours?"
  • When you need listening instead of advice: "Thank you so much for offering that advice. But right now, I'm guessing I'll know what to do when I need to know, but that to get there, I just need a safe place to talk through it out loud. If you're willing to help me, I'd love it if you just asked me questions so I can better process what feels right to me?"
  • When you need actions instead of words: "That means so much to me that you said that. You've always been so supportive and encouraging -- thank you! As I face this challenge in my life, what makes me most nervous is feeling like I'm facing it all alone. I certainly don't want to ask too much of you, but I was wondering if you'd feel comfortable, during this season of my life, in helping me in some tangible ways? It's so hard for me to ask for what I need, but my gut tells me that I'll regret it if I don't surround myself with some visible support. If so, maybe we can brainstorm one to two ways that you'd be able to help me feel more nurtured during this time?"
  • When you need vulnerability instead of guardedness: "Thanks for listening to me share that. It's sometimes really hard to be that open. In fact, now I feel kind of vulnerable! Any chance you have a story you can tell of a time you've felt something similar so I can feel reminded that I'm not alone in this feeling!"
  • When you need validation instead of cheering up: "You are always so very good at looking on the bright side! Thank you! I so often need that. But right now, I think I just need permission to feel hurt and/or to grieve this one. If I promise you that someday I'll see the positive side of this, will you just join me on the negative side and tell me it's okay for me to be sad for now?"
  • When you need to talk instead of listen: "Hey before we go, I wanted to give you some updates on my life, too. Do you still have some time for me to share some of what's happening in my life?"

Hopefully you get the idea? My formula for speaking my needs tends to include the following:

  1. Be appreciative. Chances are high that her intentions are good. Most of us want to help, we just don't always know how. We give in the ways that have been modeled to us or in the ways we think we'd want someone to respond to us.
  2. Own the feeling. It's not her fault for not responding how we want. There isn't always a right and wrong. How she responded might be perfect with another friend or at another time. Only we can know what we want, what would feel good. So no need to blame her or tell her she did it wrong.
  3. State what would feel good. And then simply tell her what would feel the best to you right now, trying to leave it open as a question or suggestion so it honors that she has a say in whether she can give to you in that way or not.

Let's be girlfriends who help our friends love us well, and in turn, give them permission to make sure we're loving them well, too!

For more by Shasta Nelson, M.Div., click here.

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