If I've observed a common thread to many relationship endings it would be women not asking for what they need from their friends (or romantic partners).
Why We Go Through Life With Unmet Needs
Sometimes we don't ask because we think it will be less genuine when they actually give it to us, as though their sincerity is linked to their thinking it up on their own. Sometimes we don't ask because we think it's rude or intrusive or needy, as though we're ignoring the fact that relationships ought to be mutually beneficial. Sometimes we don't ask because we don't like to think of ourselves as ever needing anything, as though we drank our own Kool-Aid in our attempts to convince everyone that we're amazing and never have any needs. Sometimes we don't ask because we fear rejection or don't want to risk the other saying no, as though there would be no choice in that scenario except to take it personally. Sometimes we don't ask because we simply don't feel worth it, as though we're not good enough or significant enough to think we deserve to have our needs met. All of these stories have been modeled to us in different ways, and we certainly each develop a lens that we then use to validate our reason repetitively.
But in addition to all these more deep-rooted belief systems we've made up in our heads, I'm finding that one of the biggest obstacles to us asking for what we need is that we often don't even know what we need.
Figuring Out What We Need
I mean, we know when we start feeling resentful or frustrated, but we aren't very practiced at pausing and saying, "What is it I need right now?"
And the answer usually isn't what we think we're mad at. We think we're mad at the kids for not picking up their shoes, but really it's because when they do that we feel something, a meaning that we have attached to that action. So it may be that we need some cooperation so that we feel more connected to the kids, like we're all working together; or it may be that for our sanity we actually need more order in our lives to contribute to our sense of peace. Two different needs. Stopping to not just be mad at some action, but realizing what need isn't being met helps us better communicate and problem-solve. Is it really a peaceful space I need which I could get by making one room off-limits to the junk of others or by hiring housekeeping help? Or is it feeling like my family is all in it together which can be solved by articulating that need and having the family brainstorm ways that we can each contribute more? What is my need?
In my book, Friendships Don't Just Happen! I share the scene from the movie How Do You Know , where Reese Witherspoon plays a character whose entire life is turned upside down when she is cut from the professional softball team that has been her entire career. She obligingly goes to see a therapist but before the session starts she talks herself out of it, willing herself to believe she doesn't need it. The psychiatrist, who knows nothing about the situation that his new client is struggling with, watches her walk out the door before any conversation occurs. And in what I think is the best scene in the movie, Reese sticks her head back in the doorway and basically challenges him to sum up his best therapeutic advice for life before she leaves. Without batting an eye he responds: "Figure out what you want and learn to ask for it."
I think about that a lot. When I get upset at someone, I try to stop and think, "What is it I really need? Not just what action do I wish they did right now. But what does that action represent to me? What is it I'm craving and longing for?"
If we would do that, we'd probably realize that half of our needs come down to wanting to feel connected to the other person. Which could then better inform our response because I dare say most of us, when frustrated or hurt, are more likely to respond in some way that will actually leave us feeling more disconnected; in other words, less likely to actually get our needs met.
We want to feel acceptance, but instead, out of our hurt we judge the other, almost guaranteeing that we won't feel accepted. We want to feel intimacy, but instead, out of our insecurities we start trying to impress instead of share, almost guaranteeing that we won't leave the conversation feeling deeply seen. We want to feel harmony, but instead, out of our fear for conflict, we just ignore the problem, almost guaranteeing we won't feel a safe connection to the other because we know we didn't really deal with the issue.
I mention the Nonviolent Communication Method in my chapter on forgiveness as it's a fabulous method for helping use articulate what we need in relationships. And here I want to actually share with you their list of needs we have, with hopes that it will help you start identifying which ones you might have right now. When we start the work of being responsible for knowing ourselves, it's helpful to have a list that allows us to try on different words: Is it x or x that resonates more with me? With time, we become more familiar with the options, becoming more adept at naming what we're craving.
to know and be known
to see and be seen
to understand and
celebration of life
Learn to Ask For What We Need
What's super cool about seeing our needs is then we can begin to actually take responsibility for getting them met. Once we identify the need, we can then brainstorm a list of ways -- ways I can increase feeling x (e.g., supported) -- to get that need met in our lives from a variety of places, taking responsibility for our own need. It may be that we can then say to a friend, "I need support. I feel like I'm adrift, feeling more alone since my break-up. Would you be willing to do _______ which would help me feel like I'm not in this world by myself?"
The fabulous things about having identified the need and brainstorming ways we can get that need met is that when we do reach out to her as one piece of the strategy, we're less likely to see her as the one causing the unmet need and more likely to see her as part of the solution to our unmet need. It's not her fault we all have needs -- even if it's in relationship with her that we often feel the unmet need. It's our responsibility for knowing what we need and doing something about it!
If indeed the most important advice one could give was to 1) Figure out what you want, and 2) Learn to ask for it; think how many friendships we wouldn't have to simply walk away from, blaming them when it may be that we hadn't yet taken that advice to heart.