How to help your loved one to be happy?
Both male and female parts of a couple share human needs that, when satisfied, allow people to survive, develop, learn, and mature into conscious individuals. One of those needs is highly interactive: the need for love and connection, which allows people to feel appreciated and respected.
This human needs progression, from the most basic need as food and shelter to the most spiritual, is easy to understand and accept. Even later when people can link their frustrations to a particular need that is badly served, they can feel empowered because now they know what needs to solve to feel better.
It's important to understand that human needs are highly social. We are connected by an implicit contract, under which we are responsible for the satisfaction of other people's needs. When we decide to have children, we are clear that everything in their lives will be dependent on us adults to provide-otherwise they will not survive or develop normally.
Apart from parenthood, the other "social contract" in which we become responsible for each other needs is marriage. Any relationship is an implicit contract in which both individuals promise to help each other get satisfaction for some of the needs we all have.
To support healthier relationships, we need to help people find new ways to meet their personal needs in ways that will serve them and others in the long term. If these needs are not satisfied by the people around us who know us and should help us, then we feel frustration, resentfulness, and anger, which are normal reactions.
Of course, you may be looking at this human needs progression with a couple of questions: First, how do I identify my needs? Then, once they are identified, especially those that are not being satisfied, how do I go about asking for relief from my loved ones?
It's common to find married women who, after doing the painful reckoning of their own lack of satisfaction, say something like this: "Every time I tell my husband what I need, my request gets turned into an argument. Lots of anger and guilt and resentment fly around. So, I just give up, suck it up, and go on feeling deprived and more and more resentful."
Does this sound familiar? Probably women are more likely than men to give up their needs, (even recognized and urgent ones), in order to keep the family peace.
But expressing a need doesn't have to lead to discord. Much depends on the way you express the need! Men are socialized to believe that everything their women lack is the result of them being no good at providing everything she needs. No wonder men get angry hearing their wives' requests-it's as if somebody is stabbing a knife into the man's back- and declaring him unable to provide! This "silent accusation" exists only in the man's mind and results from his upbringing, but it automatically springs to life when she expresses a need.
The truth is, both parties need to take care of knowing and expressing their own needs. The familiar, exasperated question "What is it that women want?" points to this fact: We should better take care of our partner's needs, if only to prevent the inevitable frustration explosion that will otherwise be coming to us in the near future.
If we have a prolonged needs frustration, resentment takes over. Let's watch the progression when needs are not expressed or solved:
The first point is to express our needs clearly. The alternative is to keep the other person guessing about what we need, but this becomes risky fast: if we don't get love and affection, perhaps we can accept some delay in providing signals of love and respect, given some other extenuating circumstances, but for how long?
It will take some time, but the casual inattention, if repeated, will be perceived as rejection and then as humiliation on purpose.
If you, a man, stop talking to your spouse and employ the silent treatment with her, she will go from "He is tired after a long work day" to "He is angry with me, he is isolating me" to "He despises me so much as to not want to talk to me. There is no affection left for me."
Perhaps looking back it would be easier to see the chain of consequences that repressing, ignoring, and trashing the other person's needs brings. In the short term, we can easily find excuses for this or that slight, ignorance, or dismissal. In the long term, all those lost opportunities will be presented to us in a long bill, complete with their worst and most negative interpretation.
In short, by ignoring and frustrating your spouse's needs you are digging your relationship's grave. Sooner or later this attitude will be construed as an indication that you are not worthy of the love and attention she gives you-freely, but awaiting reciprocity in kind.
We can say that any relationship is an implicit contract in which both individuals promise to help each other get satisfaction for some of the needs we all have. If that is so, then by ignoring those needs you are sabotaging your own happiness.
Couples get to the point of divorce when one or the other comes to the conclusion that the other side doesn't see his/her needs or is unable to take them into consideration, or deliberately refuses to satisfy those needs, so as to control the partner's satisfaction. If making the other miserable by withholding love and recognition is the tool for one side to feel powerful, then we have the cruelest bond imaginable.
How can you learn to express your needs in a way that will lead people to want to help you? Some people simply take the frustration as normal and to be expected, until one day they discover they are emotionally empty, and they break down . To prevent getting to this point, let's make a plan for needs satisfaction:
First, you need to give yourself permission to get your needs met and to expect the people in your life to help you in that pursuit. Here are a few ideas that may help:
1. Don't accept that your lot in life is to go along constantly deprived of affection, respect, or recognition. Regardless of whatever your parents told you while you were growing up, all of us need some satisfaction in order to find our lives meaningful and valuable. If for some time you thought you were destined in life to help others without getting anything in return, now tell yourself that is a recipe for disaster because you will feel empty and angry soon.
2. If you catch yourself constructing a situation in which you would end up as the frustrated victim, stop! Think: Why do I need to repress my needs now? Is it because later, if I'm frustrated, I can reproach him regarding how bad he is? And what does this revengeful thought give to me? Nothing but more frustration!
3. When people spontaneously compliment you, or express how much they appreciate you, don't deflect or ignore the compliment. Don't say, "Oh, it's nothing." Look the person in her or his eyes and offer the best "Thank you" you can express.
4. Perhaps you can think of your needs as requests? Instead of going into a resentful tirade about how bad the other person is for leaving you alone, can you try to express your need as a request? "It would be great for me if you could have dinner with me each night this week. What time is good for you?"
5. Think of educating people around you about needs. You can ask them, "What is that you need just now? Can I do something for you, so you don't feel alone?" Then, when it's your turn to ask for something, you can say, "Could you help me with this issue? Is important for me to feel supported when I have to go to the doctor's."
You should now be able to see clearly the two ways of acting:
a) Ignore your needs and help other people ignore them too, in order to collect resentments and keep feeling lonely and abandoned. This feeling of frustration by loved ones is great tinder for later conflicts!
b) Learn to express your needs, because they are valid needs, and also teach other people that you respect yourself first. What about saying, with a nice attitude, "I can't do now what you are asking me to do because I have just enough time now to do what I need to do: my____ (meditation, exercises, nap)"?
c) Learn to ask for the other person's needs, in a gentle way: "Is there something that you need now, so you can feel better? What would make you happy now?"
Learn to discover, respect, and express your needs, and practice with your spouse how to be progressively more attuned to each other's needs...If you can't express what you need, get some personal coaching by Coach Nora!
Nora Femenia, Ph.D. is a coach and author of relationship books, about emotional abuse, anger management, passive aggression and how to manage personal conflicts. Coach Nora offers her support for all conflict situations, with creative and positive solutions for any situation. What can you learn from your conflicts today?