For relationships to become true partnerships, we all need to learn how to let our partner(s) know what we’re thinking…they can’t read our minds. We need to be more open and curious. Ask more questions. Ask for help.
This concept isn’t gendered. I work with many men, women, non-binary and transgender folks and they all have this one thing in common. They refuse to ask their partner(s) for anything. We are trying to read our partner instead of asking simple questions because assuming seems easier at the time and doesn’t require any vulnerability.
Ask and You Might Actually Receive
As a counselor, I repeatedly hear people ask for something and their partner obliges wholeheartedly. The response is really the key to a long-lasting, healthy, and positive relationship.
If your partner yells and screams about how unfair or awful it is that you’re asking for help, or they say “yes,” but then never follow up with the action, then there is a problem. However, if your partner answers with an (enthusiastic enough) “yes” and follows through, then you’re golden. Making the ask may actually bring you closer together too. You feel cared for and your partner feels good about helping out. It’s a win-win.
Want to Want to…
Many people express that they want their partner to want to help without having to ask. We all sometimes want our partners “to want to want to,” right? Well, this may be the case, but often our partners don’t know what you want them to know. Without asking for our need/want to be met, how do you really know that your partner wouldn’t want to help?
We’re all just living our own lives. We are all at least a little bit narcissistic because we can only see our lives through our own eyes. We only have our own perspective. This is true of your partner(s) too.
Benefit of the Doubt
Sure, it would be nice if they could be like Hugh Grant in all our favorite RomComs from the 1990s, and said the perfect thing at the perfect time, but that’s not real life. Real life partners don’t have a script that was written and re-written by a full team of writers for them with the perfect lines to say.
I will often hear, “if they loved me, they’d just know.” This doesn’t make sense. Again, your partner can’t read your mind. They can love you with their whole heart and still not know what you need. Even when you’ve told them a thousand times and they don’t remember, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It’s just that they’re human and are sometimes overwhelmed or preoccupied with their own things.
You have the power to give them the benefit of the doubt. You can simply ask again, if you can get past the idea that your partner should just know.
Not Right or Wrong, Just Different
I repeatedly hear that one partner asks the other to do a task, but then they say their partner did it wrong. Understand that there isn’t a right way (yours) and then all the other ways are wrong (theirs). Let them do it their way and literally leave the room. At least it’s off your “to do” list, if you can let it go.
It can be frustrating at times when your partner agrees to do something and then asks a bunch of questions. Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just do it yourself. This can often be true. However, by asking and patiently teaching, you’re cultivating something bigger and broader than the task. You’ll hopefully be able to have your partner take care of this task more than this one time, so the time you put into it now may pay off down the road.
You may also find it useful to have a discussion about how you ask for things and how you and your partner might prefer to be asked. A discussion about how you discuss. The challenge may not always be about what you’re asking for itself; it might be about how you talk about these things as partners.
It can help to have this talk, but it may also be as simple as getting your partner to agree to try their best to remember, while also agreeing that you’ll ask again if needed.
When you have to ask repeatedly for the same things, it can feel like the other person doesn’t care. I encourage you to be direct when this happens and ask for you want/need (again) and let your partner know that needing to ask again makes you feel uncared for or dismissed.
Price of Admission
In long-term relationships there are always things that happen that you don’t care for about your partner and vice-versa. The key is recognizing that you cannot change another person and you have to accept certain shortcomings (just as they have to accept your shortcomings).
I believe Dan Savage coined the phrase, “the price of admission to be with someone.” When you’re willing to pay that price, then you have to learn to appreciate your partner for what they bring to the relationship and understanding and accepting around what they don’t bring. If he never buys you flowers, and you’ve repeatedly asked him for flowers on special occasions, then that’s the price of admission you’re paying to be with him. When you think of it this way, he probably does so much more for you and this feels like a small price to pay.
Filling Some Needs Yourself
Sometimes you may have to fill some needs for yourself; rather than hoping or expecting it to come from your partner. If you’ve asked for those flowers from your partner and they never get them for you, then go buy some for yourself. I know it’s not exactly the same, but you have to realize that one person isn’t going to fill all your needs. Sometimes you have to fill some of your own needs, while other needs/wants can be fulfilled by friends, family, loved ones.
Asking each other for help is all about cultivating open and honest dialogues together. It is vulnerable and can be scary. It is intimacy in the truest sense. Asking rather than silently hoping someone will just know what will help you provides an opportunity to build (or re-build) reliance, trust, dependability and respect.
These conversations can actually be more intimate than sexual intimacy in making you feel more connected. Openly asking for help can lead to more sexual intimacy too. If you get more help from one another, you’ll have more energy and capacity for “sexy time.”
Ideally, you can also learn to ask for help with tasks and these communication skills can translate into being able to ask for your sexual needs to be met as well. Sexual communication is just a skill we can learn. We can either start to ask for help in the bedroom and eventually that will help us ask for help with tasks or vice-versa. It works in both directions and in both areas of life.
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist working in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She also provides online therapy with clients living in Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy and relationship issues. For more information, please check out her website.