Why My Partner Doesn’t Give Me What I Need?
By Kalanit Ben-Ari, Ph.D.
Often, once our relationship is past the ‘honeymoon’ stage, we spend much of our time in our relationships wondering why our partner isn’t giving us what we need. How can this ‘perfect’ person who made us so happy now be making us so unhappy? If your relationships is long enough to pass this stage, which means you are together for at least a year, you probably start to feel that at times, your partner doesn’t give you what you need. In a long-term relationship, this feeling might colour most of your time together, bubbling under the surface or exploding in a heated power struggle. We might long for the days when our partner felt everything to us, when the very mention of their name made our hearts beat faster. But once everything has settled and we have calmed down a bit, we might find ourselves wondering what has happened. Whereas once we thought our partner was a demi-god who could do no wrong, now we are ending the day feeling frustrated, hurt and angry or possibly indifference.
But, how has this happened?
Byron Katie, American author, says there are three businesses in life. Your own business, the other’s business (your partner, friends and so on), and god/universe business. So when you think, or say, to your partner, “I want you to eat more healthily”, or “you need to spend more time with the kids” or “ you don’t give me what I need” and various other versions of the same thing, (e.g., “you are over emotional” “you don’t clean after yourself”) you are, actually, in your partner’s business. According to Katie, being in any business other than yours will result in feeling stressed and misery.
If we think about it, we may find our tendency to complain endlessly about the same issue to our partner. How many times have we said to our partner’s versions of the same thing?
You might have said it clearly or aggressively, or you might have given up and reacted with passive aggressive behaviour.
It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that this repetitive behaviour, criticising and blaming didn’t get you what you want. No doubt it might even have made the situation worse.
As Amby Burfoot (American marathoner) says, “to get to the finish line, you’ll have to try lots of different paths.”
The key point to know is that the only way to find a new path for growth and change in your relationship, is to work on your own business. In order to think about this, answer the 5 questions below. Those questions require self-awareness, sense of safety to explore, and courage. All of which will help you move away from the victim place to a much more empowered person. At the end of the day, it will help you to create the relationship you desire.
5 questions to change your mindset:
- In which areas of my life do I not give my partner the same thing that I would also like from them?
A common answer to this question is “but I do give! This is why I’m frustrated!”. I want to assure you, that maybe you give it, whatever it will be, in one area of your life, but neglect giving it in another. For example, if your complaint is about your partner being absent in family life, check with yourself where are you absent. Maybe when your partner initiates intimacy, maybe with extended family or with a social life that your partner is really keen on? You feel your partner controls the finances and expenses? Wonder where the control is not balanced by you… maybe the relationship with extended family, the relationship with the children, sex? If the issue is about home tidiness and organization, it is worth checking about your own responsibilities. Are you ‘tidy’ and taking care of the family finance admin, maybe your diary could benefit from more organization and planning?
I want to invite you to cross the bridge to your partner’s world and see it from their perspective. Think about where they might experience the same issue you raised in a different aspect of your life.
When you have a clear understanding of your own behaviours, focus on them. As Gandhi said- ‘be the change you wish to see’.
- What exactly do I want (rather than what I don’t want)?
We are, as human beings, far too focused on the negative- on what we are not getting, then what we have or what we want. Your partner might not give you what you want in one area of life, but don’t let it overshadow all the wonderful things s/he does. What I found interesting is, that when asking my clients this question is that they start to explain more what whey don’t want! “I don’t want her to criticise me near the kids”, “I want him to stop telling me what I should do”, “I hate it when he is late and I’m waiting for him ready”, “I don’t want her to complain all the time and be grumpy” to mention few examples.
Here is the gold – whatever you focused on, is what’s going to grow! So if you keep focusing on complaints, control, lateness and so on, it doesn’t matter which words come before that (“I don’t want…”) the brain registers only the core words (in bold above) and this is what’s going to grow.
Do you want to change it? Say what you want! Be very specific with the desired behaviour and use positive words. In Imago Relationship Therapy we say that underneath any complain there is a wish and longing for connection.
So continue with the examples above it might be “I would like you to support me near the children and that any disagreement we have we will discuss respectfully and privately”, “I would like you to trust my abilities and judgment. It will be lovely to hear ‘trust yourself, you can do it’ or ‘I appreciate the way you think about this’”, “when I come home from work it will be lovely to greet each other with a smile and a hug”.
Can you see the different? Negative words raise defensives, positive wishes raise cooperation.
- How my partner’s specific behaviour serves me?
I can hear your answer “It doesn’t!” But let’s stay curious. Even the most annoying behaviours can, consciously or unconsciously, serve us and our relationship agenda. By relationship agenda I mean the relationship modelling we experienced, observed and internalized in our childhood. The baggage that we bring with ourselves to the present is a topic for a different article. For this example, I will say that if in our history one parent was the ‘good’ one and the other was the ‘bad’ one, we internalize this experience and unconsciously will make sure that we are the ‘good’ ones. By feeling a victim of the partner’s behaviour and believing you did your part, you just continue your relationship agenda.
The same will be with issues around control, dependency, money, in-lows, parenting and sex.
- What the relationship needs from me?
In Imago Relationship Therapy we replace the common question of ‘what I need from the relationship’, to ‘what the relationship needs from me’. The former looks for gratification, the letter focused on the relationship. This is a paradigm shift from the individual to the relationship, based on the understanding that when the relationship is better, the individuals feel better and not the other way around. In other words, when you care enough about your relationship, you as an individual will benefit the most.
Think about your relationship, what it needs from you? Is it to show up more, to initiate more, to be more present emotionally and physically, or is it to contain more, to self-regulate, to show up with vulnerability instead of anger and aggression?
Whenever your defensiveness is– attack or avoidance and everything in between- you activate your partner’s defensiveness. It means that your partner’s brain doesn’t experience you as a safe partner at that moment. It is not to say that you are a danger to your partner, but your partner’s brain perceives it as such and the central nerve system reacts accordingly. With a hand on your heart, does your partner perceive you as a safe partner? Which specific behaviours are required by you for this situation to change?
- How can I make my boundaries clearer?
Maybe your partner did something that really upset you. You might even feel he or she crossed a boundary with the way s/he talked or behaved. Maybe it doesn’t feel safe. Putting clear boundaries for what is acceptable or not, whether physically or emotionally, is important for your well-being. You can do that with integrity, assertiveness and respect for your partner. Talk about it with your partner. Share your thoughts and feelings about it, and what your wishes are. Model them the behaviour you need. And don’t hesitate to reach for help from your GP, Imago Relationship therapists, and other relationship professionals. There is plenty of help out there- you just need to reach out.
“The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, “If you will take care of me, I will take care of you. “Now I say, I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.” ― Jim Rohn
As you can see all the questions and tips are about dealing with your own business. Do that, consistently, for three months, and you will become aware of your own role for not getting what you want in your relationship. The results of focusing on your self-awareness and change, from a place of growth and not for conditioning or negotiation (that is ‘I will do and then you will …’), might surprise you. Then, we will need to think about the challenge of receiving what you want. Enjoy the process!