Voicing your needs in the right way will maximize the chances your spouse will hear, understand and respond to what you say.
You owe it to your spouse to help him or her love you well by understanding and sharing your needs, especially as they relate to your relationship. Because your spouse is likely very different from you as far as needs are concerned, you must learn to clearly articulate the things that are most important to you in ways that help him or her understand.
Selfless is Not Silent
If your marriage is to be a living reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church, then it should be founded on selfless love. I encourage couples all the time to focus more on meeting the needs of their spouse than on getting their own needs met. It takes determination to fight off our natural tendencies to be self-focused and self-protective, but selflessness is one of the most important keys to an enduring, intimate and passionate marriage.
At the same time, it is also true that being selfless does not mean keeping silent when it comes to what you need from your spouse. Some choose silence because they believe a good husband or wife shouldn’t voice their needs, but that’s a wrong understanding of selfless love. Some choose silence because they believe that their spouse should just know. “If he/she loved me enough then he/she would figure it out.” Some insist, “If I have to say it, it doesn’t count when they do it.”
Refusing to voice your needs, for whatever reason, is foolishness and a formula for a life of disappointment.
Know Your Needs
The ancient Greek maxim, “know thyself,” rings true in marriage.
Spend some time thinking about what you need most from your husband or wife. Think about what you would like to see more of in your marriage. It shouldn’t be a long list; maybe three things at most. Focus on your biggest needs, the essentials that if unmet for a protracted period could put tremendous strain on your marriage.
I am rerunning a survey I ran a few years ago that asks you to identify the top three things you would like to have more of in your marriage. You can take my 3 Things Survey to help you think through your top needs. In it, I’ve listed many of the key needs couples have expressed to me over the years. Get your spouse to take it too, and then talk about what you chose and why.
Tell Your Needs
You may be under the illusion that if your spouse really loves you, they should already know what is important to you. They may not know your needs, and even if they do, because the needs of husbands and wives tend to be very different, your spouse may have no clue what meeting those needs should look like. It’s easy for us to give love in the ways that mean love to us; but not so easy to give love in the ways that mean love when those ways are completely foreign to us.
The way you communicate your needs is also important. Do it in a way that honors and respects your spouse. Avoid saying things like, “You never…” or “You always…” or “Why can’t you just…” Instead, try something like this, “I know you love me and that you want to love me well. To help you do that, I want to tell you the things that matter most to me.” Then go on to explain, in a non-demanding way, what things are most important. Don’t dwell on how your husband or wife has missed the boat in the past, even if they have. Don’t focus on past mistakes, unless your spouse asks. Instead, be forward-looking.
What Does That Look Like?
In talking about your needs, always include an answer to the question, “What does that look like?” This allows you to paint a clear picture for your spouse.
Even if a wife tells her husband, “Romantic time together is really important to me in order for me to feel loved.” If her husband isn’t romantically inclined like she is, he may have no clue what he is supposed to do with that information. So to help him out, she might say “And here is what that might look like. If we could have a couple of dates together every month, maybe dinner out followed by a walk in the park, where we can really get a chance to talk and connect, that would be great.” If her love language is more gifts than quality time, she might point him toward the occasional gift of flowers or other tokens of love that she appreciates.
Similarly, if a husband tells his wife he wants a deeper sexual connection with her as one of his most important needs, his wife might not really know what that means. So he should be specific in order to make it clear to her. “I would love it if we could make love two or three times a week. And it would be great if once a month or so we could try something new, just to keep things fresh and interesting. We could take turns coming up with ideas. No pressure, just for fun.”
Here’s the thing. Don’t tell yourself that it doesn’t count if you have to tell your husband or wife how to love you. That’s a completely self-defeating attitude. When your spouse responds by doing what you’ve asked, don’t dismiss it. Instead of saying, “You’re only doing that because I asked you to,” say “Thank you so much. It means so much to me when you express your love for me that way.” Choose to believe that what they want is to love you well by doing the things that you say are most important.
It may take your spouse a little while before they feel comfortable going “off-script,” especially if your needs aren’t on their own love-needs radar. By giving encouraging feedback (instead of criticism) they are much more likely to continue to move forward in creatively meeting your needs.
How do you and your spouse approach identifying and communicating your key needs? Are you sure your spouse knows what your top one or two needs are? Do you talk about it specifically? Share your story in a comment!