There is a common theme that leads couples to seek relationship help. Behind complaints of a break down in communication, of increased bickering and marital conflict, of frustrations stirred by a lack of sexual passion, lie two emotional needs that are of central importance to our psychological well-being and the well-being of our relationship.
Relationship Rule of Thumb: When important relationship-emotional needs go unrecognized, are continuously ignored or devalued in some way, emotional distress and marital/relationship problems result (often taking the form of some kind of break down in communication and emotional disconnection between spouses/partners). Relationship conflict is often a sign that one or both partners’ needs aren’t being met.
Relationship Help: 2 Central Relationship/Emotional Needs
Have you ever noticed how people reach out to others when they receive really good news or when they’re faced with something troubling and painful?
We often reach out to a loved one—that special person who we trust and makes us feel emotionally safe—when we’re having a strong emotional reaction (either a positive or painful one) to something going on in our lives. This shows that we are interpersonal beings at our core—we need to share our experiences with others, to connect at an emotional level.
1) Having Your Life Witnessed
Having someone you care about bear witness to your life (witness your experiences, your reactions) without judgment and criticism is a central relationship/emotional need—and getting this need met with your partner is of paramount importance to your marriage/relationship. Couples act as witnesses to one another’s lives all the time (when the relationship is working well)–whenever you are both actively engaged in discussions and communicate about your experiences (this can be as simple as recounting your day at work and having your partner listen and asking questions), you are each other’s witness.
2) Being Deeply Understood
Another important relationship/emotional need we have is to feel understood by those who are important to us—to have that important person express and communicate an understanding of your truest self (to somehow acknowledge and show appreciation of your deepest longings and struggles, your passions and victories, your fears and concerns).
Here it’s not enough to silently witness each other’s life—you must go another step to effectively communicate that you “get” each other, that you understand one another’s unique emotional worlds.
Combining these two needs: An understanding (compassionate) witness knows when to remain silent and just sit with you; s/he knows when to communicate through touch by taking your hand or rubbing your shoulder; the understanding witness also knows when to actively celebrate your victories with you, when to ask relevant-empathic questions when s/he isn’t getting something you’re trying to communicate; s/he knows (having learned from you) when to comfort and when to challenge, when to move closer or give distance…
So now that you know about these two central relationship needs, how will you act as a witness to your partner’s life?
In what ways are you willing to understand what’s going on for him/her?
Remember, this is an ongoing process and not a one-time event. No one can ever be the perfect witness for another: trial and error is the norm. But what’s most important is keeping an open mindset to learning how the other needs you to witness his/her life.
Couple Communication Resources
Effective couples communication is a skill that can be learned (and should be practiced). I’ve created a communication resource that can teach you and your partner the communication skills and strategies needed to make mutual understanding a regular part of your relationship.
For more information, click the link below:
Wishing you and your relationship all the best!
Dr. Rich Nicastro