This is the second blog post (and the first step) in a series on how to declutter your relationship. If you haven't already read it, start with the introduction to provide some context on the rest of the steps.
I shouldn’t have to ask for what I want. If he/she loved me, then he/she would know what I need. If he/she was paying attention, then they would know what I wanted. If I tell someone what I want from them, then it feels like it’s forced when they do it. I want ________, but I want them to come up with the idea.
Ever had any of these thoughts? Most of us have. There are endless variations, but they all come down to the same thing. If you are expecting the person you love to know exactly what you want them to say or do, then you are setting yourself up to have unmet expectations. The good news is that there is no correlation between how much your partner loves you and how often they are able to anticipate your needs or read your mind. When we choose to not ask for what we want, and hope that our loved ones figure it out, we are not only making sure our needs don’t get met, but also depriving our partners of the opportunity to provide it.
Why do we do this? It’s simply a coping mechanism. This is one of the most common and pervasive forms of relationship clutter. You may have been taught this by example from someone else. You may have had negative experiences when asking for something you wanted, and developed this habit to protect yourself. You may have fallen into the trap of believing the way Hollywood romanticizes unhealthy relationships. No matter when or how this way of thinking entered into your life, the solution is the same.
Find out what you really want The first step to removing the clutter of unmet expectations from your relationship is to determine what you want and need from your partner. Most people have a tendency to focus on all of the things that they don’t want or aren’t getting, and spend very little time determining what it is that they do need.
Put aside the resentment that has built from all of the unmet expectations, and start by figuring out what you want. Do you want more affection, more attention when you are talking, more date nights, a change in the way chores are divided? Make a list. Be as specific as you can when you are coming up with your wants/needs. Also make sure that everything that is on your list is a behavior that your partner can take action on. You need to make sure that what you want is not a change in personality or for your partner to be someone that they are not. Asking for your partner to help more with certain chores is reasonable; asking them to change their interests is not. There’s a lot of grey area here, so if you are unsure if your wants/needs are action based or clear, ask for help.
Ask for what you want The next step is a bit scarier. It’s time to learn to ask for what you want. This does put you in a position of vulnerability, which we all usually try to avoid. It will take some courage on your part.
There is the chance that you will ask for what you want and not get it. However, you are already not getting what you want, so remind yourself of that. If you don’t ask then you aren’t giving yourself or your partner the chance to fulfill your needs. It’s worth the risk. If you’ve clearly asked for what you want and provided the opportunity for that desire to be met, then you’ve done everything that is within your control.
Approach this in the best way possible You know your partner better than anyone else, so make sure to approach them in the best way for them. I would not recommend asking them, out of the blue, to sit down while you read them your list. This is not a list of demands after all. Try letting them know that you have been thinking about the way you communicate and that you want to make changes to avoid future instances of unmet expectations. Take responsibility for your part in any past instances. Ask them to read this with you, or other books/articles on the subject.
If you’ve determined that your partner might be struggling with this as well, then you can work through this together and take turns expressing your needs. If you already know that your partner has no difficulty asking you for what they want, then ask them how they do it. Ask them for their support while you learn. This is a partnership. Both of you need to have your wants/needs expressed and met when possible.
Celebrate and show gratitude How do you think it will feel when you start getting your needs met? Pretty fabulous, right? Make sure to take a moment and be proud of yourself each time you make progress. Celebrate your achievements when you complete these steps. Take the time to acknowledge every time you ask for something or express a need. You are taking part in fulfilling your desires; that’s huge.
It is equally important to show gratitude to your partner every time they participate in this. Tell them that you appreciate them listening to you explain why you want to make these changes. Tell them how much you value them and your relationship. Most of all, show gratitude for every time they do something to meet a want/need you have expressed to them. It may not look exactly like you expected it to, but appreciate the effort and don’t try to control the outcome. It’s vital to the relationship for you to identify and acknowledge all of the moments of appreciation. Keep a gratitude list if you want, or just verbally acknowledge all of the small things. You should never take any of it for granted. Thank you is one phrase that can never be said too often when it is expressed genuinely.
Maintain your new habits The final step is maintenance. This is an ongoing process to retrain your brain. Whenever you identify that you are hoping or expecting something you have not asked for, address it. Until it becomes your new habit to ask for what you want, it will take more attention and effort. Your partner may have some difficulty adjusting to this new way of communicating as well. You should also pay extra attention during times of stress or when you are feeling overwhelmed. We tend to revert back to what’s easiest and least beneficial when we are going through a challenging time. It’s okay if you slip; we all do. Just pay attention and remedy it when you notice you are sliding back into an unwanted pattern. Change can be hard, so be kind to yourself and each other.
This is the first item on the Relationship Decluttering Checklist, so make sure to keep going until your relationship is clutter free. You can work through them one at a time, but it will be more beneficial if you go through each item to determine which ones will need to be addressed and tackle them all at once or in order of priority. There’s no limit to how often you declutter.