If she flies across the country to surprise me on my birthday, I’ll know we really are best friends.
If he reaches out to me and shares the details of his challenges when times are tough and calls me to share his good news when things are going his way, I’ll know he really cares.
If only she would move in with me after my baby is born so I don’t have to do this mama thing alone, I’d know I really matter to my mother.
If he buys me that necklace I gushed about at the artisan shop, it proves he loves me.
If she calls me twice a week, even when she’s super busy, I’ll know I matter.
If he spends every night with me, even when he’s tired and wants to be alone, I’ll know I’m cherished.
What Expectations Do You Have?
Most of us have hopes and expectations about how our friends and loved ones will behave, but how often do you actually communicate these wants and needs to those who might be happy to meet them?
If you’re like many of us, you play games with the ones you love, games that go something like this:
Games People Play
I shouldn’t have to tell him what I want for Christmas. If he loves me, he should just know.
I don’t want to ask my mother to prioritize time with my kids. A good grandma should just want to.
If I ask him to [text me sweet nothings right after our date/spend the night/make me breakfast], it’s not the same as if he offers in an unsolicited way.
Even though I want it, I can’t ask my friend for that. It would be too much of an imposition.
People Can’t Read Minds
I know it’s awesome when you desire something from someone, and they spontaneously anticipate and meet that desire. When you’re exhausted after a long day at work and arrive home to find that your husband has bathed the kids, prepared dinner, cleaned the dishes, and adorned the table with a bouquet of your favorite flowers, you feel so appreciated, understood, held.
But what if your husband doesn’t know how much you would appreciate such a thing? What if you’ve spent five years waiting for that moment to happen, and because it never has, you wind up resenting him?
Yes, it’s fabulous when your BFF surprises you with a grand gesture that proves how much she values you. But what if she wants to offer some grand gesture but just isn’t sure what grand gesture would float your boat?
When You Expect People to Read your Mind
What if your loved ones were all just waiting to be instructed about how to demonstrate their love for you? What if your needs could be met, if only you’d clarify for yourself what they are and then share those needs and desires with those you love? Can you imagine how much better your life might be?
When I share this idea with clients, many of them respond by saying, “But I don’t even know what I want and need from [my best friend/my father/my boyfriend/my sister].”
Then how in the world can you expect your best friend/father/boyfriend/sister to please you?
Know What You Want and Need
If you’re not clear on what you want and need from those you love, it’s not fair to expect them to meet those fuzzy, ungrounded, unclear expectations. In order to help people demonstrate their love to you, you have to start by clarifying what you want and need in as much detail as possible.
Have a Conversation
Once you know, the next step is initiating a conversation with your loved one about your desire to deepen the connection, so both of your wants and needs get met as often as possible. Start by telling your loved one you no longer want to be expected to read his or her mind and would greatly appreciate renegotiating the relationship such that both parties are responsible for knowing and expressing their own wants and needs as often as possible. Each of you know, in good faith, that the other will make attempts to meet those wants and needs as often as possible, not out of obligation, but out of a genuine desire to demonstrate love.
It’s Okay to Say No
Part of the agreement has to include a disclaimer, because nobody should feel obligated to meet the wants and needs of someone they love simply because it’s desired. For example, if you want sex every night and your partner just isn’t up for it, your partner shouldn’t be expected to oblige just because you want it. But perhaps your partner wants daily sex as much as you do and didn’t even know you desired it.
I know it can feel especially vulnerable to expose what you desire from a relationship, whether it’s deeper intimacy, more time together, a stronger commitment, or evidence that the person is making your needs and desires a priority. When you make your wants and needs known, you risk not having them met and the accompanying disappointment. If you’re brave enough to ask for what you need and the other person never chooses to meet those needs, that can really sting. But isn’t that good to know?
Giving Is a Two-Way Street
In a healthy relationship, both parties get pleasure out of pleasing each other and meeting each other’s needs. In unhealthy relationships, one person does all the giving and the other does all the receiving. If you’re in a relationship where you feel like you’re doing all the giving, it may feel risky to ask for what you want and need. After all, what if he or she fails to step up to the plate?
You may even find yourself backpedaling in order to make excuses for the other person. “Oh no, I didn’t really want that. My needs aren’t so important.”
But really? Why do you want to expend your energy on relationships that aren’t reciprocal? We don’t give in order to receive, but real love means both parties in a relationship want to give. By expressing your wants and needs clearly and with permission not to meet all your needs all the time, you simply make it easier for someone to demonstrate the love they’re happy to express.
Are You Brave Enough to Make the Big Ask?
Will you have this conversation with the people you love most? Will you have the courage to make your desires known? Are you willing to do what you can to meet the needs of others, knowing that giving is a two-way street and it’s not fair to ask for something if you’re not willing to return the favor?
Tell us what you think!
*Photo by Denise Mayumi.