Communication is often considered a secret ingredient for happy relationships, but it doesn’t need to be complicated

“I think I need time alone,” my boyfriend said, looking a little exasperated on a recent Sunday evening. We hadn’t been arguing (in fact we’d had a really nice day together), although I had noticed a shift in his mood as the day went on.

After a slightly confused and defensive facial expression from me, he explained what he meant. As an introvert, an empath, and someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, quiet time alone is something my partner needs at the weekend to feel recharged and ready for the week ahead.

It had taken a year of us living together for him to: a) realise that as much as he loves me, he still needs time away from me; and b) that it was OK for him to ask for this.

Once he explained why he needed alone time, I felt a little swell of pride. Depression has a habit of swallowing your self-worth, so allowing himself to be vulnerable, and asking for something he needed, felt like a milestone.

Since then, we’ve both been more open about what we need, whether it’s a couple of hours alone in our local cafe, or for us to share the house admin a little more. It’s taken a little navigating, but has helped us both thrive within our relationship.

Often, when we’re in long-term relationships, we can feel that our partners should know what we need intuitively. We expect them to read our minds, and we sit with frustrations bubbling under the surface when they don’t. Then, one day, we hit boiling point, culminating in an argument involving demands, heightened emotions, and blame.

If we can get to a place where we can ask for what we need in relationships before this point, it’ll save a lot of heartache. OK, ready to ask for what you need? Follow these steps:

1. Plan what you want to say

Understanding what it is you really need can take some self-reflection. Take your time over this. Give it some space, think through what you want to say, and plan how you’ll say it.

Remember that we’re all worthy of feeling happy and fulfilled in our relationships. Asking for what you need isn’t being demanding, it’s showing a commitment to communication that will have only positive ramifications for your relationship.

2. Choose your timing wisely

What we need often comes to the front of our minds when we’re not getting it, and sometimes this happens during a heated discussion or argument. Try your best not to bring it up then. Wait until you’re both calm, and pick a time when you can give the discussion the space it needs.

When expressing what you need, do so from a place of honesty and authenticity, not from a place of entitlement

3. Avoid playing the victim

It can sometimes feel like we shouldn’t have to voice our needs (especially if they seem pretty obvious to us), which can lead to frustration and passive aggression. If this happens, it can be easy to play the victim when the discussion takes place.

However, when you use victimised language, you end up punishing your partner for not knowing something you’ve never told them. They’ll likely get upset by this, and put up walls of defence in reaction. This puts a stop to any conversation and can cause further arguments.

When expressing what you need, do so from a place of honesty and authenticity, not from a place of entitlement.

4. Use ‘I’ statements

With the above in mind, try to stick to ‘I’ statements. Rather than placing the blame or responsibility on your partner by telling them what they’re not doing, such as: “You’re always on your phone”, keep the conversation centred on what you need and how your partner can help – “I need to feel more connected to you when we talk, and feel you putting your phone down during discussions would help.”

5. And if you’re on the receiving end...

Don’t panic! The fact that your partner is talking to you about what they need means they care about the relationship, and want it to flourish. Feeling defensive is natural, but try to remember this is not about anything you’re doing wrong. It’s about what your partner needs to feel fulfilled.

Encourage them to explain more about how you can help them, and if it’s something you feel unable to give, try to work out a compromise. Now is also a great time for you to consider what you need in the relationship. If your partner has opened the doors of communication, keep them open.

To find out more about relationship counselling, visit Counselling Directory.