As couples therapist Sue Johnson has said, conflict is not the core issue between couples, emotional disconnection is. In other words, emotional disconnection is the illness, and conflict is the presenting symptom. Conflict can often grow out of a misunderstanding for the emotional needs of our partner. For a lot of us, it can be hard to express to others what we need. So often needing means being vulnerable and open, and this vulnerability can cause great levels of discomfort. Instead of sitting with this uncomfortable feeling, it can become easier to push our needs aside and not communicate them openly and honestly.
When this is done over and over again, it becomes incredibly difficult for our partners to be attuned to what we need in order to feel safe and happy in the relationship. We begin to feel misunderstood by them and they seem to more frequently “miss the point” of what we are saying during conversation and conflict. As a result, conflict seems to happen more, and one or both partners may begin to feel stuck and want to shut down.
When one or more partners are shut down, communicating anything feels seemingly difficult, if not totally impossible. In order to remedy this common problem between couples, it can be helpful to go back to the basics. Take some time alone with a pad of paper and think about some of the following questions. What do you need from your partner in order to feel loved and cared for? What makes you feel good in your relationship? Is there something going on that you wish your partner knew more about? What are basic needs that you have in other relationships in your life?
It is important to understand that under the complaints we make about our partner or their behavior, there is often a need we have that is not being met. Answering some of these questions above for yourself can help you to gain a better understanding of what it is you may be needing or wanting more of in your intimate relationship. Oftentimes we do not know exactly what we need or want, so identifying that can be increasingly beneficial to our partner and to us.
When we have a better idea of what we need, we are better able to express that to our partner. After you have taken some time to think about yourself and jot down some thoughts, encourage your significant other to do the same, and then sit down together and talk over what you both wrote down. Having an open talk about needs can build a deeper bond and connection, as well as a deeper understanding of this important person in your life.