Marriage therapy – How to get what you want in a relationship
Today you will learn one of my top tips from my marriage therapy sessions.
Having done marriage therapy for a while now, I have seen a repeated pattern of what separates the happy relationships from the once that are distant or fall apart.
I found in marriage therapy that relationships, where both partners knew their needs and boundaries and could express them clearly, they had far more intimacy, connection, and better sex.
Today you can skip your marriage therapy session because you will learn how to get in touch with your needs and boundaries and express them so you can get what you want from your relationship.
Buckle up, here we go.
Let's learn how you can avoid marriage therapy and get what you want in your relationship.
For us, to experience well-being, we need our needs met.
When we don’t express our needs, don’t get them met, or feel they are rejected, we become resentful, angry, or disconnected.
We often struggle even to know our own needs, and when we do, we might struggle to express them clearly, which leads me to the second question.
Why are needs so hard to express?
As we grow up, we were often shamed for expressing our needs.
We might have been made to feel our needs were a burden, that they were not important or that other people’s needs took priority over our own.
The first step is to gain self-awareness and the ability to sense our own needs.
Once we have done that, we can go on to practice how to express them clearly.
Keep in mind that other people can’t always fulfill your every need.
It might cross their boundaries or not be something they can give us.
Disappointment is a natural part of any relationship and the process of learning to express our needs.
What’s often not discussed about disappointment is that it is an excellent opportunity to create more closeness.
If rather than moving apart, you sit and listen to each other’s disappointment, show empathy, acceptance, and understanding, it can bring you so much closer.
Exploring your needs
If you feel frustrated, then it’s often down to unmet needs.
If you feel anger, then it’s often because you want to be seen, acknowledge or stop violation.
Our emotions will guide us to what our needs are.
It’s also important to be specific, so people can learn how to fulfill your needs.
“ I want to feel more special” is not specific as different things make different people feel special.
What makes you feel special?
Here are two more examples:
“I want more touch.”
Is that specific? No.
Your partner might start touching your feet when you want your back stroked.
I like 5 minutes of slow, gentle touch when I come home from work.
Now that’s specific and clear.
Now, write down what your needs are, and be specific -)
Expressing your needs
We often expect that our partner should know what we want and how we want it.
But let’s be honest.
You don’t even know what you want half the time, and our needs change throughout the day constantly, so how is anyone else supposed to know.
It’s your job to get in touch with and communicate your needs clearly to others.
Sometimes you might be tired and need some tender care. Other times you might feel bored and want some excitement.
Your partner is not a mind reader and can’t read your ever-changing needs, so express them clearly.
Sit down with your partner and express the needs you wrote down previously.
Your partner can get triggered if they think they can’t meet the needs.
They might worry it means the relationship will not work, or it could merely trigger old insecurities or wounds in them.
If they do get triggered, then I refer to my article on dealing with triggers here.
If you don’t have any triggered emotions or sensation, try showing and expressing how beautiful their needs are and state in what capacity you might be able to fulfill them.
If you can’t fulfill their needs, then acknowledge that they might feel disappointed and offer to be there to support them in their disappointment.
It’s essential to be very specific and avoid blame language when expressing your needs.
Rather than saying, “I am so sick of you never organizing any fun dates for us, I wish you could just book a date a surprise me once in a while.”
This starts with blame meaning you will likely trigger your partner to defend themselves.
As you know, in this state it’s unlikely they will hear you and give you what you need.
The need is also unclear.
Book a date.
Do you want a dinner date?
If so, what kind of food?
Here is how that could have been communicated instead with vulnerability.
“I have felt really sad lately because I have a strong need for quality time with you.
I feel more insecure when we don’t prioritize quality time with each other.
I would like it if you could find some time and energy in your schedule to organize a date, even once per month would be fantastic.
I love dancing, so a dance lesson would be fun.”
Can you feel the difference?
Here we replaced blame that causes a defensive response with vulnerability and shares the impact it has on us and how we feel.
Because we are vulnerable, it’s more likely to stimulate empathy and allow our partner to listen and feel connected to us.
But there is no connection or intimacy when we operate from obligations only disconnect and resentment.
It comes from the learned “pleaser syndrome.”
As children, we often learn to negate our own boundaries to satisfy someone else’s needs or to protect someone else’s feelings.
We learned that we are accepted and safe if we make others feel good and avoid “negative emotions.”
But it comes at a massive cost of connection and the harm of our boundaries being violated.
We consistently allow our boundaries to be overstepped, and often, we only realize afterward when we feel the anger or resentment that it happened.
What if we could learn to sense our boundaries instantly and know how to firmly and lovingly express them.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your boundaries, so you don’t need to be able to explain or justify them.
When something does not sense right in your body, then simply say “stop” or “no” and give yourself the time to sense into what is going on.
If someone asks you for a hug, do you actually want that hug, or do you do it not to make them feel rejected?
Perhaps, say “let me just feel into that” and then let them know if you want that hug.
Take your time, and honor your boundaries and remember freedom and connection is found when we can uphold our boundaries.
Women often shut down flirting or foreplay with men because they don’t want to be stuck in obligation and have to follow through if they change their mind later.
If they could sense and express their boundaries, they could play freely knowing that when and if it suddenly no longer feels good, they can just stop.
It will prevent resentment from building and allow a space of freedom and connection.
By expressing your boundaries, you allow your partner to be freer to express themselves, as they don’t have to worry about you and if their actions will harm you.
Setting boundaries allow others to trust you as they now know when you want to do something, and when you don’t.
Boundaries are based on our personal experience, and they don’t need any justification.
You will know you have hit a boundary when something feels uncomfortable to you.
Boundaries can change daily.
One day you might have more capacity to listen to your partner vent and other times after a stressful day you don’t have that same capacity.
One day you might want sex, and another day you might not.
The important part is to learn to recognize your boundaries and lovingly express them.
Knowing that boundaries are essential for love and intimacy, then offering a boundary is a gift to your partner.
If boundaries have not been expressed for long, they will often be expressed in anger or by blame, and that makes it much less likely your partner will hear you.
Let’s practice offering boundaries lovingly.
Rather than “I don’t want sex” or “not now, I don’t feel like it” you could say “I feel much closer to you when I only have sex with you when I feel like it, and I am not feeling like it right now.”
Or if you can’t listen, you could say “I am so exhausted right now that I don’t have spare capacity to listen at this moment. I will let you know later if I can listen.”
Recognizing our boundaries can be hard, and we are not going to be perfect at this.
Sometimes we will let people overstep our boundaries because we can’t always spot it as it’s happening.
We are so used to being stuck in our cognition, our thinking brain that sometimes we don’t notice what is happening until it’s too late.
This is when sensations and emotions are really useful. They can be signals that something is out of balance.
That’s why you feel hungry when you need to eat or cold when you need to put more clothing on.
Violated boundaries will first register as a sensation, so to stop it early, you need to get in touch with your bodily sensations.
How to tap into your bodily sensations
Let’s practice noticing your bodily sensation is a mindfulness exercise.
You can lie down on your bed, turn off all distractions like calls, text messages or emails so you can be in a quiet, uninterrupted place.
The only thing to focus on here is your breathing and sensing your own body.
How does the contact between your feet, legs, spine, neck, arms head feel, and the surface feels like?
How does your stomach feel?
Is it tight, tense, or relaxed?
Notice your heart, is it tense or relaxed?
Your neck, is it tense or relaxed?
Your facial muscles, tense or relaxed?
Your hands, tense or relaxed?
When you lose focus, use your deep, slow breathing, and come back to focus on your breathing count, breath in slowly to the count of 4, and the same breathing out.
Do this exercise daily for 15 minutes.
Let’s practice sensing boundary violation in your body.
I would recommend doing this with someone you trust.
Sit opposite to each other and explain to them something you feel would violate your boundaries.
Now have the other person do just that to you.
It could be speaking in a specific tone, calling you a nasty word, touching you in a particular place without permission, etc.
As they violate your boundary, focus on your bodily sensation.
How does it feel in your body?
How do you know if a boundary is being crossed, and how do you communicate it to get the response you desire?
First, you must get a sense for how it feels when your boundaries are crossed so, you can recognize the sensation you feel.
This can be tension, discomfort, impulses like; wanting to get away, anger, push away, or disconnect and freeze).
Any thoughts or emotions.
Try to notice this so you can know your boundary has been touched or crossed.
Don’t endure but as soon as you feel a boundary say “that’s enough”
How did it feel in your body?
Do you get tense in your stomach?
Do you feel tense in your jaw?
Do you feel nauseous?
Do you disassociate and feel nothing?
Did you have any thoughts?
Did you feel any emotions?
Did you want to get away, push away, or did you feel yourself freeze?
What do you sense in your body as a response when your boundaries are violated?
If you want to learn more about boundaries, then check out my eBook here.