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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Relationships » asking for what you need

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Author Topic: asking for what you need
Scarleteen Volunteer
Member # 101745

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I'm wondering how comfortable people feel asking partners for things they need in a relationship. I don't mean just in terms of what feels good sexually (although that's part of it), but things like spending more or less time together, a change in safer sex practices, or even smaller details like asserting your preferences for date activities. Is it hard to speak up?

I sometimes find it easy to get sucked into thinking "oh, I am so easygoing and accommodating, I don't need to ask for things because I like to just go with the flow," but honestly, all that happens when I don't speak up about what I need to feel happy and supported in a relationship is that tiny issues turn into a BIG DEAL over time. And of course, my partners can't know these things unless I mention them in the first place, so I can't get mad at them for not knowing!

So: how comfortable do y'all feel about this? Are there things that make it easier for you to speak up about your needs? Have you found ways to support partners who might have a hard time asking for things they need to feel happier in a relationship?

Posts: 1352 | From: San Francisco | Registered: Jan 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
The Definitive PoMo Username
Member # 108740

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I feel like I have historically been very out of my element with regards to this. This doesn't simply apply to romantic relationships, but also in my family, and my friendships. I tend to always go with the flow even when the flow doesn't give me what I need. I feel I definitely need to have more rigid boundaries around how I spend my time, and that's part of what I need to establish just to treat myself in healthier, non-toxic ways.

I think it's hard to ask for things I need as a woman because we've been socialized to always put our needs absolutely last, lest we be seen as "uptight" or "high-maintenance." I think being in feminist settings has made it a little easier to articulate these needs, and it's definitely harder to be in the space where you're conscious and intentional about what you need in any given moment. But doing that work to overcome that socialization is hard!

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Peer Ambassador
Member # 72015

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I prefer to let my partner choose date activities. When he asks, I usually tell him to choose. If he really does want me to choose, I do, but I almost never mind his choice, so I prefer if he does it. When it comes to sex, he usually initiates. There have only been a couple tiems I did not want to have sex, and as soon as I pulled away or told him no, he stops right there. If I really, really want a certain sexual activity, I'll softly encourage him to do it, but I usually never ask outright. We're very intuned to each other's desires and emotions, so we've never really had a problem with not explicitly saying these things. Lastly, there have been a few times where things he does just wear on me, and since I never say anything, he has no clue. For example, he used to make a certain joke kind of often. At first, I was okay with it, but it soon got on my nerves. Eventually, I had to tell him, and he was more than understanding. So in the future, I know I can be comfortable not just going with the flow but also with telling him if I am unhappy with something. In my last relationship, this was never the case. It was always his needs before mine, and I would just accept that. If I said no, often he wouldn't listen. So I think it's less about my own personality and more about how my partner reacts to my personality.
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Patricia H
Member # 103815

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Excellent post, Mo.

I feel that in general, the ease with which partners in a relationship can ask for what they need is representative of how well they communicate among each other in general. That in itself can speak volumes (pun intended [Big Grin] ) about the quality of the relationship, of which would include the level of trust the partners have for each other, how safe they feel, and the ability for either and/or any of the partners to have the integrity to respect each individual's boundaries as requested. For simplicity's sake, I speak here in regards to a 2 person relationship, but this should be true for all good relationships, regardless of how many individuals comprise it.

I realize, too, that in addition to the inter-relationship between partners that your topic involves, a good part of it would also require soundness of the individual as well; in fact, one could go so far as to say that asking for what one needs begins with the individual.

An example: I had trouble speaking my mind, especially in times of conflict. I didn't like conflict, and so to avoid it, I never spoke up for myself. I didn't think what I had to say was worthy, and that it wouldn't matter what I had to say because I was going to end up being wrong anyway. So for many years, I learned and conditioned myself to demean my own self worth without saying a single word. Sure, I managed to avoid conflict in doing so, but nothing was resolved, and things ended up being swept under the rug until it got humongous and blew up in my face sometime later in the future. Plus, I felt pretty crummy the whole time; I'd be in turmoil with myself because there would be a part of me that hated myself for not putting an argument out there, regardless of whether or not I would be correct; the important thing was that I spoke my mind, and even if no one else heard it, I did.

One day, this ended up causing me so much suffering that I made a point to change this. The change: speak my mind during a time of conflict, regardless of whether or not I was wrong. The worse that could happen from this is that I was indeed wrong, to which then I would own up to it and take responsibility for it like a grown mature adult.

It was a scary thing.

The first time I did it, I did it with my eyes shut tight because I didn't want to see my partner's reaction; I was so dead-set on him thinking what I had to say was stupid.

I was wrong. I ended up crying because of it. But I also ended feeling a lot better after. And a little stronger.

So, to answer your question, I feel a lot more comfortable with myself now than before, but I'm sure there will always be things that come up that will make me feel uncomfortable asking or talking about them in my relationship. Whenever these scary moments arise, I more or less put blind faith into our relationship and try to get whatever I need out there so I can be heard, whether it's by outright saying it to my partner, or writing it down and passing him a note, or whatever. I've found those two aforementioned methods rather effective right now. But it's times like these that make me realize just how important it is to have a safe place to really open up about uncomfortable and sensitive stuff, and that takes time and work to get to, for everyone committed in the relationship.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. - Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Posts: 234 | From: Hawaii | Registered: Feb 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 108007

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What timing! My boyfriend and I just had a discussion about this two nights ago. I guess I could call it an argument, but I hesitate there since tempers were never lost and there wasn't actually a conflict.

We were talking about Facebook, and I happened to mention that we weren't listed as "in a relationship" there. He asked if that bothered me; I said no. For some reason he kept up the conversation anyway, found out that I would, in fact, like to be, and sent the request. All the while, I was telling him not to because, firstly, why do it if he didn't really want to, and secondly, I didn't want to be the "kind of girl" who cares about that. Eventually he convinced me to accept it... and the next morning I admitted to both of us that he was right, I did care, and that it made me happy to see it there on my profile.

That really accounts for most of the arguments (word used loosely again, I can think of about twice we've had a true argument where we actually disagreed about something and got mad) we've had. I don't want to ask for something/if we or he can do something because I figure something like "If he really wanted to do it, he'd come up with it on his own, so he must not want to", and because I feel like a stereotypical girl when I ask for the sort of things these usually are (the facebook thing, can he tell me something romantic before I go to bed, can he help me remember something he said the other day for me to write in my journal). It's all grounded in my own mind/personality, not in any kind of past problems. This is my first serious relationship (the other lasted a month or so).

Luckily for me, my boyfriend is an extremely patient person, and is always willing to talk me into telling him. I've gotten lines like (I hope you don't mind me quoting him directly) "Honey, what makes a relationship good isn't codified in some book somewhere as like 15% baby talk and 35% dating and blah blah blah. It's whatever it takes to make both people happy. So if something is bothering you, it is the proper response to tell me about it so we can deal with it." and "All relationships have hiccups and it's because I want this to last that I address them rather than sweeping them under the rug. That's toxic in the long term." I am hoping that eventually this attitude will get it through my head that it's okay to say I want something without a half-hour-minimum derailing of the conversation with me saying it doesn't really matter and him saying that it obviously does, so speak up already, please.

~Bee o( l l )-

Posts: 24 | From: Pittsburgh, PA, USA | Registered: Jul 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scarleteen Volunteer
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In some circumstances, with some things - and I find it hard to untangle exactly what - I find it very hard to ask for what I need, or express preferences. Sometimes I Know, but I can't say it for the life of me, and sometimes I really just go blank and panic-y. This is the case for all kinds of personal relationships, not just partnered ones. I'm fairly sure I know why: for one thing, I grew up with one parent who struggled immensely with expressing wants and needs, and often asked things when they were hoping for a particular answer, so my automatic reaction is to try to guess what the other person wants and to get very lost and panic-y if that's not possible. For another thing, there were circumstances when me expressing my real needs and thoughts brought me a world of blame, manipulation and censorship.

I've found my current partner to be really helpful around these issues. I try to tackle them myself, really make an effort as far as I can, and in return, Partner is gentle and understanding. It's taking a long time to build up a belief in me that the world won't collapse around me if I don't get it "right", and it helps that Partner knows it takes time and is relaxed and supportive about it taking time. Partner makes sure never to badger me into giving a preference, knowing that that freaks me out even more; Partner gently looks me in the eye and says "I honestly would like to know if you have a preference, and I promise you that I would tell you if I had one, I'm not expecting you to guess". After we discuss something small or large, Partner takes my hand and says "thank you for sharing that with me". The continuous safety and stability do slowly sink in for me. I also have to take a deep breath and be quite brave to share things. I tell myself "our relationship will be better if I share this, *I* will be better off if I learn to express preferences".

I recently came across an advice column and discussion on asking for things and expressing preferences. It helped me to understand better where I'm coming from and where my parent was coming from, and it has lots of interesting and helpful practical suggestions. It's here: Unlike most places on the internet, the comment section at Captain Awkward is safe, sensible and supportive, because it's heavily moderated and run by a person with at least half a clue. The lengthy discussion in comments on that post was at least half the value to me.

The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

Posts: 1786 | From: Europe | Registered: Sep 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Scarleteen Volunteer
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Redskies, I am always excited when someone brings up Captain Awkward! I felt like there was a lot of good content in that particular post (and the comments).

I had a friendship when I was younger that was, looking back, pretty clearly unhealthy and maybe codependent in some ways. I rarely felt comfortable expressing needs or preferences at all, and some of the lessons I learned there are ones I'm still having to fight to unlearn. I can certainly sympathize with this as an ongoing process.

I do think that as really stressful as it can be for me to ask for something I need or even just prefer, the world doesn't end when I do it and it does make me feel better about my relationships with other people.

Posts: 1352 | From: San Francisco | Registered: Jan 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator

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