In a recent post I mentioned that we often give to others that which we want ourselves. Often there is miscommunication regarding what is needed or desired by both partners in a relationship. Sometimes a partner will even expect the other to know what they want, and may even refuse to tell them because the other, "should know", what is important to them, or what they need. When partners don't know what each other wants, this can be a source of much tension, confusion, and conflict. Ideally we strive for simplicity and clarity. If we are not clear regarding what we want, the reality is that we are not very likely to get what we desire. Even if we are clear and respectively assertive, there is no assurance that we will get what we want, however, statistically our chances are much improved. Are we asking for what we want in a manner that is likely to get us what we want? Sometimes we may tell the other what we "don't want", but not tell them what we do want. I know this sounds absurd, however, I have seen this actually happen with couples, and suspect that it is probably not all that uncommon. Sometimes we just scream and yell and attack the other personally, and never even deal with the issue of what we need. We all want to be cared for and nurtured. For many of us, when we were children our parents didn't ask us what we wanted. In my life, my mother might have asked on occasion, what kind of cake I would like her to bake, or what suit I wanted for Easter, but from my memory, (however reliable that is?) what I wanted was often not much of a priority. When I was a child it was common to hear the phrase, "children should be seen and not heard". Of course families are very different with regards to parenting and the way with which children are treated. As we become adults the desire to be cared for and considered is often very important for us, and there can be much emotional intensity regarding this issue, unfortunately, we may develop emotional reactivity, in addition to developing unrealistic expectations that ultimately ensure that we don't get what we need. Ester Perel asks the question, "Are we asking for what we want in a way that insures that we won't get it"? I have repeatedly watched partners in couples or marriage counseling, telling their partner what they wanted in a way that would insure that they would never get it!! When we don't know what the other needs we are in a difficult position. When our partner is demanding or demeaning we may even resist giving them what they want. Sometimes we are left just not knowing what they want. This may be much like at Christmas, some holiday, or birthday, where we are left trying to give something that is meaningful, but we don't really have the information we need. When we do give the gift we may have gotten lucky, or we may see a disappointed look on our loved ones face. You might be thinking as you read this, how infantile it would be not to tell the other what you want in a clear and respectful way. Another thing that might sound silly, and yet how often is it that our behavior in intimate relationships is less than adult. Sometimes to tell someone what we really want may leave us vulnerable. This may occur in more sensitive areas such as love making, or when it comes to touch or romantic contact. We carry with us the hurts, disappointments, upsetting emotions, unhealthy communication patterns, and unfinished business from our past. We bring them into our intimate relationships, and so does our partner. Two complicated human beings trying to make life simple. Not only do we carry the baggage from our past, but we also have a "role' that we carry with us. To mention Ester Perel again. "We become a character in our partner's story, and they become a character in ours, and neither of us auditioned for the parts. So, what is it that you really want?
Asking and Giving in Intimate Relationships
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