Communication can be challenging in any relationship and especially in one that is unhealthy. The fear of starting a fight, being rejected or ignored, or having your partner refuse to support you can feel unbearable. Whether the relationship has some type of abuse or addiction present or there has been past betrayal or abuse, speaking your own opinion or bringing up personal needs or wants can cause significant anxiety. You may have had one or many challenging experiences in the past with bringing up your needs, leaving you to want to bottle up any requests, leaving you feeling hopeless about any future attempts at communication. Or you may feel forced to live in what seems to be an unfair lie without the opportunity to share your truth of what you need.
So,how can you navigate speaking your truth when you feel suppressed and the consequences seem so high?
1) The first thing to do when you find yourself in a situation where you want to speak your truth is to discover what your underlying need is. When we have an underlying need that is not being met there will be different levels of chaos in our daily lives. For example, our sleep may suffer or we may lose motivation for self-care. One underlying need we all have is the need for connection, but if your need for connection is not being met, certain situations in your life may feel more intense. Seeing a happy couple walking down the street could either royally piss you off, making you feel jealous of their happiness, or it could make you feel sad, crippling you with the emotional pain and sadness for what you do not have.
Another underlying need we have is the need to feel accepted. When we bring up our needs to our partner and they reject us, we feel hurt and unimportant to them while validating the false belief: “I’m not worth it (or them)." The need to feel accepted by your partner is a significant component of being able to speak your truth with them. By finding out which of your specific underlying need(s) you feel is/are not being met you will be able to be more clear when you speak your needs to your partner.
2) After discovering which underlying need is not being met, the next thing to do is discover what exactly is going to fulfill that need and asking for what you need in a loving way. For example, if your need for connection is not being met, you may express your need by saying to your partner, “I’ve noticed we’ve both been pretty busy lately and haven’t had much time for each other. Let’s go for a walk together or plan a date night this Friday.” It is important to avoid blaming, accusing, or attacking your partner with "You" statements and focusing on "I statements" related to what you need.
3) Another important factor to consider when speaking your truth is making sure both you and your partner are in a good place to be open and receptive to each other. If your partner comes home late from work and you say in an accusatory way: “You never make time for me!” they will likely not know what your need is and will be unable to hear you. However, if you say, “I missed you today. I would love for us to spend some time together” your partner is likely to hear your request and support you in fulfilling your need. The first example is speaking from a place of anger and frustration while the second example is speaking from the heart and a place of love.
Being mindful of your tone of voice and checking in with yourself to make sure you are speaking from a place of love rather than a place of anger will help your partner be more receptive to you. Also, make sure your partner is in a good place to be receptive. Check in with them to see how their day was if they tend to come home feeling stressed out. If they are completely fried from a long day of work, give them some space to unwind. Or if they are really into a movie they’re watching, wait until the movie is over or ask them if they are in a space to pause it in order to talk. Remember, you want your partner to be in a good place so that they can be receptive AND you can feel heard as you speak your truth.
4) The last thing to do when speaking your truth is to maintain strong boundaries. If your underlying need is to feel safe, be mindful to hold your boundaries of speaking what you need. Avoid having your needs be negotiated or waffling on asking for what you need. For example, if you’re having a heated argument with your partner and they start yelling at you, it is ok to call a time out, take some time to cool off, then come back and say “When I am being yelled at, I feel unsafe." If it is to the point where you need to leave it is ok to say, "If you continue yelling at me, I will leave or you will need to leave.” Your partner might retaliate by continuing to yell or even attempt to justify why they are yelling at you. It is important to remain calm and to maintain your boundary of safety.
Speaking your truth from your heart and from a place of love will always feel better to you in the end. Regardless of how your partner responds to you when you speak your truth, you will feel more at peace with the fact that you spoke from your heart and continued to stay strong in voicing your needs.
Key points to remember:
- Discover what underlying need is not being met and specifically what will meet that need.
- Make sure you are speaking from a place of love rather than a place of anger.
- Make sure your partner is in a place to receive what you’re saying.
- Maintain your boundaries as you speak your truth.
Enjoy the journey dear ones,
Annie Jacobs,LACMHC, EMDR Trained
Namasté Trauma and Addictions Specialist