The first time contempt showed up in my marriage it was quiet, condescending, and it came from me.
I’d made plans with my friends and was calling my husband to wish him a good day when he asked, “When will I hear from you?”
That one question rattled every independent bone in my body.
What did he mean “When would I hear from you?” He was hearing from me now. I was going to be with my friends later. That was the whole point of me calling!
I wasn’t expecting to talk to him again until the following day.
“What do you mean we’re not talking until tomorrow?” he asked. “I thought since we aren’t seeing each other later, we’d be talking tonight.”
And that’s when I said it. “Really?”
I simply did not understand his notion of checking in, keeping in touch, or staying emotionally connected while apart. I was single for years before meeting him. I wasn’t used to staying in touch with someone and I didn’t see that as a reflection of how I felt about him.
I could be in love with him and still not need to talk to him multiple times per day.
However, that wasn’t his style. He needed to connect regularly.
Our core needs are not negotiable
Successful relationships come down to basic questions about our core needs:
- What do I need in a relationship in order to feel loved, happy, fulfilled, and secure?
- What do you need in a relationship to feel the same?
- Are you willing to meet my needs in this relationship?
- Am I willing to meet yours?
If our partners are unwilling to meet our needs, the relationship cannot thrive. If we are unwilling to meet our partner’s needs, the outcome remains the same.
It didn’t matter whether or not my husband’s need for regular connection challenged my sense of independence. It didn’t matter whether or not I believed it to be a worthwhile need. It only mattered whether or not I was willing to give him what he needed.
If his needs challenged my own, if I couldn’t give him what he needed, or if I simply didn’t want to give him what he needed, I needed to take the door.
I loved him more than I cared about having to check in.
At the end of the day, I loved him more than I was challenged by regular connection. I was willing to meet his need in order for our relationship to succeed.
How our needs get met is negotiable
When I met my husband and we were first working this stuff out, I was working a crazy job with crazy hours. I couldn’t guarantee much in terms of regular or consist contact. However, I was able to say:
I love you. You are important to me. I understand you hate feeling like my busy schedule keeps me from thinking of you. I don’t want you to feel that way. I am going to keep in touch and I need you to understand there’s no way I can promise when, for how long, or how often I’ll be able to do so.
Here is the recipe for success:
- Communicate that you understand your partner’s need and why it’s important to them
- Reiterate why tending to this is important to you
- Be clear on your own boundaries and limits in meeting the need
- Communicate what your partner can expect from you going forward
- Check back with your partner that they understand your limits and are ok with them
This is taken from the Gottman-Rapoport Conflict Blueprint for managing conflict in committed relationships.
Lasting relationships require flexibility
Working together to meet each other’s needs is a dance that can create a meaningful and lasting relationship.
Successful relationships require a solid friendship, so it helps in the beginning when needs can be met consistently to build trust and security between partners.
While my job is lower key now and less demanding in many ways than when my husband and I first confronted this issue, I still need me time away from my partner.
Communication is crucial:
Babe, I know you like keeping in touch. I am having a “just get in my car and drive” kind of day. I need to clear my head and unplug from everything and everyone. I am heading out for a while but I will call once my head is clear and let you know when I’ll be back. Sound good?
The key here is to take your partner’s needs into account while expressing yours.
If you don’t communicate this, you run the risk of your partner thinking that you stopped caring, that their needs are only a priority when it’s convenient for you, or some other unintended message.
Sometimes, your needs will conflict with one another and you’re going to have to talk about it, negotiate it, and come to a compromise together.
Relationships thrive when needs are met and falter when they’re not. That fact, quite simply, is non-negotiable.