We start out as a married couple, hopefully, with a lot of love and a great deal of goodwill. We want to adore and cherish our spouse, and we are most likely approaching married life with a good dose of idealism and expectancy. We almost certainly believe strongly in the person we chose to marry and believe that he or she will make you very happy.
But no amount of hope and idealism will do away with the daily grind of life. If our spouse does things or does not do things that continually grate on us, we will find our goodwill diminishing. The small but regular frustrations and irritations will begin to take a toll on our happiness and ability to love.
For example, you may need him to be more helpful around the house, and he needs to be asked “a thousand times” and, even then, he “conveniently forgets,” this is likely to wind you up. Or if you need her to allow you to unwind when returning home from work, but she is immediately on your case the second you step through the door, this will probably rub you up the wrong way. Some people have a deep-seated need for order and cleanliness, and other people have a profound need for some adventure in their lives. If the other party will not make an effort to keep the house tidy or to make time for fun activities, frustrations will grow and eventually boil over. These are small matters, and in the grand scheme of things are not particularly important. However, when consistently neglected, they rise to become a serious bone of contention.
Although we are constantly told that in marriage each party should focus on what they need to give, in reality, we need to have our needs met in order to be able to give. If our spouse keeps disappointing us and we often feel let down by them, this will discourage and demotivate us. If this goes on for a long time, it may result in us becoming disillusioned in the marriage. Perhaps we do not consciously enter a marriage in order to have our needs met, but the marriage can sour in our eyes if we feel they are going significantly unmet. Here are three points to consider if you do not feel your needs are being met in your marriage:
Does It Really Matter?
This may not be the question you were hoping to hear, but we need to begin with this moment of reflection. If nothing else, marriage is a daily reminder that the world does not revolve around us and our wishes. For marriage to work, we need to accept that certain things will not “go our way.” Of course, during dating we aim to “secure a deal” whereby we get as much of what we want while giving up as little as possible in the process. But we need to recognize the reality that, in the end, unless we marry our identical twin there will remain significant differences – and that we shall have to live with them.
While it is reasonable to want to marry someone with as small a gap as possible, it is not entirely avoidable. And if your luck is to have married someone with a set of difference that are greater than you prefer, understand that it is only a matter of degree. No one is exempt from living with those divergences. Now, sometimes those differences touch on issues we feel very strongly about or affect us deeply, in which case please see the following sections. But sometimes, we would be best letting go and accepting our spouse as they are.
I understand the irritation that despite you reminding him endlessly to put his used clothes in the laundry basket, they still end up on the floor – but it may be easier to just accept that “it is one of those things.” I appreciate how frustrating it is when your wife regularly forgets to put the car keys on the hook, and then you have to search the house for them when you are running late to work. Having said that, it may be easier to “bake that into the cake” and accept that you need to leave a couple of minutes extra in case the keys are not where they are supposed to.
As I am in the process of annoying you, let me ask you an even more disagreeable questions: Is it that he is so inconsiderate, or is it you who is so demanding? Is it that she does not care about your needs, or is it you who cannot accept your husband for being different? No one is suggesting this is so in your case. It is highly possible that being too unbending has nothing to do with the discontent. But, is it so unreasonable to even bring up the possibility that the discontent stems from your own unique requirements? If there is even a small amount of truth to this, you can examine how to deal with your difficulty accommodating your spouses’ different way of living and being.
For example, some people have great sensitivity to noise. When there are loud sounds in the house, they cannot concentrate on what they are doing. Also, when people shout or have their phone on speaker, they find this highly irritating. The vast majority of people who do not suffer from this problem cannot comprehend how this moderate noise could be the cause of so much upset. That is because they have no idea how much stress it induces in someone with this issue. All sympathy is due to someone with this condition and it is absolutely right that member of the household should keep the tones down to be considerate. Having said that, it is not appropriate that such people should tyrannize everyone in their family. It is, ultimately, his or her issue.
Are You Asking Correctly?
Another way to approach the issue of getting your needs me is to ask yourself honestly whether you are seeking to have your needs met in the right way. No doubt, you are clear to your spouse about what they are, but would you get better results pursuing the fulfilment of your needs more effectively? This is not the place for a full exposition of communication skills. There are many excellent books and courses that provide valuable insight and guidance. But here are a few examples of how communication style can be effective.
Please understand that people are incredibly different, so what works for one may not work for another. A professional advisor may be able to suggest an approach that best suits the individuals involved, but, in the end, it will come down to trial and error. In addition, even if the right approach, results will most likely not come instantly. Patience and persistence are needed to slowly change the communication style.
Ensure you are being Reasonable
When we ask for our needs to be met, we need to understand how it may come across to another person. It may feel controlling or demanding? The person receiving the request may (rightly or wrongly) process it as criticism or judgementalism. If this is (perhaps quite literally) the hundredths time you are asking, it may be like harassment. Even if the reason for you constantly making that demand is because your spouse repeatedly fails to heed your previous requests, that does not mean he or she is in a state of optimal readiness to hear your current wish-statement.
Showing understanding and reasonableness may be more effective. For example, you can consider whether the reason certain things are not getting done is because (perhaps only in their imagination) they are overloaded? You can offer, “Can you take somethings off their plate, so you can take care of xyz?”
A Goal is a Dream with a Date on It
Some people mean to get things done, but are extremely poor at making them happen in reality. There is an extensive science of goals that shows how setting a specific goal along with a clear timeline for achieving each step on the way is highly motivational and greatly increases the chances of accomplishing the goal. The simple fact that the person has explicitly stated that they will do such-and-such and specifying a plan of action is often sufficient to move the task from the reflection part of the brain to the execution part of the brain. This greatly increases the likelihood of it actually happening.
So, rather that make demands (“Can you organize the garage, please? It is an impossible mess. I have been waiting weeks to have this done”), it may be more effective to ask a question such as, “What needs to happen with the garage?” He will almost certainly acknowledge that it needs sorting. You can then ask him, “By when it can be done?” He may well give an acceptable timeline (say, “by the weekend”). You then follow up with, “So, what can you manage each day, so that it can be done by then?” This may take a little persistence, but hopefully, he will be willing to “work with you” to agree a schedule.
Try “Compassionate Communication”
Nonviolent (or compassionate) Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg is an approach for people to communicate about their needs in a non-confrontational manner, by focusing on identifying and expressing their own and other people’s needs. Rosenberg believes that most conflict arises from miscommunication about their true human needs, which are often masked in demands or judgmental language.
It encourages an empathetic approach that engages participants in communication to clarify their needs, their feelings, their perceptions, and their requests, and seek the same of others. Doing so enables the discovery of strategies that allow each party’s needs to be met. It is a four-step approach for people to express their needs in objective, neutral terms, using factual observations:
- Making the neutral observation: “You were home late on Monday and Wednesday this week.
- Expressing the feeling without any justification or interpretation: “I feel quite worried when you are later than normal.
- Expressing needs: “and I have a real need to know that you are safe.
- Making a clear, feasible request: “Would it be possible for you to text or phone me, just to say you’ll be home at 9 or 10?”
As noted, there are many strategies and tools to improve communication. Given the importance of a good marriage, it is worth investing the time and effort to learn about and try different skills. The three examples mentioned above are intended merely to illustrate the diverse approaches that may be considered.
However, it is possible that problem is not that easy to solve. It could be that either spouse has underlying psychological reasons why they are resistant to reasonable behavior. This could be for a whole range of reasons that there is no need to go into here. If you best efforts are not delivering any improvement, or if the situation is getting out of hand, then you should seriously consider working with a competent professional.