Does it seem like no matter how much you communicate your needs, your spouse just isn’t very loving?
Every second of every day, there is some relationship being damaged or lost by well intentioned people. They are sincerely trying to make their relationship closer but the way they are going about it is actually causing distance. They can learn better ways, and you can, too.
The definition of needy behavior is doing what you think will help your relationship, but actually harms it. Like telling your spouse what you don’t like (also called criticism) and pointing out how your spouse’s thinking is wrong (also called arguing).
Common and false teaching about relationships, which is prevalent in the media, is responsible for much of these needy beliefs. We also learn to have needy behaviors from our families when we are children. Sometimes people spend months or years in therapy discovering these false beliefs and how they learned them. A much faster way is to get a book on overcoming neediness and go through a list of needy behaviors to see if you have any.
Today, let me teach you a common needy way people are trying to get more love from their spouses and some healthy ways that work.
The needy way to try to get more love
Don’t let the word needy bother you. Needy simply refers to ineffective. Most people are needy to some extent. Highly effective people have very little to no neediness and have gotten there by learning skills. You can become better at relationships by learning skills also.
The needy ways to get more love include criticizing and complaining. Ironically, many people learn to do this from therapists. Not all therapists teach people to do this, but most do. They have been trained to believe that understanding promotes relationships. In my experience in my years of counseling as a clinical psychologist, understanding only helps when their is misunderstanding to begin with.
Most people’s problems are not a result of misunderstanding. They are due to differences in desires, values, and beliefs. Helping your spouse to understand your value for more loving expression does not change your spouse’s desire. The best you can do with this communication and understanding approach is to get a place of compromise, negotiation, or agreeing to disagree. These reduce conflict, but do not build relationships.
Furthermore, the process of trying to get your spouse to understand will usually not work well outside of a therapist’s office, when no third person is present to keep things from going on a tangent.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by criticism:
You: I don’t like it when you spend all your free time on your phone.
You might like your spouse to respond to that by saying, Thank you for telling me that. I am going to spend less time on the phone and more time with you.
The fact is however, whenever we tell someone we don’t like something about them, it creates a defensive response which is more like this:
You: I don’t like it when you spend all your free time on your phone.
Spouse: I don’t spend all my free time on my phone. Can’t you see how much I do around here? I don’t see you doing anything better.
Even if you say, I need you to spend more time with me and less time on your phone, you will get the same kind of defensive response.
And, even if you simply say, I need you to spend more time with me, most spouses will become defensive or give excuses.
If you say it loudly enough or long enough, you may get your spouse to temporarily do what you want. It is because you have made it a job for your spouse that the improvements in behavior will be temporary.
Some spouses will feel guilty rather than defensive. These spouses are in the minority. Even with these spouses, criticizing or complaining will only create a temporary change in behavior. Guilt is a poor motivator of long term change. Instead, people relieve their guilt by justifying their reasons for doing the undesired thing.
In identifying needy behaviors, you need to look for behaviors that don’t work at all, and behaviors that only work temporarily. It is behaviors which work temporarily that keep up from looking for ways that work better.
Getting more love
To get love, we must first give love. This means that we need to be loving before the other person is. Many people do not get love because they are demanding it when they should be giving it.
There are two common objections people have to this idea:
- They don’t feel it is fair to give love to a spouse who is not loving them, and
- They are afraid of being more hurt and rejected if they are loving.
To the first objection, I would simply ask Do you want fairness or do you want love? There is very little fair about love. God loves us first, even when we were still rejecting him. Jesus died on a cross and was punished for our sins.
People who have children in order to love them make much better parents than those who have children so they will be loved by someone. The same is true for marriage. People who marry in order to have someone to love have much better relationships than people who marry in order to have someone to love them. Wedding vows are all about loving the other person and not about getting love from the other person. Two people both striving to get their needs met by their partner are going to have a contentious marriage. Two people striving to love each other will have a long and happy marriage.
God told us to love others. The more you can do that, the happier you will be, even if you are rejected much of the time. Loving gives us a more satisfying mindset than striving for love. In addition, we will actually get more love from others than we will by striving for love.
People who value fairness and being right, spend their relationship time arguing, complaining, and criticizing. They win nothing and lose everything.
To the second objection of being rejected if we love our spouses more, I have two things to say. One is that we always have the possibility of rejection in relationships. But, if we don’t try, then we guarantee being alone. Also, we will get much less rejection if we take small risks rather than big ones.
Being very affectionate and loving with a distant spouse will just get you more rejection. Working to simply be relaxed and friendly with your spouse will be less risky and bring better results. Then, you can take another step and another.
Relationships, old or new, are best built in small steps that we help the other person to enjoy.
The first step to getting more love
The first step to getting more love is working to present yourself as relaxed every time you interact with your spouse. This is the first step to making new relationships as well. If you are appearing upset even part of the time, it will make your spouse guarded all of the time.
If you have problems being relaxed, then get help with this as you won’t make progress with step two until you can do this step. Relaxing is a skill. I do it every time I meet with a client. Most people can do it at work. If you do, then you can do it with your spouse, too.
The second step to getting more love
The second step is to be consistently friendly. That just means treating your spouse like a same sex friend.
If you don’t get friendliness back from your spouse, don’t complain about it. Just keep being relaxed and friendly without doing any needy behaviors. Your spouse will eventually start to be friendly back. The more distant your relationship, the more time it will take for your spouse to be friendly back.
These first two steps of being relaxed and friendly each and every time, without doing any needy behaviors is the basis for building all relationships.
Continuing to build your relationship.
From the point of consistently having friendly interactions, you can develop common interests, and focus on agreeing and empathizing. Don’t try to talk about problems. You will set the relationship back if you do. Just keep building. You can use boundaries later, if necessary, when your relationship is stronger.
Imagine someone was pursuing your spouse. What would he or she do to have success in that pursuit? Focus on being like that person once you have built your relationship to the friend point. Likely you will work on being attractive, giving compliments, showing appreciation, and even admiring your spouse. You will be your spouse’s number one fan.
To this point, the relationship may feel rather one sided. Now, you can start to develop more desire in your spouse for you. The number one rule is: Be sure not to interact too much with your spouse.
People don’t desire what they have in abundance.
This may seem like a game to you, but it is simply a social skill. Talking to people too much, calling them too much, hanging out with them too much, and so forth will dull their feeling for you and make them want to get distance from you.
If you can use the relationship building steps and keep your spouse desiring more interaction with you, your spouse will be much more loving toward you.
Your spouse will pursue you and treat you much better.
Notice the way to get to this point has nothing to do with expressing your needs or getting your spouse to understand anything.
This is what relationship coaching is about
With the coaching approach, relationships are strengthened the same way they would be if you were single. You behave in an attractive way, you connect in an enjoyable way, and you keep desire strong by having good boundaries and taking your spouse off the throne.
If you need to learn how to be more desirable, how to validate, or how to have boundaries, you can work with a relationship coach. In one month of coaching, you will often learn more than you would even if you saw a counselor for years. If you would like to work with me to use a no conflict approach to build or rebuild your relationship, I invite you to take a look at my one month coaching packages. We will use your sessions to build skills rather than just talk about things.