How many times have you felt like your partner just doesn’t get it?
Maybe they leave the cap off the toothpaste, clothes on the floor, and dishes in the sink.
Perhaps it goes deeper than that. Maybe you feel like your partner dismisses you, doesn’t listen, or gets in the same old circular arguments over and over again.
How do you get what you really want out of relationships? How do you get better at communicating with your partner about what you really want?
Sometimes we aren’t sure what we want from our partner. We may only know what we DON’T want them to do.
I know sometimes Bob is on the computer and I’ll feel frustrated because I want to discuss something with him. Then I realize I’m not telling him what I want, and I look at what’s going on underneath the frustration. What I want is to be listened to. I want to know I matter.
At the Wright Foundation, we talk a lot about yearnings. Our yearnings are our spiritual hunger, our deepest desires, and the longing of our hearts. Yearnings are universal. Every single human being on the planet yearns.
The problem is, many of us have learned to disregard our yearnings. We’re not even sure what we truly want. So instead, we mis-want. We may think we want our partner to “do their dishes!” But what we yearn for is to be respected, to live in a home that’s secure, not chaotic, to feel acknowledged and heard.
So how do you figure out what you really want? Follow your feelings. Your emotions help guide you toward what you value. To convey our yearnings to our partner, we must first figure out what the heck we actually yearn for.
Any time we’re dissatisfied, annoyed or angry, it’s because our yearnings are unmet. Our unhappiness and crankiness let us know those yearnings are tugging at us. These are critically essential clues to our satisfaction.
We may not know what we yearn for and we may think it’s that we want him to pick up his socks. But what is it about socks on the floor that bothers you? That’s the clue to what’s going on underneath. If he leaves those socks on the floor after you’ve asked him to pick them up, you likely yearn to be heard and listened to.
When our yearnings are met, we experience satisfaction and fulfillment. This is deeper satiety than merely scratching an itch, feeding a craving, or engaging in a soft addiction (like watching TV, eating junk food, or shopping).
Neuroscientists found two brain circuits associated with our wants and yearnings, or what they refer to as our “excitatory centers” and our “satisfactory centers.” Wanting or excitatory feelings are related to stimulation and excitement, wanting is fulfilled by dopamine chemicals in our brain. Satiety isn’t built-in. We continue to crave more.
Our satisfactory feelings are fulfilled only by meeting our yearnings. Opioid chemicals fuel this center in our brain. When our yearnings are met, the satisfaction centers in our brain are activated, and we feel authentic, warm, satisfied fulfillment.
If we want to feel fulfilled, we need to get in touch with our feelings and emotions that underscore our yearnings. Our feelings act as our internal GPS. They guide us toward the activities and interactions to meet our yearnings, and away from the people, thoughts, and situations, that don’t.
When we don’t get what we want, we may experience fear or anger. When we get what we yearn for, we’re flooded with feelings of joy. Fear, hurt, sadness, and anger may all indicate an obstacle between us and our yearning. Our emotions give us clues and cues about those yearnings inside our hearts. As we identify our yearnings, we learn about them and act on them to get more of what we want.
Once we realize yearnings are universal longings of the human heart, experienced by all human beings, we see how important they are. Our awareness of our yearnings determines our degree of satisfaction and fulfillment.
When our yearnings are denied or ignored, we may become anxious, distracted, sad, and unfulfilled. We may feel as though we’re not living the life we truly desire. Our yearnings are vital. They lead us toward the pursuit of beauty, love, hope, contribution to the world, and a sense of the divine.
We haven’t learned how to see them, feel them, or act on them appropriately. Many of us are conditioned to ignore our yearnings. We may even believe they’re an imposition or an embarrassment.
We must retrain ourselves to follow our urges—the impulses of our yearnings—in the moment. When we get the urge to call a friend, go for a walk outside, create something new, or talk to a stranger, the urge is fueled by our yearnings. We’re feeling the drive of our yearning to connect, to love, to be one with nature, to create, and to be seen. Without fulfilling our yearnings, we won’t feel satisfied or complete.
So, when we feel frustrated with our partner, is it because we actually want the clothes off the floor, the toilet seat down, or the dishes done? No, it’s because we’re longing for what those actions represent to us.
However, it’s not our partner’s job to meet our yearnings. It’s our job to get our yearnings met. If I yearn to connect with Bob, it’s not his job to know what I feel at the moment. I can ask him for the connection. I can let him know what I need. I initiate the conversation and take responsibility for it. Hopefully, your partner will be there for you and engage with you when you start articulating your yearnings.
As we discuss in The Heart of the Fight, at the core of positive engagement is being there. Marital researcher, Sue Johnson identified three keys to creative engagement: being accessible, responsive, and emotionally engaged.
Even if you answer no to the questions above, articulating your yearnings and telling your partner what you really want, is the place to begin better engagement.
Now, sometimes, we may wish our partner was a mind reader. We might even hope they’ll pick up on our silent cues—the side-eye, the exasperated sighs, the little comments we mutter under our breath.
Chances are, they DO notice these little acts of passive aggression, or what we like to call the hidden middle finger. The problem with these acts is they’re not a direct way of having our yearnings met. In fact, they become obstacles to our communication.
These little hidden middle fingers build up. They cause resentment and frustration. They erode our communication and breakdown the trust in our relationship. You see, when you say, “everything’s fine,” even when it’s not, you’re sending your partner a message you don’t speak the truth. This leads to a precarious balance in your relationship.
On the other hand, when we explore the underlying yearnings of our wants, we drill down to the important stuff. We get to the heart of what we really desire from our partner. We can then communicate it to them in more direct terms and clear requests.
Just this week, I had a day where I was feeling very fried. I hadn’t been feeling very well, and I’m behind on a million things. There was a line of people waiting to talk to me about all that needed to get done. I was talking with Bob and told him I felt overwhelmed and yearned to feel secure. I asked him to do just that, and he was able to hold me for a moment, relaxing me and offering more security. In my mind, I was scared because I had so much to do. I really wanted to know I was okay. I directly asked him to provide confirmation, and he was more than willing.
Intimacy comes from clear communication between partners. It comes from expressing your yearnings, trusting your partner to hear and acknowledge those yearnings, and reciprocating. We built a stronger connection and bond when we’re engaged in satisfying and fulfilling communication with our partners.
For more ways to strengthen your relationships, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where we’ll discuss ways to engage and communicate with your loved ones. We’re also proud to announce that many of our great courses for download on our website at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about living a life you love.
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.