“By letting our deep longing for love and connectedness be exposed…[we are] opening up the channel through which love can enter.” ~John Welwood
When we feel disconnected from our romantic partner what we often want most is to genuinely feel their love again, to feel connected. And yet, it can be so difficult to simply share that longing.
So instead of explaining or asking for what we want in a loving way, we complain about what is wrong, about how our partner isn't showing up for us. Or we simply withdraw.
This is especially true for sensitive souls like me, who are a bit hard up on assertiveness.
I was the girl once painfully called a “sheep” by the boy I had a crush on because I would follow my friends into social situations where they talked and laughed with the cute boys, but I could only sit smiling and mute at their side. There was just so much at risk in speaking, and my thoughts came slower when I was feeling nervous, which was often.
Somewhere along the line, I ended up resorting unconsciously to using the tactic of complaining in an attempt to get the affection I wanted. No wonder my first marriage fizzled!
About two years into my current relationship, which had been going wonderfully, I started to notice that I was generating negative interactions more and more frequently.
My voice would get a little whiny when I wanted to do something with him. Or I would accuse him of not paying enough attention to me, or of spending too much time working. Sometimes tears would be the only outward sign that I was feeling disconnected.
This tactic of trying to get what we want through accusation or complaint is very normal for many of us. Because if we straight out say what we long for we are exposing our heart. We are showing our vulnerability. And that can be very uncomfortable.
This is doubly true for those of us like me who tend to be very sensitive and driven by feeling. We often feel shame about what is seen as abnormal emotionality. We prefer to appear as the culture expects us to be: strong and steady, certainly not needy!
But because of our conscientious and caring nature, we tend to value and cherish deep connection above much else. This makes revealing our tender vulnerable heart in intimate relationship especially unnerving, as it seems so much is at stake.
We prefer to stay safely guarded behind our complaint. It is easier to focus on what our partner isn't giving us. If we never share what we want outright, they could never reject us. Right?
Wrong. What we often get in response is distance. Which feels to many of us remarkably like rejection.
Ironically, it is the very act of showing our heart in this naked way that has the power to create that deep intimacy we long for. Scary as it may be.
I will put simply what years of reading relationship books never made clear for me, but trial and error (lots of it!) have:
If your subtle hints or outright complaints aren’t working, you need to ask for what you want. With your voice. When you frame your request positively, with no hint of complaint or disrespect, it will blow your mind how effective it is!
Here are some easy ways to make sharing your desire to connect a positive experience for both you and your partner:
1. Discover what you desire.
When you are tempted to accuse, complain, or withdraw in a sense of anticipated rejection, take it as a sign to discover what you actually desire.
This might require some deep listening—to yourself! Luckily that is a skill that sensitive people are innately good at—we are naturally attuned to what our hearts are asking of us. So use that to your advantage. Ask yourself, “What do l really want? How do I long to connect?”
There are so many ways to feel a sense of loving connection with our partner. We may desire different types of intimacy at different moments, so the answer may be different every time. And it will be unique to you. Not everyone feels most connected when snuggling, like I do.
Some of us feel most close when we simply share time together engaging in activity like cooking a meal, dining out, playing a card game, hiking a mountain, etc. For some of us, receiving a gift or some words of appreciating is powerfully connecting. Having long meaningful conversations is another way I feel very close to my partner.
So take the time to discover your most pure longing for that moment. Perhaps you actually just want time to connect with yourself. But if it is a longing for intimacy with your partner, prepare to present it.
2. Do not deny or condemn your longing to connect.
Remind yourself that this longing is simply human. Trust that your desire to feel loved and loving is benevolent. In fact, it is essential for our mental, emotional, and physical health to have affectionate touch and loving attention.
Did you know that having a loving and supportive long-term relationship predicts longevity more than not being a smoker or not being obese? It's also the single biggest predictor of overall life happiness. This is especially so for those of us with the tendency toward sensitivity.
Reassuring yourself of all this helps tremendously when you are amping up your courage.
3. Make it easier to ask.
If there is fear, notice it is simple energy in the form of sensations in the body. Melt it with breath by taking a few deep belly breaths. Sense your hands or feet, the softness of your lips. Wiggle them all a little. This will help ease fear's grip. Then ask for what you want using a positive, confident as possible, non-demanding tone.
Keep in mind that most partners feel wonderful when they can please their loved ones, especially when they are being respected. So asking in the following ways can be a gift to him, as well as yourself.
Eliminating the word “you” and simply stating what you want often inspires in your partner a desire to rise up and please you. For example, “I would love to be held right now”.
Yet, sometimes it can be too frightening to say those words, so make it easier for yourself and say, “I miss you. Any chance you are up for cozying up together on the couch?” Or, “I would love it if you would hold me.”
You can use the same words if you desire to connect in other less physical ways. For example, “I miss you. Any chance you are up for eating a meal alone together by candlelight after the kids go to bed?” Or, “ I would love to go for a hike together tomorrow.”
Last time I asked my partner in such a way he responded, “I totally want to when you say it like that.”
Find your own most natural way to express your request, with no trace of complaint.
Risk your partner seeing your longing. More likely than not they will find it sexy and captivating. They will be inspired to show up more fully, and effortlessly return the tenderness, and you will be deeply awash in connected intimacy.
4. Understand and honor the Pendulum Principle.
Know that it is totally normal for partners to have different needs for closeness and space in the relationship. Sometimes the timing is off and your bid for closeness may line up with your partner’s need for space.
I call it the Pendulum Principle. Like a pendulum, healthy people (and especially highly sensitive people) swing back and forth between needing independence and togetherness. Go far in the direction of independence and it is time to swing back toward togetherness. This happens for all of us.
For example, there have been times I have asked for connection and my man has been literally falling asleep as I spoke. As tempting as it is to take it personally if they cannot or do not want to connect at that particular moment, please refrain. Speaking from experience, that will only create resentment and distance.
Remind yourself that your sweetie is simply tired, has something else weighing on their mind, or needs some space to do their own thing for a bit. Trust that your brave vulnerability is still having a beautiful affect and your loving request was heard and appreciated. When the time is right for your partner, they will be much more excited to honor it than when it came in the form of a complaint.
5. Prep your partner for the next time the complaint monster shows up.
As the saying goes, old habits die hard. It is likely you will need to keep practicing this new, more positively assertive way of getting your intimacy needs met before it becomes habit.
It can help to have a conversation about how this can be hard for you and how deeply you want to be able to voice your need for intimacy in a positive way. Tell them you'd love their support as you navigate the challenge of changing your habit. Ask them to help you out if they ever notice you closing down or beginning to complain about them not showing up for you.
Your partner will likely be more than happy to help you grow in this way—but you've got to ask!
Ever since I learned how to reveal my deep wish to feel loved in the form of a request, my partner and I have been experiencing richer intimacy that ever. I am letting him see my real exposed self. My vulnerability is magnetic. It allows him to actually feel connected with me, the true tender me, and makes honoring my request a luscious delight.
Once he said, “It is so great when you ask because sometimes I just get caught up in other things and forget how important it is for me to connect like that. Thank you for reminding me of what really matters.”