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Meeting Your Partner’s Needs Fills in Your Missing Puzzle Pieces

In the heat of marriage conflict, you may find it difficult to imagine that energy leading anywhere constructive.

We’ve talked about turtles and hailstorms, stretching, and how to create a safe space. Now let’s go beneath these symbols and exercises to see the benefits of the work.

What do we really gain from improving our marriage? It actually helps us grow into our fullest, most mature adult selves.

How? By tending to the children we once were.

A New Perspective

This kind of partnership bases its foundation on awareness. It takes a three-prong approach:

  • Awareness of your childhood wounds
  • Awareness of your partner’s childhood wounds
  • Sensitivity to the “space in between” you and your partner (something we’ll define further)

As you pay attention to these areas, you may start to notice something. Your partner’s emotional sore spots show you exactly where you need to grow — and vice versa. It’s a map to wholeness, perfectly tailored by your mutual imperfections.

For example, let’s look at a husband and wife struggling to communicate. The husband grew up in a family that rewarded stoicism. He tends to numb his needs. On the other hand, the wife was raised in an atmosphere of bombastic expressivity. She learned to constantly spice up conversation with opinions and questions.

Now, they could write off this struggle as “opposites attract… then start to annoy each other later.” There’s some truth to that, but it’s not very productive. A better option is to take time for an honest conversation.

Your Needs, My Needs

We often cloak our partner in an image of who we assume they are. We think we already know them.

The truth is, we change all the time. The biggest favor we can do for our partner is to uncloud our judgments and ask “What do you really need from me?”

In the above example, the wife might ask the husband to meet her need for emotional intimacy. She doesn’t want to pressure him, but she does want to know what’s inside his head and heart.

The stoic husband might realize that he needs a little more space in conversations in order to reach his remote feelings step-by-step. He might ask his wife to listen rather than try to stir up responses.

As they make concerted efforts to meet each other, they notice changes within themselves. She learns the difference between when she actually wants to talk versus when she’s talking for other people’s sake. And he learns to tune into his inner capacity for feeling.

And then the common wound rises into view: acceptance. Neither of them felt accepted for who they were by their caretakers — talking or not talking, expressive or silent. By practicing acceptance now, they become each other’s healers.

When you and your partner have these honest conversations about your needs, it can take a surprising amount of energy. This is where the “space in between” enters the picture.

This Is Not Magic, This Is Space

But what does the “in-between” even mean?

Give yourself permission for a moment to imagine: you and your partner walk through life on either side of a garden bed. When you throw a genuine compliment on the soil, it blooms warmth and affection. Conversely, acidic criticism, shame, and blame make the soil arid. Over time, you can return to harvest this garden. If it’s well-tended, it gives your relationship life.

Even if you’re not much for metaphors, you get the idea. You know when your connection feels tense and heavy or buoyant and light. And you can learn what actions contribute to either feeling.

If you and your partner want to transform conflict into healing, commit to cultivating this space first and foremost. It will sustain you both along the way.


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Copyright @2020 Dana Cole, LMFT