11 Tips to Help You Communicate Your Needs in Relationships

Do you get frustrated when your partner can’t anticipate what you want? Do you seethe when your boss assigns more work than you can adequately manage? Do you feel overwhelmed when a friend asks if you can help them with a task?

If so, you might need support identifying and setting healthy boundaries in your relationship. This work starts with healthy communication.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with this skill. Instead of expressing themselves honestly, they might resort to engaging in unhealthy tactics like yelling, criticizing, giving the silent treatment, or making passive-aggressive requests. Other times, they suppress their needs altogether, hoping the other person will read their mind.

Learning how to communicate your needs in a relationship is essential for maintaining a strong connection with others. It also helps you feel empowered and fulfilled. Here are some tips to consider trying.

Identity The Narratives You Have Been Telling Yourself

Nobody ever cares about my needs. He doesn’t ever listen to what I have to say. I feel stupid for having this problem, so I’m not going to tell anyone. 

You may unknowingly carry these assumptions with you, but they’re often rooted in faulty evidence or anecdotal past experiences. For example, maybe a previous boss didn’t respect your work-life balance, so you believe your current boss will act the same way. Or, your mother didn’t call you when she said she would, so you dismiss her as being too busy for you.

These narratives are often distorted, and it’s important to try to challenge them. You can do this by asking yourself:

  • When have exceptions existed?
  • What evidence do I have that confirms this is absolutely true?
  • What evidence do I still need?
  • What would I tell a good friend going through this situation?
  • What other alternatives could exist right now?

Challenging automatic assumptions opens your mind and encourages you to release all-or-nothing thoughts and avoid jumping to negative conclusions.

Affirm Yourself

Before you start communicating your needs to others, you may need to validate why this skill is so important. Otherwise, variables like low self-esteem, self-doubt, or fear of hurting others, may stop you altogether.

Some helpful affirmations include:

  • I deserve to express my needs to others.
  • I have a right to ask for support.
  • People who love me want to help me.
  • I value open communication in relationships.
  • I respect people who are honest about their needs.

It can be helpful to remind yourself of these statements before, during, and after having these upfront conversations with others.

Own Your Feelings

It’s tempting to project our feelings and insecurities onto other people. You always hurt me. You don’t care about what I need. You aren’t paying attention. Even if these statements feel factual, attacking other people doesn’t solve the problem. It just makes everyone more defensive.

Instead, try to shift into accepting ownership over your feelings. For example, I felt hurt when you started reading emails as I was talking. I felt what I had to say didn’t matter. I got scared and assumed you didn’t want to pay attention to me. 

Of course, the other person can still argue with what you’re saying. But they can’t take away how you feel.

Identify Your Non-Negotiables

What are the “hills you will die on?” In other words, what dealbreakers are so important to you that you won’t back down at all costs? And, do the people in your life know this boundary? Have you made it as explicit as possible?

We’re all entitled to our serious, indisputable needs. And these needs may vary from context to context, relationship to relationship.

For example, you may have a hard rule about infidelity. If a partner cheats on you, you will end the relationship. Or, you might have a strict limit about alcohol in your home. In that sense, you prohibit others from drinking while on your property.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that hundreds of dealbreakers often make relationships feel rigid and unsafe. You don’t want to be so inflexible that others feel like they can’t have their needs, too.

Acknowledge When You’re Hoping Someone Reads Your Mind

Have you ever become frustrated at your spouse for not giving you a gift, even after you insisted you didn’t want anything for your birthday? Or, have you ever felt annoyed with your young child forgetting to take out the trash even though you never told them it was their obligation?

Many of us expect our loved ones to know our needs without us having to tell them. Sometimes, we’re even guilty of outwardly expressing wanting one thing when we’re secretly hoping the other happens (such as in the birthday gift example). Other times, we’ll drop hints, hoping that the other person can interpret our subtle clues.

But hoping that someone can read your mind can wreak havoc on your relationship. For one, it’s an unreasonable expectation. Even if someone knows you well, they can’t always intuit what you feel or want in a given moment. Likewise, it isn’t fair to hope that someone will accurately guess your intentions. When this happens, they often feel like they’re bound to disappoint you.

Stay Calm When You Communicate Your Needs

It’s important to remain calm and even-keeled when you communicate your needs. Maintaining a neutral tone signifies a sense of maturity. That will likely reduce the possibility of defensiveness.

If you or the other person starts becoming heated, consider taking a break. Even just a few minutes apart allows you to cool down and collect your thoughts.

Be Objective

If you are trying to express a specific need or boundary, using objective facts can help. For example, at work, you might tell your chatty coworker, I have twenty minutes to discuss this project, and then I am going into another meeting. If your child wants to play, you could say, I will play dolls with you right after I finish loading the dishwasher.

These straightforward answers offer clear guidance to others. There is no beating around the bush or trying to make people guess your needs. They also hold you accountable for honoring your commitments.

Express Gratitude

It’s important to share our appreciation in our relationships. Even if it’s a basic part of healthy relationships to respect each other’s needs, that doesn’t mean you can’t thank your partner, friend, or boss for listening to you. This validation reinforces that you care about them and value the relationship you share.

Gratitude doesn’t need to be over-the-top to be effective. Simply telling someone, Thank you for listening to me. I really appreciate it can go a long way.

Embrace Compromise (When Appropriate)

Just like you should know your non-negotiable boundaries, you should also know which boundaries feel more fluid or flexible. Let’s say you need to run errands this weekend. You need to grocery shop, go to the car wash, and purchase a gift at the mall.

If your partner wants to join you, it’s definitely worth discussing how to organize the day. After telling them what you need to do, they ask if you can get lunch together. From there, you might both agree that you’ll go to the car wash and grab the gift. Then, you’ll eat lunch and head out to the grocery store.

Consider When You Can Meet Your Own Needs

Humans are social creatures, so we’re wired to depend on relationships for survival. That said, it’s also important to recognize when you can take care of some of your needs yourself.

For example, if you struggle with self-doubt, it probably isn’t practical to always expect your partner to compliment you. There comes a time when you need to do that for yourself!

Likewise, you must embrace your own autonomy and take individual risks. Depending on other people for happiness, validation, and approval often feels like a losing battle. But if you feel comfortable in your own skin- and you can affirm yourself- you can freely give and receive connection with others.

Reevaluate Toxic Relationships

It’s a painful reality, but some people just won’t respect your needs. A one-time offense may not be an inherent issue (especially if they can acknowledge their wrongdoing), but it’s time for deeper reflection if it’s a repeated pattern. You probably know who those people are- it’s just a matter of doing something proactive about it.

Remember that you deserve to be around people who care about your well-being. If someone constantly challenges, dismisses, or outright violates your boundaries, that’s a serious red flag. You may need to reduce your communication or cut contact altogether.

Final Thoughts

And even if you know how to communicate your needs, putting them into practice is a different story! So be patient with yourself, and try to acknowledge small steps in the right direction.

Some mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and trauma can pose challenges with communication. However, therapy can teach you valuable communication skills and help you recognize various barriers impacting how you interact with others. Contact me today to get started!

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.