Why Isn’t My partner Giving Me What I Need?
5 questions to change your mindset
Once we get past the ‘honeymoon’ stage of our relationship, it’s not uncommon for
us to wonder why we don’t feel as fulfilled by our partner.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve most likely been together for at least a year and you
find yourself wondering why your relationship isn’t how you want it to be. You
might find yourself longing for the days when even the mention of their name made
your heart skip a beat.
In a long-term relationship, this feeling might seem like a dark cloud hovering above
you for most of your time together. The resentment slowly bubbles under the
surface or explodes in a heated argument. Gone are the days when our partner was
a vision of perfection who could do wrong; now we are ending the day with
frustration, hurt, anger, or even indifference.
How has this happened?
American author Byron Katie says there are three businesses in life: Your own
business, the business of other’s (e.g. your partner, friends, family) and the business
of the universe.
When you say to your partner “you need to spend more time with the kids”, or wish
that they would eat more healthily, or think about how they don’t clean up after
themselves, you are in their business. According to Katie, being in any business
other than your own will result in stress and misery.
Think about it. Do you have a tendency to complain endlessly to you partner about
the same issue? Our feelings on it may have come across in several ways – asking
them politely, initiating a full-blown argument or giving up and trying a passive
aggressive gesture. More often than not, this repetitive critical behaviour won’t get
you what you want. In fact, it might have made the situation worse.
As American marathoner Amby Burfoot says: “To get to the finish line, you’ll have to
try lots of different paths”.
The key point to know is that the only way to find a new path for growth and change
in your relationship is to work on your own business. Below are five questions,
which, when thought about, will help you move away from the role of ‘victim’ to
become much more empowered – this is the approach I often take in my
relationship therapy sessions.
These questions require self-awareness, a sense a safety and courage to explore, but
will help you to create the relationship you desire.
Change your mindset: Five questions
1. In which area of my life do I not give my partner the same thing that I would
want from them?
A common response to this is “but I do give! This is why I’m frustrated!”
Perhaps you do give it in one area of your life, but you neglect it elsewhere. For
example, if your complaint is that your partner is absent in family life, check in with
yourself to see where you might be absent. Could you be absent in your social life,
with extended family, or even with sex?
Look at it from your partner’s perspective. Think about where they might
experience the same issue in a different aspect of life.
As Gandhi said: “Be the change you wish to see”.
2. What exactly do I want (rather than what don’t I want)?
We are, as human beings, far too focused on the negatives. We think about what we
are not getting, rather than what we have or what we want.
When I ask my clients this question in couples counselling, I often hear what they
don’t want. They don’t want to be criticised, they don’t want to be told what to do,
and they don’t want their partner to be late or to be grumpy. But whatever you’re
focused on – that is what we will grow. Your brain will only register the core words
(those in bold), regardless of what comes before them.
How do you change this? Say what you do want. Be specific with the desired
Instead of “I don’t want you to criticise me in front of the kids”, try “I would like you
to support me near the children and discuss our disagreements privately.” Notice
the difference? Negative words raise defensiveness and positive words raise
3. How does my partner’s specific behaviour serve me?
“It doesn’t!” I hear you cry – but let’s stay curious for a moment. Even the most
annoying of behaviours can, consciously or unconsciously, serve our relationship
agenda. By relationship agenda, I mean the relationship modelling we experienced,
observed and internalised in our childhood (the baggage that we bring with
ourselves is something to be discussed in a separate article!). For this example, I will
say that is one of our parents was the ‘good one’ and one was the ‘bad one’, we
subconsciously will make sure that we are the ‘good one’.
By feeling a victim of your partner’s behaviour and believing you did your part, you
just continue your relationship agenda.
4. What does the relationship need from me?
If we shift from “what do I need from the relationship?” to “what does the
relationship need from me?” we focus on the relationship rather than gratification.
When the relationship feels better, the individuals feel better – and not the other
way around. In other words, when you care enough about your relationship, you as
an individual will benefit the most.
What does your relationship need from you? Is it to show up more, initiate more, be
more present emotionally or physically, or to show up with vulnerability instead of
anger and aggression?
Whatever your defensiveness, attack or avoidance, you activate your partner’s
defensiveness and this means that their brain doesn’t experience you as a safe
partner in that moment. Be honest - does your partner perceive you as a safe
partner? How can you change the situation if not?
How can I make my boundaries clearer?
Perhaps you partner did something to upset you. You might feel that they crossed a
boundary in the way they behaved. Outlining clear boundaries, emotionally or
physically, is important for your wellbeing. Share your thoughts and feelings; talk
with integrity, assertiveness and respect. Model the behaviour you need.
As you can see, all these questions are about dealing with your own business. Do
that, consistently, for three months and you will become aware of your own role for
getting you want from your relationship. The results might surprise you – enjoy the
Remember, if you need further help, you can always reach our to your GP or professional therapists, or join my next relationship workshop for couples.
This article was written by couples therapist and parental advisor Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari. With a doctorate in Psychology, Dr Ben-Ari has worked in the field for over 20 years and runs a private clinic in Hampstead, London. She is also an author, speaker, therapist supervisor and has been the Chair of Imago UK since 2013.