Your Pain & Your Partner’s Personal Growth
You're in pain because there are important ways that you and your partner are not connecting. You find yourself thinking, "If only s/he would see a counselor and do some personal work, then maybe things would change." Thinking in this way you find yourself making little and big suggestions about how your partner could grow and evolve. You suggest books, classes, counselors, spiritual practices, and more. In your mind there are so many ways to learn and grow, and you just can't understand why your partner won't engage them.
It's difficult to face the pain of what's missing in your relationship. Cheerleading someone else's growth can be a distraction from that pain. It keeps your attention on them. It's kind of like having a project. Deep in your heart, however, you know that it doesn't work. You know that your partner's personal growth is none of your business and in a more honest and humble moment you respect the unknown direction of your partner's path.
But if you can't make suggestions about your partner's personal growth, where does that leave you regarding your unmet needs? Hopefully, you turn towards your own experience. You feel the grief of needs unmet. You might notice things you do to contribute to them not being met*. You might take some time to get very clear on exactly what it is that you are longing for.
Let's start with this last bit. It's a vulnerable thing to get really clear about what you want and then put it out there. You might have all sorts of inner arguments that derail your clarity. One part of you dreams of the exact right thing and in the next instant another part of you chimes in with how you should be satisfied with what you have. Afterall, others have it a lot worse than you, this part says. You may need to let these parts of you speak to someone who can respond with empathy for both. Once you can find a grounded center allowing all parts of your experience, you can more easily bring into focus what you are longing for and see it in detail.
Here are a couple of examples of how a longing can be translated into a specific request without you becoming your partner's personal growth director:
Longing: "I long for my partner to know and accept all parts of me. I have stopped sharing parts of who I am because s/he turns away or says it is overwhelming or uncomfortable."
Concrete request: "I dream of a time that I can share any of my experiences with you and you can just hear me and express curiosity by asking a question or two even though it might be completely different from your own experiences. I am wondering if you would be willing to find a way to do that?" Can you tell me what you hearing me say?
Longing: "I long for intimacy and passion. I want to know I am loved and attractive to my partner."
Concrete request: "Remember the time when we were dating before we moved in together and even the first two or three months after we moved in? In my memory, you came towards me with passionate kisses and affectionate touch with an energy and frequency that really gave me this deep sense of knowing I am loved. Just for me and how my system works, for me to thrive in relationship, I need that. Two or Three times a week, I long to experience you coming toward me with the energy and warmth you had during that initial time, this help me connect with a sense of knowing I am loved. Can you tell me what you hearing me say? Is this something you would be willing to find a way to do?"
In both of these examples, each person is putting out there exactly what they are longing for and how it might look. Let's highlight three parts of that. First, the request does not include a description of what the other partner needs to work on so that they can fulfill the request.
Second, there is self-responsibility. With any request, you are being self-responsible by being willing to communicate clearly. However, there is something funny that often happens when specific requests like this are made, a sort of backlash can arise from either person when self-responsibility is doubted. Doubt says sharply something like, "I might fulfill your request but what are you doing to to receive my love?! Maybe it's not my fault you don't know you're loved?!" Of course, it's helpful for your partner to know your process and how you are doing your part to meet your needs in other ways*, but jumping into defending here won't be helpful. Ask your partner if they can stay with the initial request first.
Lastly, each request ends with an attempt to make sure that message sent is the same as message received. Many a tragic relationship endings have occurred because the request was never received as it was intended.
Sharing the longing and the request is only the beginning of the dialogue. Your partner may want to request something of you that would make it easier for them to fulfill the request. Your partner may say no, thus giving you an opportunity to hear the needs they think would be at cost if they said yes to your request. Your partner may say, if you're not happy with things as they are, this relationship is over. This is the scary part, you don't know how your partner will respond and it could be very painful. You may need extra support to find the courage to open the dialogue and face whatever may come. One thing is for sure, if you aren't fully honest, you won't ever know what's possible.
Take a moment now to reflect on any advice you may have given or are thinking of giving your partner on how they might learn and grow. Ask yourself what feelings and needs are alive for you behind this advice giving?
*see this Connection Gem for an understanding on how a nourishment barrier may be present around a particular need: http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/post/721