Needs, it seems, are an important ingredient in any healthy relationship. I’ve been listening to Esther Perel’s podcast: Where Should We Begin? and in almost every couple’s counselling session she records, needs come up.
“I’ve never been any good at identifying my needs,” I tell my therapist in a recent session. “In fact, from an early age, I’ve tried to make sure I don’t have any.”
“This is a characteristic of parentification*. The child gives up their needs in order to care for the parent(s).” (* Click on link to read more about parentification.)
“Perel alludes to that in one of her episodes.”
When it comes to identifying my needs, I draw a blank. “I’m not even sure how to define a need,” I confess.
“Well, one need you have is for people to see your awesomeness and not your sickness.”
Her suggestion silences me. I think about my family, my husband, my friends. It is true that I feel like my illness is a barrier between myself and others. Hard to believe otherwise, when the symptoms are so up front. Disability has rendered me dependent, taken away so much of what I used to be, made me useless. When was the last time I felt whole in the presence of another?
“We attended a wedding this past weekend,” I say, processing aloud; ” and I had a lot of anxiety about being around other people. I was really irritated and quite short with my husband. While we were getting dressed, I asked that he help me decide on an outfit. He gave me the usual dismissive response – Wear what you feel most comfortable in – but I wouldn’t accept it. I told him: I want to wear something that will make you feel proud to be with me! I guess that is expressing a need?”
“Yes. It is.”
“It’s just so uncomfortable asking for what I want.”
“But it is something you are going to have to do as you move forward. Maybe start writing these things down. What do need from your husband to feel good about yourself?”
Feeling good about myself, we discuss, equates to looking after myself, and setting healthy boundaries: something I’ve been struggling with lately.
I tell my husband about our conversation and add that I feel as if he only sees me as my illness.
“That’s not true!” he quips, and then dives into a diatribe about how he suffers when I do too much and crash, which only deepens my original sentiment.
The thing is that I don’t know what I need from him. We’ve been locked into the same old dance for so long that it’s comfortable, yet; I know it’s not healthy, and I’m certain it is robbing us of a potential deepening of our relationship.
I’ve invited my husband to listen to Perel with me. Maybe it will be a starting point.
For my own part, I think I’m going to revisit the work of Harriet Lerner: The Dance of Connection. I have enjoyed her work in the past, and can use a refresher.
Appears I have more work to do.
What needs do you have from a partner? I’d love to hear about them.
Writer, avid reader, former educator, and proud grandmother, currently experiencing life through the lens of ME/CFS. Words are, and always have been, a lifeline. Some of the best adventures, I'm discovering, take place in the imagination.