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how to ask for help
January 26, 2014 5:39 AM   Subscribe

I've been dating a guy since the summer. I need help with asking for things I need in the relationship.

We've been dating since the summer and he is one of the sweetest men I have ever met. Every time I get up the nerve to talk to him about something, he is always SO kind to me. Which means I've already told him a lot of stuff that I normally don't share with other people, just because he feels so safe. But we've only been together for 6 months, and that's apparently not enough to completely overcome my lifelong habits of keeping things to myself and suffering in silence and trying not to have any needs at all.

I am trying to learn how to communicate better with him about what I need, because being with him makes me want to do better. My solution at the moment is to write him emails about things that are too difficult for me to just say in person. Every time I've done this, he has written me back quickly and kindly. Then I go over to his place and he gives me a big hug (if I'm ready for a big hug) and we talk about whatever it is. During those conversations, he says things to me like, "You can always tell me if you're upset about something." I understand all of the words in that sentence, but emotionally it doesn't make any sense to me, because before I met him, people mostly just got angry with me for being upset about things.

I've gotten to the point where I've even talked to him about how hard it is for me to ask him for things--even tiny things--and he has reassured me that it is okay to ask. But here is my problem: I need to ask for some of those things in person and in the moment in order to feel cared for. Some of it's sex stuff ("Hey, could you do this to me?"or "Could we do it like this instead of like that?"). Some of it's everyday stuff ("Could I have a hug?" or "Could I talk to you about something for a minute?"). But even with his reassurances, every time I try and say something like that to him, I get so scared (of what, I'm not even sure) and frozen that I can't make myself open my mouth.

I know I probably need to cowboy up and go to therapy in order to work on the underlying issues, but in the meantime: do you have any tricks or words of advice that will help me open my mouth and talk to him in these situations?
posted by swamp rocket to Human Relations (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
...because before I met him, people mostly just got angry with me for being upset about things.

Wait, there's a difference between asking for things, and being "upset" about things. Part of the deal, when you're asking for things, is that the other person has the option of refusing. Can other people feel safe saying no to you? What do you do when someone else refuses you something you've asked for?
posted by jon1270 at 6:01 AM on January 26 [9 favorites]


Despite all the weight we place on verbal communication, the fact is that sometimes writing things down really does give us the space to work on expressing ourselves with less pressure or tension - as you've discovered. So in one sense, you are opening your mouth, and the 'trick' is that you're using written communication rather than verbal.

So you can try to carry your writing with you, literally or figuratively. Write out what you would say, and then instead of emailing it, rehearse telling him. That might mean being especially concise if you're used to writing a lot, but sometimes what writing really gives us is the ability to work through our emotions (ie, it is therapy) and leaves us with the specific words we were really searching for ("I want you to do *this* for me every so often"). Instead of just trying to find the words on the spot, you're reciting the words you've used a dozen times before, just in front of him instead of in private.

Over time, you may find that you can skip the actual physical writing part and jump straight to rehearsing/thinking about the words you want to use to ask for these things. I'm a generally confident person, but I still often take a moment before seeing someone to get my thoughts in order and rehearse the words I'll use to ask for something that's important to me - and, yes, that sometimes includes "little" things like asking my partner for a small favor to help make a stressful day get better; after all, what's important to us is important, whether it's small or large for someone else.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:08 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I'm not a terribly expressive person. My once-boyfriend (now spouse) got around this by the obvious-in-retrospect strategy of regularly and persistently asking about my feelings. I wonder if a similar method might work for you? Specifically, can you make a compact with your boyfriend that *he* will ask *you* what you need, at somewhat regular intervals? That way he takes on the awkwardness of starting the conversation.
posted by yarntheory at 6:56 AM on January 26


Ask him what he needs once in a while. Being on the other side of the equation can be good practice in "this is no big deal."

Rehearsal, as suggested, might feel silly but you should try it.

You are allowed to make your wishes known. This is how romantic partners become closer.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:07 AM on January 26


Just a clarification: I guess I mush "being upset" and "asking for things" together because sometimes he accidentally does something that upsets or bothers me, so I have to get up the nerve to talk to him and ask him (for example) "Could you not tease me about subject x? I know you don't mean to, but it hurts my feelings because of..."
posted by swamp rocket at 7:22 AM on January 26


Shorthand. In a calm moment, explain that your past experience has taught you that asking to have your needs met feels dangerous. Tell him that you appreciate his consistent and kind responses. Explain that you don't want your lingering discomfort -- which has nothing to do with him! -- to cloud your actions or perspectives on this current relationship. And then agree upon a rarely-used word to use as a signal that you are having difficulty articulating your needs so that he has a heads up, so that he can help you feel safer, and so that you are clear about differentiating the past from the present.

"Whack-Bat, honey" (or whatever word or phrase you choose) can convey a lot of information to both of you and give you both a moment to adjust to an emotional undercurrent.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:05 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


In the area of sexual requests, you might find that having you guide him in pleasing you is such a huge turn on for him that you'll be kicking yourself for not asking sooner.
posted by dinger at 9:34 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with dinger; I was a complete novice (OK, I was a virgin) when I started dating Mr. Adams and any type of sexual talk embarrassed me. However, we sort of developed "code" words for bodily parts and some procedures in those early days that now seem like second nature. When we were first getting to know one another in that way, he didn't mind a bit if I suggested something, or guided him a certain way; quite the contrary, it excited him when he pleasured me. So just take a chance the next time you're together with Boyfriend and ask him/suggest to him what you'd like. He probably won't mind a bit and will be happy to know what types of things pleasure/excite you so that he can explore those a bit and find variations on a theme that make you tingle even more.

As talking about upsetting things, well, that's what a sweet and nice boyfriend is for. You can talk to him about things that have made you almost want to cry that other folks would respond with "Oh, grow up!" or some other dismissive comment. I feel for you, I was never one to open up to anyone for fear of their reaction...but Mr. Adams was sweet and compassionate (as your boyfriend sounds) and as time went on I learned that he sincerely wanted to hear about anything that bothered me. It was very difficult to say some things out loud at first, but having a listener who was doing nothing but hugging me and reassuring me helped to relax me over time. Your boyfriend has indicated that he's more than willing to listen to you, so that's a major plus. Find out what works best for you...if it's hard to make eye contact while articulating your feelings, maybe tell him in advance. "This is kinda hard for me to talk about, so please bear with me..." and then look down at your feet while you tell him. Once you've blurted out the trouble and you actually experience him hearing you out equably and without judgment (as opposed to the reactions you've gotten from folks you've opened up to in the past) it will get easier to be more natural and relaxed with him. Best of luck to you!
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:53 AM on January 26


Unfortunately, the only way I see around this is to be okay with him leaving you, be okay with him getting mad at you, and be okay with him saying no.

You're probably thinking that sounds impossible, but I don't think it is. I think it just requires acknowledging that you're the most important person in your life and that your needs and complaints are valid.

It's not unrealistic to expect him to react negatively to complaints or neediness. Unfortunately, as you already know, many people do.

I kind of feel like you're asking, how do I get everything I want without him getting mad at me? Without him leaving me?

I don't know that you can. I would feel bad telling you that, giving you that advice, because I don't know that you can. I DO know that staying silent and unhappy because you're afraid of someone leaving you is no way to live. It's misery and it makes you hate yourself even more after a while.

Do it for yourself. Decide that you matter and your needs are important. I mean, yes, maybe don't share every little thing with him- I personally would cut down a lot on "someone else was mean to me" or "I just feel down today" type of things because I know they can make someone get exasperated with you if you do them often enough and long enough, and I'm not even sure that's wrong- trivial things probably don't always need to be shared. You decide where the line is.

However, things he is doing that hurt or annoy you, these things definitely need to be shared no matter how he reacts, because you fundamentally matter.
posted by quincunx at 11:09 AM on January 26 [7 favorites]


I should clarify: By "be okay with" I don't mean, like, embrace wholeheartedly. I just mean, be prepared for the possibility.

Because that's what you're afraid of, no? You're trying to negotiate the boundary at which he will be like the other people who have let you down before. You're trying to figure out, can I ask him and tell him everything? Nothing? Some things but not others?

In general, my answer to that is almost always "some things but not others." Most people do not have an unlimited tolerance for you needing help/being depressed/criticizing them. Most people are not total jerks who will ignore every request, either, though. Most people are reasonably in-between. I would pick your battles.

The sex thing is definitely a battle you need to pick sooner rather than later, IMO.
posted by quincunx at 11:19 AM on January 26 [1 favorite]


When Anger Scares You: How to Overcome Your Fear of Conflict and Express Your Anger in Healthy Ways
posted by jaguar at 11:48 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


It seems like you've taken some great first steps in using writing to help you communicate. I think the next step might be the things you call "little things" where there is little chance for rejection (and certainly not rejection that matters much?), and then work your way up to the bigger things. Try asking for a hug. Pretty sure you'll get one. The next time, asking for a hug won't be so hard. Work your way up!
posted by freezer cake at 2:24 PM on January 27


Thank you, everyone, very much for all of your answers. You've given me a lot to think about.
posted by swamp rocket at 7:33 AM on January 28


Update: I did it! I talked to him about the sex stuff (which was the stuff I needed to talk to him about the most). All of your advice finally gave me the courage to just do it. And he was sweet and kind and totally delighted with me for being brave enough to ask him in person. And the conversation was surprisingly short and un-dramatic, because as soon as I'd managed to stutter out what I would like to do, he smiled at me happily and said, "Yeah, we can do that."

Anyway, thanks very much for your help.
posted by swamp rocket at 2:04 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


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