Women, Be Specific About Your Needs


For some reasons, these five words, “Be specific about your needs,” are really difficult for many women.  Too often, women are vague in expressing their emotional needs to a man.  They make him guess what they need and then feel hurt or angry if he doesn’t guess right.

“Henry Higgins got it backwards,” complains Deborah, referring to the My Fair Lady character. He asks why can’t a woman be more like a man, but the more important question is why can’t a man be more like a woman?”

“You got that right!  You’d think men would understand by now what we need,” responds her friend Kathlyn.

Deborah and Kathlyn are having their routine Last-Tuesday-of-the-Month lunch date. Over Caesar and spinach salads, they are having a variation of the same discussion they’ve had many times before.

“Just last night,” Deborah goes on, “I was so low, my chin must have dragged on the floor. All I wanted was for Phillip to put his arms around me or just tell me he loved me.  He didn’t seem to even notice.  I got furious and told him, for the thousandth time, I need him to be there for me when I’m down like this.  Then he got pissed, saying he would have been there if I had told him I wanted to talk to him.  I was so miserable; he should have known I needed to talk.”  She sighed to Kathlyn, “This was not the first time we’ve had this conversation.  Won’t he ever learn?”

“Men just don’t get it. They must all go to the same School for Upsetting Women.”  They chuckled and groaned, “Men,” and then finished their salads.

Have you been expressing your emotional needs but the man in your life just doesn’t get it?  Before you groan, “Men!” make sure you have been specific, clear, and direct. “Be there for me,” or even, “be more affectionate,” are too nebulous.  When he doesn’t meet your needs, it may be that he ignored you, or was angry at you, or he just brushed you off.  Or, he, like Phillip, may have thought he was doing what you wanted.

Phillip felt he was there for Deborah.  He just wasn’t there in the way she wanted.  But she didn’t tell him what she wanted. As she later realized, she had wanted a hug and had wanted him to say he loved her. But, “Be there for me,” doesn’t convey these needs.

Even when you are clear, you may not get your needs met.  But, as Deborah discovered, that does not mean the situation is hopeless.

The next month, over their turkey and chicken salad sandwiches, Deborah reports to Kathlyn, “I had a brainstorm two weeks ago. Phillip and I were having a quiet evening together, and I gave him a piece of paper that said, ‘I love you.  You are special to me.’  I asked him if the next time I’m sad, would he give this to me.  He chuckled, told me I was silly, but took the paper.

“A few days later my chin was again on the floor; my boss is so unfair. I was slamming around in the kitchen making dinner.  I started to get angry at Phillip for not noticing and not reaching out to me.  Then I remembered that paper. Phillip was reading in the living room; I said, ‘Now’s a good time to give me that paper.’  I disregarded my annoyance when he asked what paper.  I reminded him, and he went to retrieve it.”

“Didn’t you resent having to remind him?  If you have to tell him what you want, how do you know he wants to do it?  He could have been getting the paper just to please you.”  Kathlyn piles on the complaints.  “Why didn’t he think about the paper, himself?”

“Yup, to everything you say. But, at the moment, since I wanted something from him, and I knew Phillip wouldn’t think of it himself, I needed to make sure it happened.”

“Well, what did happen?”

“He disappeared for a few minutes and came back with the paper, but – and this is how I know he wasn’t just doing it because he had to – he had added a big red heart around the words I had written.  I was so touched.”

This was a win-win situation. Deborah was specific and got what she wanted. Phillip was able to be helpful and feel appreciated.

Do you, like Kathlyn, question the value of telling a man what you want him to say or do because then he’s only doing it to please you or because he has to?  If so, think about this:  If you show a man a short cut from your home to the grocery store, does he take it because he has to or because he now has new information and decides he wants to use it?

To celebrate her brainstorm, Deborah suggests she and Katherine get dessert, something they rarely do. “You know, even if he got the paper and handed it to me, just to please me, so what.  At least I got something nice from him, and we had a good laugh.  My chin was no longer on the floor.”

And, maybe in time, Phillip will think of getting the paper – or saying his own words – on his own, without Deborah having to remind him.

Make a resolution that you will be specific, then create your own brainstorms.  That’s the best way to make sure of getting your needs met.

If you have questions or comments or want more information, contact me at:

Dr. Karen Gail Lewis

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