We all have relationships that fade over time, where someone is more invested than the other. Or times when we begin to want more out of an existing relationship. One of the greatest opportunities to deepen a relationship is sharing how much the relationship means to you and the gap in the relationship you’ve observed.Transforming the relationship with my dad
A few years ago I was having a conversation with my girlfriend at the time about my relationship with my dad. She asked me what the relationship was like, how close I was with him, and how satisfied I was the relationship. Her questioning took me aback a little, but it also helped me unearth some latent feelings that had been stirring inside me for years.
I wasn’t satisfied with the relationship between me my dad. He had always been supportive and given great feedback on life decisions, but we weren’t really friends. She encouraged me to talk with my dad about improving the relationship.
I still remember that phone call to my dad - it was not an easy thing to express that I wanted greater depth to our relationship. We talked about how as I’ve matured, my needs in our relationship had become more emotional than temporal. That as I’ve grown older, I need a friend and confidant more than someone to feed and clothe me. During that conversation I remember him sharing his perspective - how this was a new concept for him. That he certainly didn’t expect friendship from his parents (my grandparents) but that he was willing to try. This conversation had my heart racing, I was nervous to express my insecurity in the relationship. Nervous how these kind of feelings would be received.
As he accepted the invitation for both of us to have a different relationship, I was absolutely relieved. In that moment my expression of need for a change made me feel incredibly vulnerable and alive, while his acceptance of the invitation was liberating.
Even if he had declined my request, or if our relationship had not improved (which it has), that statement of need was necessary. I have had other instances with friends or in love where my needs are not stated. Instead I go around with resentment that my friend or loved one is not reading my mind.
I’ve had to learn not to expect people to be mind readers, and instead to share my needs and where I’m coming from. Equally as important is appreciating the needs of others.Realizing I could also be better
I had another experience with relationship building, this time with a friend who I was neglecting. In college, I had a roommate named Troy. He was a good dude, someone I quickly became good friends with. After graduation, we both moved out of state, him to Colorado, me to the Philippines. Despite distance, we remained in contact through job changes, relationship changes, and life crises. The relationship remained meaningful. But about a year and a half ago there was a lull. I didn’t return phone calls quickly. Text messages went unanswered.
To me we were both established in distant cities and a consistent relationship didn’t make sense as much as it had before. Casual contact was the new order of the day. But then I received a text message from him:
Wow! My first reaction was that he was being way too sensitive. I’m busy. We live in different states (I had since moved from the Philippines back to Utah). Expectations needed to be lowered. If he couldn’t set realistic expectations, I wasn’t sure our relationship could continue.
But then it hit me. He was being vulnerable. He yearned for a more meaningful relationship the same way I had yearned for one with my dad. It must have taken so much courage to share what our friendship meant to him.
Just the awareness that I wasn’t meeting his needs as a friend began to drive change. We have since continued our chats and stayed mostly updated on each other’s lives. He recently visited Utah and we were able to catch up and I met his then-girlfriend. Troy and his now-fiancé are getting married and I have booked a flight to be there for the wedding.
His expression of need caused a total shift in our relationship, a willingness on my part to sacrifice time and money to be there for him. We don’t talk daily, and maintaining the relationship hasn’t taken significant effort. But it has remained meaningful.
Take action: Share your needs
Many of us have constant frustrations with a relationship that isn’t meeting our expectations. For me it relieved a huge burden when I confronted the issue and shared my desire for a better relationship with my dad.
Can you think of a one-sided relationship in your life right now? One where you feel like you need more than you’re getting? Or maybe you’re the one doing the neglecting? Sometimes these relationships need to be retired, but if it’s important to you to improve the relationship I wholeheartedly encourage you to reach out to that person and express your feelings. Do not feel guilty for having needs in a relationship. Sharing these needs will be difficult, but I wish I could share with you the feeling of liberation I felt after each of these two conversations.
Life’s too short to let the ones we love slip away just because we’re scared to express our emotional needs. Give yourself a time frame, maybe the next 3 days, or next week. Work out in your mind what you’re going to say, and then say it! I promise you won’t regret it. I know I didn’t.
About Oliver Johnston
Stuck between an introvert and extrovert, Oliver Johnston does a lot of thinking about human connection. Much of this is around how to form truly meaningful relationships in a social media-filled world. Oliver is most likely to be found in one-on-one conversation or musing at gratbook.com/blog and https://www.instagram.com/gratbook/
This post by Oliver Johnston originally appeared on his blog, http://gratbook.com/blog It has been posted here with permission.