Communicating Your Needs Shouldn't Only Happen In Romantic Relationships - Here's Why

Asking for what you need is one of the most important things you can do in a relationship. It gives the other person a roadmap for how to care for you, which can bring you closer and mitigate misunderstandings.

However, romance isn't the only place where this applies. Other relationships in your life suffer when you keep mum about what you really want. And, chances are, those relationships could use a boost. According to the Survey Center on American Life, American adults reported having fewer friends in 2021 than adults in 1990. In fact, 12% claimed to have no close friends at all (a share that's quadrupled over the last 30 years). Moreover, the majority reported that they didn't seek emotional support or share a personal problem with any friend during the past week. Family relationships, too, have taken a hit. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Psychology and Behavioral Science found that a whopping 44% of people have become estranged from a family member.

Could it be possible that taking a page from the lovers' playbook and communicating your needs with friends and family is the key to strengthening those relationships, too?

Needs are pivotal to all relationships

Communicating your needs might not save a distant friendship, and it probably can't undo a major rift between you and a loved one, but it's still essential to nurture your relationships. In an article for Well+Good, licensed psychotherapist Minaa B. argues that people are often taught to voice their needs in romantic partnerships but not in platonic or familial relationships. Yet, as she writes, "In order to build a healthy relationship, we have to be willing to be vulnerable enough to communicate and express ourselves so that the people we are in relationships with—both partners and friends—can learn to understand us and, in turn, to support us in the ways we need to be supported."

This likely resonates if you've ever been hurt by a family member or had a falling out with a friend (which — let's be real — is all of us). For example, you may have a parent who offers advice whenever you share a problem you're going through. If your need is to be heard and offered empathy, their advice may rub you the wrong way. But if you never communicate this, they likely won't realize their misstep, and you'll be left feeling frustrated. Or, if your friend has a habit of canceling plans and you never explain how their actions hurt you, you might distance yourself until the friendship eventually dies out — or begrudgingly continue hanging out with them when they're available.

How to start asking for what you need

To start speaking up about what you need in your relationships, you must first identify those needs. Not everyone wants the same things from their friendships or family ties, and, with that said, there are no "correct" and "incorrect" needs. If you're not sure where to begin, think of the times you felt frustrated, hurt, or unsatisfied in a relationship — most likely, those feelings came from an unmet need.

Then, try gently sharing your need using "I" statements (for example, "I need a listening ear. I'm not looking for advice right now" or "I'd really like help planning our next girls' night out"). Specifying a few ways your friend or loved one could meet your need can also help, especially if they're unsure how to respond.

If you're not used to communicating your needs, it may feel awkward at first. "It can feel scary as it feels like a significant departure from your usual way of avoiding authentic communication," Sally Baker, a licensed and accredited therapist, told HuffPost. Her advice: "Start small. You don't have to launch into massive disclosure about how you feel. Instead, try to include an emotional element in your conversations so that you get used to expressing your feelings in different ways."