How to Ask for What You Need in Relationships

A simple question to ask yourself and others

Beth Bruno
3 min readApr 8

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Photo by Juri Gianfrancesco on Unsplash

How often have you been upset about something and you needed someone to just give you a big hug? Or maybe you just want someone to listen as you process, grieve, or vent.

But then your partner/parent/friend jumps in with their own way of dealing with your upset and it just sets you off even more, because their way is not what you needed at all. This is where being really clear about what you need can go a long way toward helping you get what you need and strengthen your relationships at the same time.

In the Well newsletter, a subscription newsletter by the NY Times, an article by Jancee Dunn gives an easy way to combat this disconnect between what you need and what you get. When someone you love is upset, instead of assuming you know what they need, ask them this question: “Do you want to be helped, heard, or hugged?”

This is a great question to add to our relationship toolkit. It is also a great question to ask ourselves before we approach someone and expect them to show up for us in the way we need them to.

Have you ever wanted to talk about something to someone, and they are so busy telling you how to fix things that they don’t really listen? This can be the fallback position of a lot of people. In my experience, my husband is a fixer and he wants to make things better as quickly as possible. If all I want him to do is listen, and really hear me, his advice and fixes are not all that helpful and can agitate me even more. This isn’t a character flaw on his part. It is the way he thinks. But if I can go to him with a clear understanding of what I need, and ask him for that, he is more likely to bring more presence to what I have to say and really hear me.

If we can first assess what it is we are asking for, we are more likely to have our need met. If I can say to my husband, “I need a really big hug, right now” he never fails to oblige. But if I don’t ask for it, he has no idea that’s what I need. And if I say, “All I need you to do is listen” he does his best to lay off the advice.

At the same time, as a mother, there have been many times when I went into problem-solving mode with my kids when what they really needed…

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Beth Bruno

Human learning to be human. Writing in hopes of getting there.