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The Power of Asking

Issue 31

Strategies for Creating a Healthy Relationship

Co-dependent relationships are often misrepresented as “sick” or “unhealthy.” This can be very confusing for couples who are working on their co-dependency issues in therapy or as agreed-upon goals with each other. The reality is that all relationships are codependent on some level because we are humans with needs. The trick is to find balance and not be dependent on any one person for our happiness – which we all know is an inside job.

People sometimes feel unable to make requests of their partners, believing their requests may be “too much.” Perhaps they came to believe it wasn’t safe to ask, or they are trying to cope with poor self-esteem and chronic anxiety.

The key to expressing one’s needs is to agree as a couple on how to do this successfully. This takes time and sometimes requires a therapist to help with setting boundaries and learning communication skills. Experimenting with asking for what one needs and how each partner can respond is a healthy exercise that can bring the couple much closer together. Continuing to review how these requests are working, is an opportunity to grow as a couple.

Healthy requests may look like this:

  • Asking for clarity about commitment to the relationship.
  • Wanting to schedule time together.
  • Setting up daily or weekly “check-ins” to catch up and feel reconnection.
  • Requesting your partner let you know when they are leaving the house and an estimated return time as an act of kindness and respect.

Some strategies for expressing one’s needs are:

  • Explore the way you make requests. Does it include shaming or blaming? Always use “I” statements.
  • Ask yourself if you are “hinting” at what you need or expecting your partner to “read your mind.”
  • Set healthy boundaries to not allow behavior that doesn’t work for you.
  • Listen to each other’s needs without interruption and repeat back what they told you for clarification and questions.

The nature of all relationships includes a level of codependency. We expect to have some of our needs met by the other, along with meeting some of our partner’s needs. When the couple trusts each other, making requests becomes easier. If you are having trouble with making or receiving requests, it is worth exploring your own barriers and consider therapy. The bottom line is you are never wrong for asking.

Elaine Shamos
Elaine Shamos
Elaine Shamos, MPH, has 30 years experience as a public health professional and is the former director of Dartmouth’s Women’s Health Resource Center. Glenn Simpson, LCSW, CADC, has a private practice specializing in substance use disorder, and couples therapy. They are working together on a book for couples in recovery.

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