How to Get Your Emotional Needs Met with Effective Communication

beach couple talk

After my marriage ended, I swore I would never stuff down my emotions and act like everything was OK or remain silent about what I needed from a partner. I was going to be open and communicate effectively.

I had no idea how hard it is to know what you want and articulate it. I had no idea how hard it is to express your feelings without hurting the other person. No wonder I just let things pile up internally in my marriage. No wonder when I finally couldn’t take it anymore I recklessly and ineffectively exploded verbally.

According to Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller, authors of, Attached. The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love, the goals of effective communication are to help choose the right partner and to make sure needs are met in a relationship.

What is effective communication?

Effective communication is expressing your needs and expectations to a partner in a direct and non-accusatory manner. You do this by using inoffensive and non-critical language that doesn’t make your partner feel attacked. Your partner’s well-being is taken into account along with yours.

In Attached, Levine and Heller list the five principles of effective communication as:

  1. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Be vulnerable.
  2. Focus on your needs. Get your needs across while keeping your partner’s well-being in mind.
  3. Be specific.
  4. Don’t blame.
  5. Be assertive and non-apologetic. Your needs are essential for your happiness even if others don’t see them as legitimate.

I would add, 6. Wait until you are calm.

Are you unknowingly critical? 

The most difficult part is not coming across as blaming, attacking or critical. As an INFP/INFJ Myers Briggs personality type, I thought I had tact and diplomacy down to a science. We are the counselors, the listeners, the healers. Aren’t we naturally soothing with our words?

I’ve been informed by past boyfriends, that is not always the case. They felt when I expressed what I needed, I was saying, “This is what you are missing” or “This is what you do wrong.” Their response to my vocalized need for more relax time, fewer interruptions or more emotional connecting? Defensiveness. I thought I was doing well by being honest and forthright. I knew from experience that hinting at what I wanted didn’t work. I thought I was sharing knowledge about myself, but they felt it as a list of our incompatibilities. Perhaps my delivery needed work or perhaps they were not secure about themselves or relationships.

How to make your words palatable

I’ve since learned it is imperative to use “I statements” and the words want, need and feel to keep the ownership and onus with me. For example, “I feel disconnected when we don’t have quality time to talk” instead of “When you are so busy we get disconnected.”

It is also important to allay your partner’s fears at the beginning of the discussion. Perhaps sit close to them and hold their hand. Start by stating that your hope is to work through the issue and come out a stronger couple.

Responses to effective communication are telling

Effective communication gives you answers about your relationship either way — negative or positive. It can show the insecurity of a partner or it can deepen your relationship. If a partner takes your concerns seriously and tries to make you feel better, the relationship deepens. If a partner belittles you or makes you feel needy, the relationship suffers. Do they respond with concern for your feelings or do they respond by building their case of facts?

When I expressed my needs in the past, they often turned into arguments that never reached resolution. There was not a mutual effort to work through it. There were only hurt feelings and defensiveness. As I mentioned in Beyond Fun, Sex and Coffee… two key ingredients to a secure masterful relationship are responsiveness and the belief that your partner has good intentions. These were missing in my marriage and unsuccessful relationships. I know I lacked those traits in my marriage.

According to Attached, often insecure people can’t get in touch with what is bothering them. They get overwhelmed with emotions and lash out. That describes me in many ways.

Slowly, through different (failed) relationships and intense self-analysis (of course), I am learning to pause, label my emotions and gather more information before expressing my frustrations, needs and assumptions. I am also learning to spot secure partners who make my concerns their concerns; partners who know and expect effective communication.

How good are you at communicating effectively? How do you know you’ve done it well? Do you have a partner who does not communicate well? 

If you need help communicating effectively with your partner, I’d love to work with you. Please contact me for relationship coaching.



Leave a Reply


  1. Michelle
    January 8, 2017

    I swear, Brenda, sometimes I’m reading one of your posts and, as is almost always the case, I am fully relating to it and feeling the vibe of it but then I’ll read a sentence that is as if you were literally JUST INSIDE MY HEAD! HAHA! It’s almost weird when it happens like, I have to stop for a second…. just pause…. shift my eyes side to side (as if thinking, “hidden camera? hidden mind reader?” LOL)…. and then resume reading. Ha! And it’s not that it’s just similar to a thought I had recently, it’s that it’s nearly word for word, a revelation that I had and frantically wrote in my journal the night before so as not to forget it again, or a detailed conversation I had with myself earlier in the day while trying to sort thru the fall-out from yet another unproductive argument with my husband.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is…. I really appreciate your writing and for sharing what you learn, as you learn it, along your journey. It helps me feel less crazy, less unsure about myself and the things I feel are important enough to ‘fight’ for/about. I think about these things a lot and I try to be aware of my presentation each time I address an issue in my relationship, but oftentimes it doesn’t seem to matter, the outcome is still the same. This helps me remember the importance of considering the view from where my husband stands and realize that it may look and feel completely different than what I’m trying to put forth, but it also lets me know that I’m not completely off-base or just unreasonable. Basically, it’s just damn nice once in a while to feel the relief that comes when you realize you’re not alone in your thoughts. So thanks bunches!!! 🙂 Sincerely, MAK

  2. Morena
    September 17, 2016

    Hi Brenda,

    In my relationship and even in my other relationships (family, friends etc) I’m very direct. I used the “I feel like” because I don’t want to make anyone feel attacked but I’ve come to realize that, no matter how calm and respectful I am when I communicate, people just don’t like me saying anything at all…My ex, said to me ”it doesn’t matter how calm you are, or how your voice is, you are still saying what you are saying”. He didn’t want to deal with my emotions or how I felt about anything, especially when he moved in on me and we didn’t even discuss it. If I had a problem with the way he kept my house or if I needed help with anything, food, a bill being paid, we would argue or I would shut down.

    If I hated his inconsistencies about his tardiness or him just popping up at my place without calling or anything, he would avoid how I felt and over time, without me even realizing it, this caused me to surpress my emotions. He knew I hated arguing so if I needed help with something, I would just take care of it. He wanted me NOT to come to him with how I felt or what I needed. All of his needs were being met but mines weren’t. I realized I was dealing with a mommas boy. Whenever I tell people how I feel or if I ask for time and space and I don’t feel like talking. Others get offended.

    I think before I talk, so I gather my words to make sure, that whatever it is I’m saying comes across effective, but I realized in doing this, people who don’t know how to articulate and express their emotions, get offended no matter what I say. If I say “I feel”, they hear “you make me feel this way” they don’t try to see my side at all or understand it.….then the way I feel they try to make me feel as if I’m wrong for having feelings. Men especially…they don’t respect my way of being. If I have something to say or I don’t like something, they avoid me and it could be the most simple thing.

    They just want to be themselves, which they can but they want to do what they want and not have anyone say anything. Just accept their behavior which is something that I’m not going to do. When I feel I’m being disrespected I shut down. Men hate the fact that I’m opinionated, I’ve even heard I’m “long winded” I’m a very quiet person and calm so its like when I got in depth about something but even when I’m short. It’s like my mind is to much for them to handle.They want a more docile woman and that is something that I am not and never will be.

    • Brenda Knowles
      September 18, 2016

      We so want to be accepted and understood, but it’s so darn hard to explain ourselves without putting the other person on the defensive. Most people are comfortable when no one ruffles feathers. Sometimes you have to ruffle feathers to have progress. It can’t be one sided. There has to be give and take so each person gets their needs met but it’s possible to be good at your partner – know their vulnerabilities and shore them up. It takes work but if you can do that you become invaluable to them. If they do the same for you, wow!! May you find someone to do the hard work with you Morena.:)

  3. jess schula
    September 16, 2016

    As someone who has “avoidant attachment” tendencies, this hits home. It’s not only my responsibility to make my concerns/needs known, but to do so appropriately. Neither of these is fun or “comfortable” but necessary to build and grow your relationship.

    • Brenda Knowles
      September 18, 2016

      Right on!

  4. Michael
    September 16, 2016

    hell. it all sounds nice. a formula. do this, do that, say it this way, not that way. and so on.

    do we REALLY have to be so very precise in how we say something? my god. none of us can do it. it’s almost a joke.

    problem is … the beauty is … the privilege is … we are human.

    i find it interesting — it’s commonly said — how we ‘hurt’ people. of all things, by saying what we need. why is that? why is it that we have to be careful of simply saying this is what i need … and WE are worried about hurting someone?

    why are we responsible for how someone reacts? isn’t it his or her reaction? why do we have to own their feelings?

    i get it. i’ve read a lot of books. i know the language. i know the basic idea. keep it calm. keep it simple. take responsibility, etc.

    all the while, we are fire, and light, and dark. we are explosions, we are the healers, as calm as anyone could be. and … we can only ‘heal’ so much. and then we either withdraw and retreat, or we explode. or we do both!

    what ever has happened to the notion of finding someone who is whole? of being whole ourselves first? before seeking to fill all of our holes through another? forget about finding another person who is whole. BE whole. of course incredibly easy to type the words … incredibly difficult, a lifelong journey, to BE whole.

    whole meaning … yes, i am calm, yes i explode. yes i am confident, yes i am totally dependent on others reactions to me.polarities. we ARE the polarities. and we just keep seeming to want to squash the ‘explosive parts’ … and man, there is a price in doing that.

    i welcome the explosive parts. yes, please, explode once in awhile! let it out, let ‘er rip! be real … above all, be real. oh, but we take it all so personally! and it’s not personal!

    but mostly, in this world, hell, we don’t want real. we want partial. we want nice. calm. thoughtful. stifle those angry impulses, that rage. that wells within all of us. don’t show THAT part … wait ’til you’re calm.

    i know the approach. nothing’s really changed a great deal the past 40 years.we still want to deny, stifle, modify, extinguish our not so gentle parts.

    and we wonder why relationships don’t last … my god, if we can’t be real, why WOULD we want it to last? kill ourselves for the sake of not being lonely? that’s about what so many people do. it’s death. we smell it. we know it. most of us have been there, or are there. maybe so desperate to be with someone, that we compromise, sacrifice, our very essence, to not be alone.

    yes, this is MY ‘dark’ side — a misnomer, because it implies that ‘the dark emotions’ are unhealthy, etc. It means the parts of us in the shadow … we can’t see easily, don’t want to see .. that are where ‘real’ lies, right there for us to explore. if we dare.

    really, i see nothing new in these latest books, in the language. formulas. looking for formulas. the right words. stifle, etc … really? what’s new under the sun in these? nothing. nothing that says … for god’s sake, be real. and find someone who can deal with ALL of you, love ALL of you …

    i want to say ‘sorry Brenda’ … but i’m not. this is where we go with things: we apologize for the entire spectrum of emotions we have, all these parts that we are. we diminish ourselves in the process.

    i’ll take ‘alone’ over that. as you know, as i’ve shared with you, i’ve been there, done that. ain’t no fun. ain’t really living. all of who we are is incredible. exciting. scary. powerful. as Jung said, something like, ‘If you don’t make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life. And you will call it fate.’ and also that ALL of who we are, to go there, seek that, explore that, is perhaps the most terrifying thing of all. is it scary? hell yes it is. is it exciting? you bet. is it living? i think so. the rest pales.


    • Brenda Knowles
      September 18, 2016

      I think part of effectively communicating is saying “This is who I am. This is what I need. I have dark sides and outbursts. I have light sides and love.” I know you hate complicated lingo. I just use it to distinguish it from other common phrases. I use it to introduce a newish concept.
      A couple of years ago I read something from Esther Perel that stuck with me. She said aggression is allowed, even encouraged, for a good sex life. I’ve spent a good portion of my life side-stepping aggression. Mine and that of others. I’ve since experienced some aggression in sex and wow! I liked it. I’m not saying brutality or abuse by any means. I’m just saying it is a great way to growl a little. 🙂
      That subconscious surfaces more and more as we develop. The shadow sees the light and we become whole. We can’t be afraid of the dark. We grow from it. Thanks as always for opening my eyes a little more Michael.

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