How to Communicate Your Needs: A 5-Step Guide

We all have needs, but sometimes it can be difficult to convey these needs to our partners. We might struggle with how to communicate what we are missing in the relationship. Or, it can be difficult to know how to approach our partner for fear of being misunderstood. We might also fear what will happen if our partner refuses to meet our needs. Below are five steps to help you through communicating your needs.

1. Identify your needs

Many times when we find ourselves getting annoyed or irritated by our partner, there is actually an underlying need not being met. Let’s look at fictional couple Jack and Jill.  Jill gets irritated every time she has to ask Jack to take out the trash.  Jill thinks it just has to do with Jack being bad at chores and being very lazy. However, if Jill looks beyond the surface issue, she finds that every time she notices the trash is full she feels like she is alone in the relationship, that Jack does not see how much she does for their household and relationship. The next time you find yourself feeling deeply frustrated about a seemingly small issue, try and look beyond the issue at hand – you might find there is a deeper need not being met. Figuring out what is really missing is the first step to communicating needs effectively in your relationship.


2. Pick your moment

When do you bring up an unmet need to your partner? Choosing when to talk about your needs is the second important step to communicating effectively in the relationship. You will likely be reminded of your need the next time there is an argument. However, bringing up anything in the heat of the moment is not the best idea. Once a couple is in a reactive place, it is nearly impossible to absorb what the other is saying.  On the other hand, when things are good between you and your partner, you might shy away from discussing your unmet need so you don't stir up bad emotions. While the fear of breaking the peace in your relationship is understandable, peaceful moments are actually the best time to sit down with your partner and convey your feelings about an unmet need. When we are calm and relaxed, our defenses are down and we are more inclined to listen with a loving ear.

3. How to begin

In relationships, it is so easy to identify what our partner is doing wrong, is not doing at all, or needs to do more of.  And let’s be honest – in many cases these instances are all valid and true.  However, when approached with a handful of shortcomings, places for improvement, etc., your partner is inclined to become defensive, and before you know it, the two of you might quickly jump to that reactive place I mentioned earlier.  Instead, try approaching your partner from that space deep down inside of you that is being affected – from that emotional place you find yourself in when you notice that need not being met.  Let’s go back to Jack and Jill– instead of Jill saying “When you don’t take out the trash I feel like you don’t care about me at all,” she might try saying “Lately I have been feeling really sad because I feel like I don’t matter to you.”

4. Open arms and ears

So what happens next?  In an ideal world, your partner would respond to your concern with open arms and a dedication to start showing you just how much you matter.  In the real world, a partner will respond by sharing unmet needs of their own, some of which might have contributed to the behaviors you dislike. Remember Jack and Jill?  Well, there is always a chance that Jack might not take out the trash because after he experiences so much criticism and anger from Jill, he feels like he can never get anything right. He starts to back away and stop trying to do chores in order to protect the relationship.  When Jill sees him backing up, she gets the message that she does not matter to him. You might feel your defenses popping up when your partner is talking about an unmet need, but the best (and hardest) thing to do is to take a breath and really listen to your partner. Try to remain in a calm head space -- you will actually hear your partner much more clearly.  If you listen patiently, and keep talking from a vulnerable place, you will learn so much about each other and ultimately find that your need gets met.

5. Seek Support

Sound complicated?  That’s because it is.  Relationships involve a lot of deep emotions, and your loved one tends to push buttons you might not have even realized you have.  At times, when we experience issues with our partner, it is almost impossible to navigate through the myriad of emotions and communicate needs effectively. When it gets to this point, a therapist can help. Couples counselors are able to help organize what is going on, and help promote positive shifts in the relationship. A shift in the right direction just might help you experience your relationship in a whole new way!

How much does counseling cost?

You ask, I answer.

Paying for couples or individual counseling shouldn’t be a guessing game, and I want to be up front with how much counseling costs.  I will answer your question about how it works at my office in San Diego, CA. My goal is to help you budget for your counseling sessions ahead of time, as well as giving you options to pick the right therapist for your situation. 

One of the main questions I get is, “How much does Counseling cost?”

Here are three options that we provide at Estes Therapy in San Diego:


  • Option 1: $150 per session: You can meet with Jennine Estes (that’s me!), a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, for $150 per therapy session and each session is for 50-minutes long. Some people meet with me once a week, other people meet with me every other week or once a month. It all depends on your particular needs, goals set in counseling, and financial situation.
  • Option 2: $100 per session: You can meet with a Marriage and Family Therapist intern (graduated with their master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and currently working on gaining their clinical hours for licensure in California) for $100 per 50-minute counseling session.  The interns receive my direct supervision and I over see each clinical case…basically you are paying for two therapists to focus on your situation at the cost of one intern.  Meet the interns
  • Option 3: Low Fee $70 for low-income families (limited spots available). We don’t let money stand in the way from getting the help you need.  We offer several low fee/low cost slots with high quality therapy services for all individuals in San Diego. No matter where you stand financially, we are here to help you get what you want in life. 
Please call to discuss our counseling services further 619-471-7104.  


San Diego Marriage and Family Therapist and Therapist interns - Jennine Estes, Alicia Roth, Susan Buckley, and Jen Zajac. The interns are supervised by Jennine Estes, MFC#47653.




Are You in Denial About Leaving Your Relationship?


Sometimes you might find yourself in a relationship that is not totally healthy anymore, or where you're no longer happy. Instead of taking the necessary steps to begin to leave your relationship, you stick around and just hope things will be better. When you're stuck in a rut and your partner isn't really trying to work with you, you might just be in denial about what you need to do. On the other hand, if you do still have strong feelings for your partner and hope that things could improve, it might just be time to step up and fight for your relationship. How do you know if you should stay and fight or if you're just in denial about leaving and afraid to admit the truth?

What Percentage of You is Ready to Go?

Are you 50% invested in the relationship, and 50% ready to go? Or are you 99.9% ready to leave the relationship but you're just afraid? On the one hand, even if you only have a very small percentage of your heart  that is not ready to leave, you should put leaving on the shelf and talk to your partner about how to make the relationship better. This is the only way to give saving the relationship a fighting chance. But, if you have tried to put leaving on the shelf and the percentage of you that wants to go keeps growing -- you may just be in denial about what your true feelings are.

How is Your Partner Reacting?

It takes two to tango. If you are willing to fight for the relationship but your partner isn't, you can't fully recover as a couple. Whether you have past relationship wounds, or just burn out, you must both be willing to truly invest. Are you making excuses for your partner? Pretending he has a reason for why he isn't trying, or telling others that he is making strides when you don't really see any signs of effort? If your partner is not really making an effort but you continue to hold out hope for years, you might be in denial about the fact that your spouse just isn't willing to work for the relationship.

How Long Have You Thought About Leaving?

Are your thoughts about leaving fairly new, or have you been considering this action for a long time? If you have been on the fence for a long time, you need to think about what is really keeping you in the relationship. Do you really still see hope for making it work, or are you just afraid of the unknown? If you are only staying because you are afraid to be alone, it's time to step out of denial and take the jump. Your partner can probably sense that you're not truly happy, and you are wasting your time and his.

If you don't know if you're in denial about leaving or should really stay, going to counseling can help you decide what the best course of action is. EFT can help you reconnect with your partner, or come to terms with how to end the relationship.

Do You Need Premarital Counseling in San Diego?


Look for these signs of a relationship that's not ready to walk down the aisle.

If you are engaged and planning on getting married, you may have thought about premarital counseling. My view of premarital counseling is that it can be helpful in some way for most couples planning on saying “I do.”  You wouldn’t fly a plane without flying lessons,  because you need to learn the skills and safety required for navigating in the air. Similarly, premarital counseling can teach you how to handle turbulance and all the working parts of your relationship. Premarital counseling sessions are about helping couples learn the rules of communication, explore marriage expectations, and discuss strategy plans for the future. Most premarital therapy is used as a preventative tool -- think of it as a way to give your relationship a solid  foundation before walking into the married world.

In addition to getting premarital counseling as a way to build a strong foundation, if you recognize any of the following issues in your relationship, couples counseling is a good idea before tying the knot. 



Start Marriage on the Right Foot


You've said "yes" and you both want to take the best steps to planning your new life together.  Premarital counseling can help build that foundation to building a healthy and long lasting love.  The desire to be successful may be all that you need to know that premarital counseling is right for you.  The more proactive couples are in a relationship, the better the results.  Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in relationships and building a solid connection through communication and creating a secure attachment.


Your Partner Wants Couples Counseling

If your partner suggests counseling, this is a sign that things haven't quite been corrected in the relationship. People don't suggest working with a professional when the relationship has a solid connection. It is very common that one partner cries out for help and the other person completely misses the critical issue until years later once the relationship has become entirely unraveled. Take the suggestion of counseling seriously when your partner brings it up -- it's better to address your issues BEFORE you get married, so don't simply blow off the suggestion of premarital counseling.

The Sex Has Stopped 

One of the signs that a relationship is dwindling is a lack of intimacy in the bedroom. In a secure relationships, both emotional closeness and sexual closeness keep things balanced. Intimacy can go in waves through the years, but if there is an ongoing drought that lasts months or years, this is a sign to seek professional help. If you are planning on waiting for sex until you are married, premarital counseling can be a safe place to talk about your expectations when you do get married and start having sex.

You Feel Relationship Burn Out

Going from completely engaged and seeking closeness to a completely "burnt-out" position is a danger zone. When this happens, you haven't given up on the relationship, yet you are unwilling to expose any vulnerable needs or to rely on your partner.  This is a sign that things have been changing and you could be going down a dangerous road, headed towards complete disconnection.  This is a critical time for couples to seek counseling and get both people to engage in the relationship, especially since you are about to get married!

Someone Cheated

This may be a no brainer for some people, but affairs are signs that premarital counseling is needed. Whether the affair was just revealed, or you are active in the affair, it is critical to understand why this happened in the first place and heal any emotional injuries. Many couples think that they can simply lock up the past, say "I am sorry," and move on. In reality, affairs are very fragile situations where the repair work is critical and must handled in a healing way.  Every second counts when rebuilding trust and regaining the security in a relationship. Moving on doesn't mean shutting the door to pain, but it also doesn't mean you relive the pain over and over. Seeking counseling helps couples handle the fears and emotions that arise in the present and take action to create a long term resolution.

You Seek Outside Comfort

When either you or your partner quickly go to friends or family before turning to the relationship, you should seek counseling. When we no longer turn to one another to resolve issues and instead turn to others for support, a wedge is created in the relationship. Sometimes it becomes easier and easier to turn to others and this can quickly snow ball into a drawn out relationship that dissolves over time. You need to learn to work together so that when you are officially a married couple, you can truly work together as a team instead of starting out on the wrong foot.

You Have Feelings For Someone Else

Thoughts can be thoughts and simply just that. But other times a fantasy leads us to an exciting place where it would be easy to cross the line if the opportunity arises. It is vital to get at the heart of why you get so excited when your co-worker sends you a text, or a friend calls you. If your relationship was solid and secure you wouldn’t consider being with someone else. Something significant is going on, and things are lacking in your current relationship. Start couples counseling to figure out what you aren't getting in the relationship and give your partner an opportunity to get it right with you before it is too late.

Arguments are Heated

When fights continue to go to bad places, either verbally or physically, couples counseling is essential. The more attacks you take at one another, the more you drive each other way and develop a bad habit when it comes to communication. Any time the relationship becomes degrading or hurtful, it is time to seek some expert advice on how to stop the damage and to the relationship.
If you recognize any of these problems in your relationship before you get married, you NEED to get back on track before going through with the wedding. If there are serious cracks in the foundation of your relationship now, they won't get magically fixed by walking down the aisle. Seek out premarital counseling so you can learn better communication and built trust and a secure bond in the relationship now. Think of premarital counseling as an investment in your marriage.

How Counseling Can Save Your Marriage

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
When your marriage hits a rough patch, the communication can break down quickly and it might feel like you're hanging on by a thread. If you don't take action, arguments will increase and you can feel more alone than ever. Counseling will help you rewire the way that you communicate in your marriage, and get to the bottom of each person's feelings. The therapist will service as an impartial mediator, pointing out areas where each partner can compromise, and helping you work as a team to rebuild trust and a safe bond. How can counseling save your marriage? Here are the top ways it will help you turn things around.

1. Improved Communication

Counseling will teach you how to talk to your spouse about your feelings in a way that does not come across as attacking. This is essential! If your significant other feels attacked when you approach him, he will become defensive right away and communication breaks down. By figuring out how to approach each other in a way that is not nagging or blaming, you can really start to hear each other and work together. Communication is one of the most important ways to keep your marriage in tact.

2. Creating a Safe Space

You need to feel safe in a marriage. That includes being able to open up, be yourself, and know that your partner will always be there for you. Counseling helps build a secure bond with your partner so that you both feel safe. On top of improving your communication, turning your marriage into a safe space can also eliminate jealousy and improve your trust. In counseling, you can both express what you need to happen for the marriage to feel secure and safe, and your therapist will serve as a guide to the process -- she will make sure both parties are heard.

3. Dealing With Past Hurt

Once you know how to communicate with each other and feel safe, counseling will let you deal with past hurt. Whether its infidelity in your own relationship, or trauma that you experienced outside of the relationship, dealing with past pain will let you heal and move forward in a more healthy way. Letting your partner in on your past hurt and help you move past it will bring you closer, and just might save your marriage.