There were times in our young lives when we asked for things — and sometimes we were turned down. “You’re not old enough.” “You’ve had plenty already.” “I’m too tired to get it for you.” “Don’t be greedy.” It was disappointing, perhaps hurtful, when our requests were denied. Enough of those moments and some of us grew reluctant to ask.
Before that hard lesson, asking wasn’t difficult. It seemed to come naturally, as if hard-wired in the species. In our earliest years, sitting in the high chair, we learned that saying “more” brought another spoonful of applesauce to our lips. In the bathtub, we pointed and uttered “ducky,” and someone handed us our favorite water toy. But as we got older, asserting our wishes became more difficult if we experienced too many rebuffs.
Fast forward to life in an intimate relationship. Love attachments raise the stakes: will my need seem too great, my desires defining me as needy? Have I earned the right to ask for what I want, or should I take care of my wants without depending on others? A loved one’s rejection can feel wounding: is it my need that’s being denied, or me as an individual? The mind cautions in many ways, holding us back from asserting needs and wants. We live instead in a space of wishing he will just know…wishing she will read the cues…wishing they will become a mind-reader or their love and care will naturally guide them to deliver what we need. In our fantasy, we don’t have to ask—what we desire will magically appear.
Alas, would it were so. Instead, our silence or our subtle hints too often produce none of what we’re hoping for, leaving us frustrated or harboring resentment. In our smaller moments, we shrink our generous spirit: why should I give back? More typically, we complain about what’s missing instead of asking in the first place.
It’s easy to complain: “You’re always on your phone.” It’s harder to make ourselves vulnerable to disappointment by asking for what we want: “I would like your attention.” To ask and be refused can trigger a flood of memories of painful moments just like this one, which makes asking risky.
Here’s what it comes down to: “You have no right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.”1
1 Real, Terrence. The new rules of marriage. (2008) Ballantine Books: New York.