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6 Ways Intimate Partners Can Communicate Their Needs

4. Honor with clarity.

Key points

  • Cultivating self-awareness on the deepest levels creates intimacy with one's own inner world and personal truth.
  • Connecting to inner wisdom on small and large matters enables people to live more authentically and mindfully.
  • Practices such as mindfulness, reflection, and communicating with clarity, vulnerability, and respect can transform relationships.

Intimate relationships offer great benefits, including greater health and wellbeing, and improve our odds of survival by 50 percent (Holt-Lunstad, 2010). “People are most likely to thrive when they feel intimately connected to significant others” (Pietromonoco, 2017).

Recently, I published a post concerning how to build intimacy with others. The communication skills discussed mainly involve helping others feel “understood, accepted, and cared for” (Pietromonoco, 2017, Laurenceau, 1998, Reis, 1988), the foundational skills needed for intimate relationships. But what about when it’s your turn to share?

It is difficult to communicate our needs unless we understand ourselves first. Indeed, self-awareness improves our ability to manage ourselves and others, components of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2001; Silvia, 2004). It also offers many additional benefits, including healthy personal development (Sutton, 2016), better decision-making (Ridley, 1992), self-confidence, and improved workplace performance (Sutton, 2015).

You may feel that you have an adequate understanding of your physical needs and preferences. Understanding our emotional world is more challenging since our feelings and reactions stem from an array of values, beliefs, personality traits, fears, cultural conditioning, and areas of ignorance that are frequently outside our conscious awareness (also called our subconscious or shadow).

Like the proverbial iceberg, this large and potentially treacherous terrain can submarine the best of intentions and relationship chemistry if ignored. On the other hand, the shadow also contains rich opportunities to access the inspiration, healing, and joy that are simultaneously blocked alongside our submerged beliefs and feelings.

Here’s how to improve your awareness and appreciation for your hidden needs and feelings, and communicate them to others.

Practice mindfulness

There’s a reason that so many self-help resources tout mindfulness and meditation as a practice: It works. You don’t have to sit like a yogi to practice mindfulness. Hundreds of techniques are available; with some experimentation, you can find one that works for you. As a beginner, I found moving meditations or active poses (such as yoga) much more manageable and enjoyable than seated practices.

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the here and now. When we clear our minds and notice what arises in the silence, we may notice thoughts and feelings without attachment. For example, if I notice that I’m angry at my spouse, I can watch the thought and the associated feeling, then observe it as it floats away and diminishes. I feel calmer and better able to discern the next steps, if any.

Listen to your inner voice

While meditating, I also notice that I am separate from my thoughts, giving lie to the phrase, "I think, therefore I am." My consciousness, which is the observer, is separate from the beliefs and feelings that float by. That consciousness can also speak to me but from a deeper, quieter place. This inner voice is the source of great wisdom and authenticity and conveys inner truth.

I have not always been a meditator. But I have always instinctively known that sitting quietly and with a clear mind allows my inner truth to bubble through my confusion. I’ve learned over the years that I should never make a major decision without first connecting to my inner wisdom. Now my practice is to consult my inner voice when making small decisions too, and consequently, I now have a much greater sense of alignment with my authentic self throughout my life.

Reflect and process

A writing or journaling practice can be very helpful for recording, processing, and integrating thoughts, feelings, and inner wisdom. It can also be used to record feedback from others, cause and effect (for example, what was the outcome when speaking from inner truth versus from a fearful mind?), goal-setting, and noting progress.

A data dump, where one writes whatever comes to mind, is also an effective strategy to clear the mind and may make it easier to discern your inner voice during meditation.

Honor with clarity

Living from your place of inner truth every day provides a sense of clarity that is not available when clinging to the confusing jumble of negative, fearful, and judgmental thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

My personal truth is just that: mine. No one can tell me otherwise, though I strive to be open-minded and embrace the right to change my mind as I incorporate new information, facts, and perspectives. Communicating, and expecting others to respect my personal truth reflect good boundaries.

My personal truth is also no one else’s. Because it’s my truth, it is not necessarily true for anyone else. I honor others’ personal truth and boundaries without judgment too even if I disagree with them. I also cannot discern whether they’re speaking from an inauthentic mindset or from their deepest inner voice, for my journey is to speak with clarity from my own perspective only.

Be willing to be vulnerable

You’ve done the hard work involved in getting to know yourself. You have clarity about who you are and what you want (or at least more than you had before). You then decide what to share with others. The deeper you go, while taking care to avoid oversharing, the greater your opportunity to create emotional intimacy with others.

A willingness to be vulnerable and risk being hurt offers an opportunity for both parties to go deeper together in greater intimacy, or “into-me-see." The willingness to be vulnerable, to be deeply seen, accepted, and loved by ourselves and others, is what Brene Brown refers to as wholehearted living.

Learn and practice, practice, practice

There are no shortcuts to doing the work of creating vibrant and intimate connections with ourselves and others. Once we educate ourselves, we can then change our behavior and our lives by practicing and integrating these new skills at work and at home. Consider employing step-by-step behavioral change lessons in podcasts, blogs, books, or online learning resources such as those available from the Foundation for Family and Community Healing. Few soft skills have the power to transform your relationships and life, so make it count.

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock


Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 7(7): e1000316.

Laurenceau J-P, Barrett LF, Pietromonaco PR. Intimacy as an interpersonal process: The importance of self-disclosure, partner disclosure, and perceived partner responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1998; 74:1238–1251. DOI:10.1037//0022-3514.74.5.1238. [PubMed: 9599440]

Goleman, D. (2001). Emotional intelligence: Issues in paradigm building. In C. Cherniss & D. Goleman (Eds.) The emotionally intelligent workplace. Jossey-Bass.

Pietromonaco, P. R., & Collins, N. L. (2017). Interpersonal mechanisms linking close relationships to health. The American psychologist, 72(6), 531–542.

Reis, HT., Shaver, P. Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In: Duck, S.Hay, DF.Hobfoll, SE.Ickes, W.Montgomery, BM.Duck, S., Montgomery, BM., editors. Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research and interventions. Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons; 1988. p. 367-389.

Ridley, D. S., Schutz, P. A., Glanz, R. S., & Weinstein, C. E. (1992). Self-regulated learning: The interactive influence of metacognitive awareness and goal-setting. The Journal of Experimental Education, 60, 293–306.

Silvia, P. J., & O’Brien, M. E. (2004). Self-awareness and constructive functioning: Revisiting “the Human Dilemma.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 475–489.

Sutton, A., Williams, H. M., & Allinson, C. W. (2015). A longitudinal, mixed-method evaluation of self-awareness training in the workplace. European Journal of Training and Development, 39, 610–627.

Sutton, A. (2016). Measuring the effects of self-awareness: Construction of the Self-Awareness Outcomes Questionnaire. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 12, 645–658.

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