Say What You Need

by Cameron Schaefer on January 7, 2008

marriageMy wife and I have been married now for a year and a half…not very long, especially to be giving marriage advice, I know, but it has been a wonderful time and I can’t help believing that there are some fundamental pieces to our relationship that have made it so fulfilling and successful thus far. In my effort to share with my readers lessons in skilled living, I give you this piece of advice that has truly transformed the way both my wife and I think about our relationship: say what you need.

I must give credit to Aaron Stern, our pastor at the time and pre-marital counselor, for this wonderful concept. It was during our intense sessions of confessions and hypotheticals that he blessed us with this gem of wisdom.

Tell your partner what you need. It seems obvious, but what often happens is that one person wants something, but feels that their partner should know to fulfill that need without having to be told or asked. When the need goes unmet, bitterness and frustration ensues with one person being mad that their need wasn’t met and the other being angry because he or she was expected to read the other’s mind. This battle is a very common one faced by couples, but is such a easy fix. Just tell your partner what you need.

For example, sometimes when we’re walking down the street my wife will simply say, “Babe, I want you to hold my hand,” or every once and a while, “I would like it if you bought me flowers sometime this month.” From my side, “Wifey, would you get up early and make me a big breakfast tomorrow?” This is probably shocking to some people reading this, who like me when I first heard it, are probably thinking, “where’s the romance in that?” The fact is, you have to trust your spouse enough to know that they have your best interests at heart and truly want to serve you, its just that all of us from time to time need some hints…no matter how long people are together it is hard to consistently read your partner’s mind. Again, it may seem a bit mechanical at first, but I guarantee it will prevent thousands of fights and hurt feelings and enable you to maintain a healthy relationship.

This doesn’t mean that you are off the hook when it comes to anticipating the needs of your spouse, it is just a way to help the process. In reality, most of the time it is not really about the flowers or the breakfast, it’s about a greater need. For my wife, holding her hand is a public affirmation of my love for her; flowers are a symbol that I’m thinking about her throughout my day. For me, my wife waking up to cook me breakfast tells me that she wants to serve me. We all understand these things in theory, but many times we need help in knowing how to fulfill these desires. Say what you need.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Akshay Kapur January 8, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Its such a tough point to get across because it only makes sense after the fact. I feel its a hurdle every couple faces in their r’ship, hopefully one that’s crossed earlier rather than later. The timing being possibly important enough to make or break the r’ship.

Nobody can read your mind! Its really important to keep that in mind in love, with your family and even at work…

Lawrence Cheok | A Long Long Road January 9, 2008 at 5:45 am

Hi Cameron,

I think this is lovely. I can’t stand guessing games, and my wife understands that as well. Great for you and your wife :)

Brian Reese January 9, 2008 at 8:02 pm

Great post, Cameron. I get married in June, so my fiancée and I are beginning to experience the importance of open two-way communication.

However, I think the non-verbal aspect of communication plays an even bigger role. As a couple gets closer and deeper into marriage, I bet the non-verbal cues get stronger, and the subtle hint becomes quite obvious. I’m already picking up on the little things.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the whole marriage thing lately, and I think it’s incredibly important to plan. However, you must know how to communicate before you can plan. I hope you continue to provide advice in this area.

Justin Steinhart January 11, 2008 at 8:11 pm

A year and a half, it’s felt longer than that but only because 2007 seemed like an eternity. I loved what you said…if everyone no matter the degree of the relationship would just say what they needed rather than beating around the bush…everyone would get what they want and thus everyone would be happy. I like it.

Paige April 4, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Great, but what about when I say what I need, and he still doesn’t even make an effort to fill that need?

Cameron Schaefer April 4, 2008 at 10:46 pm


This might sound crass, but a lot depends on if he’s your boyfriend or your husband. If he’s your boyfriend and you’ve given it your best shot, end the relationship.

If he’s your husband then you have to fight. Fight? Yeah, the relationship is worth so much that you need to get to the bottom of the problem even if the process is tough and ugly. Seek some marriage counseling if you need to, nothing to be ashamed of. Find out what’s at the root of his failure to meet your needs. Apathy, ignorance, confusion? Each of these would require a different discussion.

Good luck Paige…if you think the relationship is worth it, fight it out.


Julie September 30, 2009 at 12:47 am

What if you tell your husband you would like flowers sometime this month and he doesn’t get them anyway? ever?

Cameron Schaefer September 30, 2009 at 9:17 pm

@ Julie,

It’s a good question and one that has come up many times in discussing this principle with both my own wife and other married couples. I guess the first answer is to be persistent, keep asking and keep reminding your spouse how much it means to you.

However, at some point the responsibility is on your spouse to respond to your needs. If he is not doing so after multiple requests, the natural question is why? Ask him why he is not responding to you. Since I don’t know your situation it wouldn’t be right for me to offer any specific advice, but if it becomes a significant enough issue you might consider marriage counseling.

That may seem a bit extreme, but it could be what is necessary to get down to the core issues. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Newlywed & Unemployed January 14, 2010 at 7:31 am

I found your blog through Art of Manliness (the Air Force interview) and was delighted to read that you’re stationed at McChord. My husband is a C-17 loadmaster. So I kept reading. Scrolled through the Afghanistan posts, showed him all the videos under the C-17 tags, then delved into the relationship tagged posts because that’s what most interests me in life. How people make it work or fail to make it work. And this post caught my eye because my husband started doing a weekly post on my blog and this week’s was about mind reading.

We feel similarly that romance aside, you just need to communicate your needs and wants. Do you think this is something your military training taught you? I don’t think it’s very common in most people, but it’s been second nature with Gary. He’s taught me to “say what I need” – who knew it could be so simple?

Cameron Schaefer January 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm

@Newlywed & Unemployed,

Glad you were able to find my blog. That’s cool that your husbands a loadmaster. I just got done replying to a comment made my a dad who has a son coming to McChord as a crew chief…small world!

As far as whether my military training taught me to communicate my needs and wants I’d actually have to say that while it probably hasn’t hurt, I don’t think it did that much to help.

For me this type of communication did not come naturally. I was much more prone to keep my desires to myself for a long time. Pre-marital counseling was actually the place where I first was really forced to confront this idea of saying what you need. It took a while, but both my wife and I realized over time how key it was to a healthy marriage.

Thanks for the comment! Great to see other AF families on here.

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