Why doesn't my partner understand me?Jan 06, 2023
As a neurodivergent, highly sensitive person, trying to communicate to other people what your needs are is probably one of the most frustrating parts of life.
Even though I love my partner, early in our relationship I had no frame of reference or understanding for why I was experiencing what I was experiencing. And while my partner tried so hard to support me and help me, I still found myself searching for the answers to questions like, "Why doesn't my partner understand me?" and "Is my relationship burning me out?"
When my partner and I moved in together we were living in a small college town with a population of 4,500—half of which was the college. We'd move there to open a bed and breakfast from Des Moines, a small city. It was quite a change in my life to go from being mostly independent, working from home, and in full control of my routine, to living with a partner in a new place. Everything about this experience was new except for my job, which was a great source of stress but also related to one of my special interests, environmentalism.
It didn't help that I felt taken advantage of in my job, and as I write about in my book So You Wanna Burn Your Life Down, I ended up not getting a promotion I'd put a lot of effort into. I decided to quit my job and promptly entered a deep burnout that would last three years. As you can probably imagine, the newness of living together in an unfamiliar place coupled with being depressed and burnt out wreaked havoc on our relationship.
But I also knew that I wasn't finding the answers in the blog posts and articles that came up. The heartbreaking stories of relationships gone wrong didn't represent the very challenging circumstances I found myself in. My therapist told me that I need to learn how to let go more and not take things so seriously.
I was in a relationship, but also felt alone in what I was experiencing because I didn't see my experience as an autistic person in a lesbian relationship represented anyyyyywhereeeee.
After six years together we finally have a language for understanding each other's needs as partners in a neurodiverse relationship. But when I reflect back on how we navigated so many challenges and misunderstandings throughout our relationship, I know the tool that helped me most was my Tarot practice.
Here's how my Tarot practice has helped me communicate better with my partner about my needs.
How Tarot Helped Me Understand My Own Needs
I started reading Tarot well before I met my partner of six years. For several years I read Tarot cards every day. I often pulled one card each day, or any time I felt overwhelmed or upset. I pulled cards for the week ahead, asking what would happen each day. The problem was, sometimes the cards made me anxious. I would get upset about what might happen and spiral about it for days. In the beginning, I started to write down what I thought the card meant (my anxious thoughts or positives) and then I wrote down what actually happened or how I saw the card show up in my life later.
Through recording what happened with each card, I began to notice patterns. The 2 of Swords would come up when I felt overwhelmed in a conversation or like I didn't know what to say. The 9 of Swords would come up when my anxiety about the future was fueled by my avoidance and procrastination.
I began reading the cards not to predict the future, but to notice where I might need to adjust my expectations about what I would be able to accomplish. If I planned to get a project done at work but then pulled several cards that indicated I was overwhelmed or wouldn't be able to get the information I needed, I began to prepare for change before it arrived. This also helped me avoid a meltdown because I knew a change was likely to take place. Now when I do the Weekly Self-Honoring Tarot spread that's included in the Self-Honoring Tarot Spreads handbook, I still use the cards to identify how I'll feel throughout the week and where I might need to adjust my expectations.
How Tarot Helped My Anxiety
Over time I discovered that the questions you ask the cards directly inform how you feel after you do a Tarot reading for yourself. People often ask Tarot cards questions like, "Will I get this job?" "Is this relationship right for me?" And then they are dissatisfied or even overwhelmed when they don't get a clear cut response, or they doubt the cards that come out and search for the answer they wish they had gotten.
When I changed my questions from, "What will happen if," to "How will I feel if," or even, "How do I feel right now," I began to notice my Tarot readings felt like a great therapy session. I was no longer looking to the cards for answers about the outcome of situations but using them to help me assess my internal state. I started to use the cards to navigate misunderstandings with my partner using the Relationship Conflict Clarity spread that's included in the Self-Honoring Tarot Spreads handbook. But my ability to understand conflict in my relationship was only possible because I was practicing using Tarot to understand my own needs day-to-day, to identify how I was feeling day-to-day before I arrived to a meltdown or went into a deeper burnout.
How Tarot Helped Me in My Relationship
When I was in my 20's, I often pulled Tarot cards to understand how someone felt about me. I don't recommend this because it's very easy to see what you want to see in the cards or even become obsessed with pulling cards to understand someone else's feelings rather than ask them outright. You can create your own little world just based on feedback from the cards and not feedback from an actual human.
However, in my neurodiverse relationship my partner and I have had to learn to give conflict space. I need space to process my feelings separately because sometimes it takes me more time to identify how I feel. If I feel pressured to respond to questions or solve problems during conflict, I never feel like I am heard. This flies in the face of a lot of advice we hear about conflict resolution in relationships, which tells us to solve problems immediately and not let them grow or fester.
As an autistic person in a lesbian relationship, I know that sometimes I will not bring up something that's bothering me in the moment because I don't want to experience conflict that will overwhelm and overstimulate me. This is why the Tarot practice I've outlined in the Self-Honoring Tarot Spreads handbook is so useful, because I can take time to get clear on where I'm at with my energy, what I need, and how I'm truly feeling. I can take my time to gather my thoughts before initiating a conversation with my partner. I can also do my part each week in getting my own needs met, through the regular check-ins I do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Finally, when I have a meltdown my loving partner often wants to help but feels helpless to know how to help. I often don't even know what I need when I am in a meltdown, other than to be alone in a dark room away from people. This has been difficult for her to understand throughout our relationship, because from her perspective she should stay and comfort me. She learned early that that's often not what I need, but she didn't know how to support me. Using Tarot, I found words for explaining what I need and why I need it, and thankfully have a receptive partner who listens.
It Is Possible to Be Understood in a Relationship
It is possible for you to learn how to identify and communicate your needs after a lifetime of not having your needs listened to or accepted. It is possible for you to be better heard and understood in your relationship.
As I write in my book, So You Wanna Burn Your Life Down, unfortunately, getting your needs met has to start with you. You have to learn what you need and discover the best ways to give it to yourself, and you have to advocate for yourself in every relationship. Just because your needs haven't been taken seriously throughout your life doesn't mean they're not important. You need to believe they're important first.
You'll find my most 9 most used Tarot spreads for understanding what I need and communicating it to others in the Self-Honoring Tarot Spreads for the Sensitive and Neurodiverse handbook.
These Tarot spreads will help you understand and honor your needs, navigate conflict with yourself and others, and listen to your intuition without anxiety.
You can also use these spreads with Oracle cards! Experiment and find what's best for you (in this guidebook, and always).
You can find one of my favorite spreads to start with, a Tarot Spread for Inner Conflict, here.
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