People sometimes wonder what differentiates a great relationship from a good one, or a good one from one that’s not working. While I am not a therapist, I have seen enough relationships through my job as a dating coach (and in my own personal life) that I am confident in saying that communication is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship.

Now, when I say “communication,” I don’t necessarily mean the frequency. Yes, texts every few hours can be nice, of course, but I mean the ability to talk and ask about the hard things — money, sex, happiness, issues, feelings, kids, etc.

I got this email from a client the other day:

“I'm writing with a question I'm hoping you can help with. I'm still seeing (him) and really enjoy spending time with him, but I find it difficult to get a read on what he's thinking and feeling about me and our relationship. He's just not that forthcoming with what's going on inside his mind. Since I've only known him for 5 months and we're still just getting to know each other, I'm not looking for any big statements or commitments, but I am wondering how he's feeling about things and what is/is not working about our relationship for him.

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"What advice do you have on how to ask this? I suppose one way is just to be direct and ask him, ‘How are you feeling about our relationship, and what do you enjoy about it, and are there things that don't work so well for you?’ But I don't want to come across as needy or make him feel pressured.”

I was actually a little sad when I read this email because, as women, we are often conditioned to make sure the other person feels comfortable. But, in her steadfast approach to not disrupting the status quo, she’s the one who ends up feeling uncomfortable!

This was my response:

“So good to hear from you! I think you answered your own question — just be direct and ask him how he is feeling about the relationship, what he enjoys about it, and whether there are things that don't work as well for him. Let's say that by asking him this, it rocks the boat in some way. Don't you think that's information you should know? You want someone who can communicate, not run, at the first sign of serious talk. Having a talk about your feelings and asking questions isn't needy – it's confident and mature. It's also not needy to tell him you need more verbal communication from him – it's honest. (For many women, words of affirmation’ are high on the list of The 5 Love Languages.)

"I don't want to diminish how hard it can feel sometimes to bring things up — especially in our heads (we've all been there, myself included!) — but it'll be much easier in person if you rip off the Band-Aid and tell him you'd like to talk about the relationship. If that sends him running to the hills, then so be it. But I don't think it will. In fact, I think how he handles it will both be telling and give you peace of mind.”

Next time you’re wondering whether to bring something up in your relationship, ask yourself why you’re scared. Is it because you’re not sure of the answer? Then it’s even more important to get clarity so you can make the most informed choices for yourself. And remember that asking for what you need is not “needy.”

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. ©2020 Erika Ettin Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.