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When the concept of standing up to your husband is more painful than the prospect of giving birth seven times, we're knee-deep in hot water and rags. Is it really worse to say, "Honey, you've had enough to drink" than to hear, a decade later, "It's a girl—again!" The whip of rejection leaves a deep lash; the fear it instills can cause us to drink too much, eat too little, stay too long. But better to sprain your sensibilities early than to find your life irrevocably fractured down the road. Speak now or forever sacrifice your peace.

This, I imagine, would be the perfect moment to provide a tidy formula for how to say what you want. No such formula exists. There's no script, no secret recipe for banishing Wanty and embracing Want. Just as wanting comes from within, so must the ability to convey it to the people around you. You might begin trying within your immediate circle, with a husband or sister or best friend, someone who's guaranteed not to belittle your requests. You might try having enough faith in others to have faith in yourself.

In any event, do try. Keep trying. Freedom to want is power steering, your trump card. It's what enables us to scan new constellations, fall in love or resolve to leave, find our way home. What you want isn't merely what you get. It's where you'll be. It's who you'll be.

"My wife is constantly attacking me," laments a former colleague who is having trouble at work. "She's constantly on me, tearing me apart. Everything is my fault. A lot of the time, she's probably right, but I can't take the misery. I'm afraid we're going to have to split up. I just want her to say, 'It's okay, I love you and no matter what happens, we'll be okay. No matter what happens, we'll still be standing.' If she only said that, I could endure anything."

"Why don't you tell her that?" I ask. "Isn't it better to be honest than to get a divorce? How could you not tell her?"

"It's too humiliating," he groans. "It sounds so weak. She would just think I'm pathetic. I can't just come out and say, 'Look, this is what I want.'"

Oh, but you can. You must.

Ellen Tien writes for the Styles section of The New York Times.

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