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Dealing with unmet needs in a relationship

What are your unmet needs?It is normal and healthy to have emotional needs. However, it is not healthy, nor is it realistic, to expect all of those needs to be met by one person. This is the Relationship Lie we brought out of the dark cupboard last week. And chances are, we all have unmet needs.

In a healthy relationship, there is mutual commitment to meet each other’s needs as much as possible. The joy of such a relationship is that within it, there is a deep connection, closeness, fulfilment and pleasure in each other.

But it is not healthy for the relationship to be seen as the sole source of supplying all the emotional needs of one each (or one) partner. Think of your own emotional needs with me for a minute –

  • your need for affection, affirmation, appreciation and encouragement
  • your need for comfort, security, support and understanding
  • your need for attention, acceptance, approval and respect
  • ultimately, your need to feel safe…to know you matter…to be valued.

Quite a list – fundamental to all humans I believe, and if neglected, can cause serious fall-out. And fall outs. [Or fallings out, whatever the plural is!]

Where do you look to have your emotional needs met? What gives you significance and self-worth? Who appreciates and respects you? Where do you gain encouragement and support? How accepted do you feel, for who you are not just what you do? Again, I know I am on tricky territory, and seek not to open a painful wound but to raise awareness.

Because it is only when we understand what our emotional needs are, and acknowledge where there are unmet needs, that we can start to take steps forward.

Awareness, as always, is key.

Chances are that if you root around inside your soul long enough, you will come across a few unmet needs. You may not have to look very far. You may find that they are screaming at you, that you crave affection or long to be noticed and valued. My entirely unscientific observations suggest that women particularly need appreciation and affirmation – in a relationship, it is often the woman who does many of the mundane household practical and administrative tasks and keeps everyone’s lives running but is not always noticed and valued for it. Men especially need to be respected – perhaps linked to them being valued as provider and protector.

Consider your own relationship for a moment and think about your top emotional needs, and if you are brave and able to, ask the same of your partner.

Having identified that we have unmet needs –

  • recognise and acknowledge the hurt and the gap – name what it is you need that is currently lacking
  • choose a good, calm time and talk it through with your partner, keeping the focus on how you feel and not on blaming them
  • be as specific and concrete as you can about how they can help – “I really appreciate it when you say….or do….”
  • keep it simple, and stick to one thing at a time; don’t overwhelm the other person with a huge list
  • avoid the temptation to use this as a chance to vomit out a whole load of specific instances of your perceived neglect and in so doing make your partner feel rubbish, got-at, defensive
  • keep it general, realistic, honest and forward looking
  • pay attention to the needs of your partner: ask them what it is that they would most need from you ie affirmation, respect, support etc
  • look outside of the relationship too in a healthy and appropriate way and invest in friends, hobbies and activities that don’t detract from your relationship but fill some of your unmet needs and enable you to be more fulfilled within your relationship
  • create a new, positive habit of asking your partner each week to tell you little ways that you can meet some of their needs, and encourage them to do the same for you
  • be patient with each other, and show grace. This takes time, a new way of thinking and a new language to learn.

We all have unmet needs. But we can learn to acknowledge them, take responsibility for them, and deal with them in a more constructive and relationship-enhancing manner.

If this has struck a chord, and having someone work through this with you would be helpful, get in touch.

Inspired? Encouraged? Get in touch!

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