Figuring out your needs is an essential process if you strive to have a lasting, harmonious, and fulfilling relationship. Not knowing your needs is kind of like going into a grocery store with no shopping list and no idea of what’s currently in your refrigerator. The best you can do is wander around grabbing things that look good.
Maybe you already have everything you need. Maybe there are just a few missing items. Maybe they don’t even sell what you’re looking for in this store. You won’t know until you figure it out.
One could argue that a truly selfless, committed person can make a relationship work even if their partner has nothing to give. But let’s be honest here. We get into relationships because we want something—companionship, affection, inspiration, support, fun. If your needs aren’t being met, you probably feel like something’s wrong or missing. If you haven’t identified the unmet needs, you might find yourself getting angry at your partner for little things. You may subconsciously sabotage the relationship because it seems to be preventing you from being happy.
Only when you know what your needs are can you do something constructive to get them met. Your needs list is also a valuable tool if you’re having trouble determining whether a relationship will work. For instance, if you can see that your partner meets all your needs—or is genuinely keen to help you get them met—this bodes well. If something about them irritates you, you have some perspective: It’s probably not a critical issue. It might be something you have to work out in yourself—perhaps by uncovering, understanding, and deactivating a “button” that your partner is pushing (probably unintentionally).
The importance of knowing each other’s needs becomes clear when there is a sincere desire to have a relationship founded upon honest, direct communication. If something feels “off” in your relationship, not only is it worthwhile to go through your own needs list, but it’s important to also know your partner’s needs. If you’re reluctant to share your needs, perhaps it’s because you’re afraid you’ll discover that you’re unable or unwilling to meet your partner’s needs, or that they’re unwilling or unable to meet yours. If you avoid the topic altogether, you’re left to employ acts, assumptions, and manipulation to try to make things work. But we’re so much more likely to get what we want and need, and to feel good about how we arrived at it, if we just lay it on the table!
When composing your needs list, the key is to figure out what things you absolutely won’t compromise on. It’s helpful to discriminate between needs and wants. If you identify a certain desired quality or action—for example, having a partner who gives you massages—ask yourself honestly, if this didn’t happen or weren’t present, would the relationship still work for you or would it be a deal breaker?
It’s also important to discriminate between relationship needs and personal needs. Personal needs can be met whether or not you’re in a relationship, and they’re things no one else should be held responsible for. Examples of personal needs could be “I need to approve of myself,” “I need to feel like I’m contributing to the world,” or “I need to practice a regimen of self-care.” If you wake up one day, realize you haven’t been doing these things, and feel bad about it, you have no business blaming your relationship.
As you refine your needs list (and we encourage you to revisit it every year or so), you may get increasingly specific about certain needs. Something unquantifiable, like “I need to be appreciated” may evolve into “I need my partner to acknowledge the ways I contribute to our lives—at least once a month.”
When you have your list, go through it and see if there are any that are not being met. If so, it’s time to explain to your partner that this is a need of yours that could use some attention. Make a request that they help you get this need met. Your request is most likely to turn out favorably if you avoid stating it as something they are doing wrong. Remember, it’s unfair to expect your partner to guess what your needs are.
Present this as an opportunity for the two of you to be closer and happier. Express appreciation for your partner’s support, show them the many needs that they do meet, and of course, allow them to make requests to get their needs met. Ideally, both of you will have lists, and you can share them with each other. When you have your partner’s list, you have a better understanding of where they’re coming from and how to support them. Just consider the role you could play in helping this person have the relationship of their dreams!
Try not to view your requests as ultimatums. The process can be a gift, no matter what the outcome. If it turns out that you and your partner aren’t willing or able to meet each other’s needs, it’s so much healthier to come to this realization in a clear and blameless way—you simply want different things—than to avoid the truth, drag it out, and feeling guilty or resentful about what’s missing from the relationship. If there are unsatisfied needs, the primary indicator that the relationship can still work is that you and your partner have an earnest willingness to find a way to get these needs fulfilled.
Here are some examples of relationship needs:
- Honest, safe communication
- Daily physical affection
- A mate that I’m attracted to
- Someone who supports me to achieve my goals
- Someone who participates in the development and maintenance of our relationship
- A partner who doesn’t abuse drugs
As we see it, the point of the relationship isn’t just a needs exchange. It’s a chance to safely get our buttons pushed, to learn, to heal, and to deepen our connection. It’s work that asks us to be creative, enthusiastic, flexible, open, supportive, loving, and generous—which makes it one of the surest ways to evolve.