Americans are especially burdened with the idea that having needs = weakness.
That Horatio Alger idea that each of us can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps (with the understanding that we’ll do it all by ourselves or it won’t “count”) has seeped into our pores and underlies our very consciousness. In sports and the military – two iconic American ideals – there are no needs! How many athletes have ended their careers by playing injured, denying they were hurt and needed help, and were encouraged to do so? On top of that, many people of a certain generation were raised by the Dr. Spock method – cry it out. Children, even tiny babies, were expected to achieve “independence.” When your cries are systematically ignored… why wouldn’t you learn the lesson, “My needs are not important. I guess I’ll shut up now.”
We can barely escape it. We live in a culture that denies, trivializes and at times even demonizes need.
So, how the HECK are we supposed to get our needs met in a relationship when it’s so uncool to even have needs? Let’s take a step back and realize, we all have needs. Having needs does not make you “needy” and it does not make you “weak.” Read on.
Types of human need (not want, not desire, not whim—NEED):
- Physical needs. This is easy to accept even for the most need-phobic. We need food, water, sleep. Even sex is accepted as a “need” because of the biological imperative to perpetuate the species.
- Emotional needs. You may have seen the heart wrenching footage of the baby monkey deprived of a mother. The controls in this experiment were normal baby monkeys who had their moms. The two manipulated variables were the babies in one group who were deprived of their mothers and another group of motherless monkeys with a wire frame covered in cloth in the vague shape of a monkey. This experiment painfully and viscerally illustrated that emotional needs are real. All the babies had food, shelter, water—all their physical needs met. Both groups of motherless monkeys languished. The babies with the wire mothers clung to them in a desperate attempt to recreate a “mothering” situation—simply comfort and security, and were marginally better off. But it was not enough. Do not be mistaken on this. You, we, everyone has emotional needs. Affection, consideration, support. We need to feel loved. We want it, sure. But we need it.
- Functional needs. Our functional needs have their origins, not in the more primal parental bond, but in the way we interact with everyone else. We need, and as an extension of us, our society depends upon, things like kept agreements, financial responsibility and cooperation. If you envision a kindergarten classroom where these needs are ignored or denied, you will understand what I mean. A small scale Lord of the Flies situation will ensue in which dominant and submissive behavior will be exhibited, chaos will reign and literally nothing will be accomplished. The fallout includes emotionally and psychologically dysfunctional children (aka humans) who will take this paradigm with them to first grade, second grade, and on and on, eventually becoming adults who can neither meet the functional needs of others nor get their functional needs met.
Which leads me to a final point before we get to the 1, 2, 3 of having your needs met in a relationship. We do have responsibility in responding to and meeting our own needs. Have you ever known someone who was a bit of a martyr? Refusing to take care of him or herself while giving to others to the point of bleeding out? People in this category can’t meet their own needs, and certainly are almost constitutionally incapable of asking others to meet their needs in relationship.
The opposite of this emotional martyrdom is literal neediness. (Remember, having needs does not equal neediness.) Actual neediness is unquenchable. Instead of a bowl that can be filled by the self and others when needs are met, the truly “needy” individual has, instead, a sieve. It always needs more. Neediness comes from desperation and helplessness. Neediness always externalizes problems and solutions because it takes no responsibility at all. You know you are being needy when you expect others to give you what you are not willing to give yourself.
When we take responsibility in responding to our needs, meeting them ourselves, and asking others to meet them, we ensure fulfillment, happiness and success in our relationships and, in fact, our lives.
Here are three steps to help you get your needs met in a relationship
- Acknowledge you have needs: Sounds simple, but it usually isn’t, I know. But your needs are essential to you doing your best, having your best and being your best. You may have been brought up to be ashamed of your needs, or were told that having needs and being self-sufficient were mutually exclusive. You may have convinced yourself that you actually don’t have needs, or you have lost track of your needs because you have put so much energy into taking care of others. Just keep telling yourself: your needs are legitimate. Respect them and ensure they are met.
- Identify your needs: Now that you admit to having needs, what are they, exactly? How can you recognize a need? You can often identify needs by tracking some of your emotions. When a need doesn’t get met, you may feel frustrated, fearful, disappointed, hurt, angry or rejected. . When a need is met you may feel pleased, accepted, excited, understood or validated. Track the patterns of your emotions. When you discover patterns of negative emotions, it’s a sign of an underlying unmet need.
Emotional needs are those things that must happen for you to feel loved. Emotional needs can be: to be listened to, to be needed, touched, understood, encouraged and cherished, to be able to help, and to be truly seen for who you are.
Functional needs are those things that must happen for your life to work. It is okay to need your partner to be on time, stable, organized, respectful of your space, security conscious and many more.
- Communicate your needs: Admitting to yourself that you have needs is a huge step, as is identifying them, but if you don’t communicate them to others, the system breaks down. You are responsible for expressing your needs in a relationship. Don’t assume others can read your mind. You need to ASK. When you do, your candor will be appreciated. If someone loves you, he or she wants nothing more than to see you happy, so knowing what your needs are is pretty basic. Have the candid conversation and start getting those needs met!