Relationships are complicated. From friendships to colleagues to romantic relationships, we are constantly faced with opposing emotional needs. In a romantic relationship, for example, one partner needs a lot of verbal reassurance while the other has a hard time communicating feelings. On paper, this is doomed to fail right? It is not. Because it all boils down to how we communicate our unmet emotional needs.
What makes talking about emotional needs not escalate and solve most relationships problems, you will learn in these 9 steps.
What the heck are emotional needs?
Needs are physiological and physiological requirements for the well-being of a person. There are fundamental needs a person can’t live without such as the need for safety, food and shelter. On the other hand, there are more nuanced individual needs like the need for reassurance, reliability, belonging, spontaneity, autonomy, and many more.
In relationship, it often happens that needs are exactly opposed to each other which makes it so hard to find solutions sometimes.
- Adventure <-> stillness and relaxation
- Retreat <-> clarity
- Spontaneity <-> stability
can be opposed to each other in different situations making each person suffer.
You are and will never be self-sufficient
Sometimes when talking about unmet needs people advise each other to just take care of themselves because they should not depend their needs on others. But the reality is that people are not and never meant to be self-sufficient and able to meet all needs themselves.
We are a tribal species that is supposed to resource many different people for emotional and physical needs. For that reason, talking about needs is inevitable for a happy life. But doing so is not easy. Because the other person can feel easily offended when hearing statements of blame or demands.
1. Never get to your partner like this
A lot of the time when a couple is in an argument about needs, both try to convince the other person that their need is bad and they should want what they want. But this approach is a recipe for disaster.
Fundamentally no matter how opposed emotional needs are, they are all valid and no person can unmeet a need. No amount of talking and arguing will convince one person to not want what they need. For that reason, the focus should be on the strategy.
2. It’s the strategy baby
As explained, needs are always valid and a conversation on emotional needs should never evolve around the validity of a need. What makes opposing emotional needs so painful sometimes is the strategy people use to meet the need. That is why a conversation about emotional needs should evolve around the strategy.
But what does strategy mean? The strategy is the way a person goes about meeting a need. Here are a few examples
- John needs autonomy. Whenever he feels too close to Sarah, he just disappears for a few days without saying a word. The need here is autonomy and the strategy is disappearing without saying a word.
- Selina values honesty. Whenever she is on a first date, she immediately shares all of her most private things and expects the other person to return this behavior. The need here is honesty and the strategy is sharing her most private things.
- Greta wants a lot of predictability. She pushes her friends into making plans weeks ahead already deciding on the activity, meeting point, and activity. The need here is reliability and the strategy is planning.
In the first example, Sarah can be very upset by that behavior and it spirals her into a state of anxiety. So the strategy John uses to meet his need for autonomy doesn’t work for both people. In the third example, a friend who values spontaneity hates Greta’s approach and is overwhelmed by it. But there may be another friend similar to Greta who is very happy with her need to predict and plan everything. This idea brings us to the third point.
3. It’s just not going to work with everyone
Needs vary from relationship to relationship constellation and thus one person may be completely fine with a strategy while another person not at all. Accepting that people’s needs are so different and that for one person, planning or disappearing for a few days without a word may be less emotionally impactful than with another is important to accept.
For that reason, communicating emotional needs and finding strategies Is required in all relationships and needs to be done from square one.
4. Emotional needs: you first
Here’s something to think about: Before you go and talk to anyone about your needs, you need to look at your relationship and your approach to meeting your needs first. No one can provide a need for you if you either feel ashamed for needing it or don’t know what exactly you need.
For that reason, it is vital to start with yourself first. Think about what in life and a specific relationship is non-negotiable. What can’t you live without? Now think whether that is something you want to have provided by that person or can it be someone else.
With each relationship constellation, think about the needs that you want to only meet through that one venue and what needs can be met elsewhere.
Furthermore, think about needs that you are ashamed or afraid of admitting or communicating. If one or many come into your mind, you likely learned that is either a burden to need that or it’s not ok. These are needs to especially look out for.
5. Communicating emotional needs: wait for a situation
When wanting to communicate your needs it’s best to start with a situation where the need was unmet and use that as a way of starting the conversation. Because what is important for all the steps that follow and what dictates success is specificity.
When you just go to a friend and ask for reliability they will have a hard time doing it because they first have a different association to that need and second may not know how to do it.
6. Just the facts darling, just the facts
In addition to step 5, when you are in a situation where a need is unmet, use that exact moment as an entry to communicate the unmet needs by first stating the facts of the situation. It’s also fine to wait a few hours to a day but make sure it is not too long before you talk about the situation.
To communicate the facts of a situation, think about how a reporter would neutrally communicate what just happened, just don’t switch the names. For example:
– “I didn’t get a reply to my texts the past two days.”
– “We were supposed to meet at 2 pm but you came at 2:30 pm.”
– “When I talked about my day at work you continue looking at your phone.”
Make sure this is short and when communicated, that there are no hidden blames or judgments such as “we were supposed to meet at 2 pm but you came late.” The word late can easily be blame and is usually not specific for people. So focus on the facts only.
7. Communicating emotional needs: Open up, open up your heart
After communicating the facts, talk about how this situation or behavior made you feel. Now the tricky part of this is to not secretly communicate blame when talking about feelings. Some emotions are secretly taking about a behavior of another person and are therefore not feelings.
- Betrayed-> secretly saying “You betrayed me”
- Misunderstood -> secretly saying “You misunderstand me”
- Unwanted -> secretly saying “You don’t want me”
- Invalidated -> secretly saying “You invalidate me”
- Disrespected -> secretly saying “You disrespect me”
- Pressured -> secretly saying “You pressure me”
- Unappreciated -> secretly saying “You don’t appreciate me”
Whereas feelings are on their own, without a blame. Such as
To communicate facts and feelings you can say
“When (facts) happened, I felt (emotion)”
Example: “When I didn’t get a reply for the past two days I felt sad.”
8. State the need
After communicating the facts and the emotions, it’s time to address the unmet need. To do that you need to get some clarity for yourself. Why are you feeling this way? What were you missing? What need was unmet? It can help to look at a list of needs to find the specific one or two that are absent or violated in that situation. To help with that here are some examples, but you can also easily check out a list.
To communicate the need, you can simply use the facts and emotions from above and add the need.
When (facts) happened, I felt (emotion), because (need) is important to me.
For example: “When I didn’t get a reply for the past two days I felt sad because intimacy is important to me.”
Or “When I talked about my day at work you continue looking at your phone I felt helpless because I needed to be seen and heard.”
9. Dialogue about it
When communicating your needs, it is important to specifically ask for something that can be improved and not vaguely say “I need safety” or “I want intimacy”. Then go into a discussion about it and find a solution that works for both people.
In addition to the previous steps this can look like this:
When (facts) happened, I felt (emotion), because (need) is important to me. Could you please to (strategy) next time?
Or making a general request and asking for feedback.
When (facts) happened, I felt (emotion), because (need) is important to me. What do you think about this?
For example: “When I didn’t get a reply for the past two days I felt sad because intimacy is important to me. Could you next time check in with me at least once a day?”
When approaching the communication around unmet needs this way you are opening a conversation and helping other people understand and assist you.
Needs are an essential element of life. Unmet needs will always be an issue in relationships. It’s important to find the balance between working on your happiness while simultaneously making sure that your emotional needs are met. This can only happen through honest and open conversation.