Getting emotional needs met in a relationship

How to Meet Your Relationship Needs (and not be needy)

Each of us has a basic human need for love. The need for a secure bond is hardwired in us from birth. But we are not born knowing how to express our emotional needs in words.  We need to learn about meeting needs in a relationship.

Meeting our needs for emotional connection, respect and acceptance are essential to our wellbeing. That’s why losing a sense of connection or intimacy is so deeply troubling. To feel safe, we need to know we can depend on each other to express and respond to our emotional needs.

Seeking ways to meet needs for love and comfort in a relationship is healthy and human. Building a healthy relationship means sharing needs without being “needy.” What’s the difference?

What Are the Main Things you Need in a Relationship?

The desire for belonging and acceptance is a basic human need. Connection is essential to our sense of safety and wellbeing. Recurring arguments with a loved one can feel like a life or death matter when they don’t move the couple closer to meeting needs in the relationship.

Disconnection feels lonely, painful and often scary. Connection gives comfort. People need connection to help understand what is happening within and between them, and how to live in the world. A healthy relationship is a place to know and care about someone special, and be known and cared for in return. Longing for such a place is authentic and natural.

What Needs Are Healthy In a Relationship?

Healthy needs in a relationship include:

  • Kind attention
  • Comfort in distress
  • To be seen as a unique person
  • To be and appreciated as-is

Put another way, attention, responsiveness, and engagement are essential to a healthy relationship.

“ARE you there for me?” is Dr. Sue Johnson’s reminder for these three basic human needs in a healthy partnership. They are to Attend, Respond, Engage with each other on an emotional level.

When Is Someone Needy?

Most of us know neediness when we see it. Needy behavior is about avoiding pain. It’s an effort to numb distress, rather than explore it and respond with self-care.

A person who feels needy uses others to escape emotional pain. A needy person seeks distraction. Needy behavior is about dodging responsibility for one’s own happiness. A needy person may not know how to express his or her own emotional needs.

In a healthy partnership, each person accepts their responsibility for their own happiness. Secure connection thrives when partners learn to express and respond kindly to their emotional needs.

The difference between sharing needs and being needy, says psychologist Margaret Paul, is intent:

Healthy needs spur intent to:

  • Love ourselves and others
  • Learn to open more fully to love and share it
  • Embrace our human need to share connection, caring, fun, sexuality and growth

Needy feelings spur intent to:

  • Protect ourselves from pain
  • Numb pain with addictions
  • Get caught up in fears and worries in the mind
  • Forsake being present in one’s body
  • Use harsh self-judgment to shut down, instead of self-compassion to open up inside

Is My Relationship Meeting My Needs? Or Am I Too Needy?

These are important questions. But they may not be the most helpful to guide someone in creating a healthy relationship.

A more helpful question, in my opinion, is:

Is My Message About My Needs Getting Through?

You may not see your own needs if you are consumed by worry about the other person. It is not healthy to constantly put your own needs on hold for “the sake of the relationship.”

Psychologist Dr. Stan Tatkin frames the challenge of meeting needs in relationship this way:

If you’re codependent, then you are overly concerned with the other person and not concerned with yourself at all. You are sacrificing yourself for the sake of the relationship. However, in a secure relationship… [different people] come together in order to create a safe, thriving environment for each other, both people serve the THIRD entity, the relationship, as they see it as a path for both of them to grow/expand even more than they could if they were on their own.

How Meeting Needs in a Relationship Builds Personal Strength

A secure relationship helps partners anchor and stabilize each other’s emotions. Being there for another person allows us to feel our unconditional value as a human being. When we pay attention to someone we care about, and we get a positive response, we feel what it means to matter. Feeling secure together makes each person more confident in himself or herself.

The more secure you are, the more you can take risks and feel alive. For instance, rock climbers can do higher and more difficult routes when they take turns belaying each other, acting as a secure weight.

Healthy relationships help us learn who we are. Meeting each other’s human needs helps us find meaning in the world. That’s because we see the difference we can make to another person’s wellbeing. We can feel the positive impact we have on each other.

Each of us has a need to be accepted as-is. When we hurt, it’s normal to turn to a life partner for comfort. When we’re happy, sharing that joy with someone special is life-affirming. In a healthy relationship, partners learn how to be there for each other so that the relationship – and each person – is stronger for it.