Everyone deserves to be in a relationship where they are treated with affection and respect. In a romantic relationship affection can be expressed through loving words, touch or loving acts of kindness. We feel respected when we feel that our partner honors our values and viewpoints and treats us with warmth.
However, we have other emotional needs as well. What if there are important emotional needs that our partner does not meet? Does it mean the relationship is not good enough? Or do we have to accept that there will always be a degree of unfulfillment in our lives?
What are emotional needs?
All of us have some basic emotional needs that we are driven to fulfill. Many of them are met in close relationships, with our partner, family and close friends. Some of them are ones that we need to work on on our own.
Common emotional needs in addition to affection and respect are, for example:
- Companionship. Feeling deeply connected to another person makes us feel emotionally grounded. When we have someone who truly knows us, we feel seen, heard and validated.
- Safety and security. We need a place to feel safe, to retreat to when we need to rest and heal. We need to feel secure enough in life, to know that nothing is threatening our lives.
- Personal growth and meaning. We need to feel a sense of achievement or that we are engaged in something meaningful. When we do something that matters to us it gives us meaning in life.
- Sense of belonging and appreciation. When this need is met, we feel that we are accepted as we are, by our loved ones and in our communities. We also acknowledge our worth to ourselves.
- Autonomy and choice. We need to feel that the life we live and the choices we make reflect and honor our values and interests.
- Alone time. We need to have some time and space just for ourselves when no one needs anything from us. It may be the space that you create in your mind or it may be an actual physical space.
Why are emotional needs important?
When our emotional needs are met, life feels manageable and enjoyable. We feel capable of dealing with life’s challenges and feel that we are growing and developing as individuals. We feel content in life and that we are living a full life.
When our emotional needs are not met, we may feel unhappy, unfulfilled, frustrated and lonely. Life and the world does not feel safe and we see the future from a negative perspective.
Emotional needs change over time
Our emotional needs change as we move through time. Needs that were important when you were younger may no longer be a priority. New needs may emerge as we grow and develop as a person.
The relationships we are in and our life circumstances also influence our needs. During our life course we are faced with different demands on our time as well as different priorities and responsibilities. This will impact which needs are met easily and which are tougher to fulfill. For example, parents with young children often appreciate alone time while single people may find alone time difficult to tolerate.
Emotional needs differ between individuals
Each individual has their own emotional needs. The differences in our needs depend on our personality, life experiences, as well as our core values and beliefs.
Sometimes differences in needs creates conflict in relationships. You may have observed the tension in different needs in your parents’ relationship. While your mother may have had a greater need for feeling like she and her family belonged in the community. Your father, on the other hand, may have prioritized autonomy and preferred if the family kept others at a distance.
Emotional needs and romantic relationships
When we are in a romantic relationship our partner is usually the main person who gives us what we need on an emotional level. However, what can we do when our partner is absent or unable to meet all our needs?
Most people will seek to have these needs met by family members and friends. The downside of this is, however, that the more we seek emotional support outside the romantic relationship, the more negative we feel about our relationship and the relationship feels less secure.
There is research suggesting that the more we seek our partner to fulfil our needs, the less we want to seek someone else to confide in. The more we turn away from our partner and seek emotional fulfillment from others, the more likely we are to think of ending the relationship.
There may be two explanations for why turning away from our partner makes us less committed to the relationship. First, if we confide in someone who is not a friend of the relationship, they may encourage us to break up. They may see the unfulfilled needs as a sign that the relationship does not work. Second, we may realize that we can feel supported even if we are not with our partner. Being single again does not feel as scary as we thought.
Others are not obliged to meet your emotional needs
If you can get your emotional needs met by your partner, your relationship grows stronger. However, you cannot demand that your partner meets all your needs. The moment you demand something from your partner, you are not treating them with respect. The demand will work against you and the affection your partner feels for you.
What can I do if my needs are not met?
If you feel emotionally unsatisfied in your relationship, you do not have to suffer in silence.
- Recognize what your emotional needs are. What is important to you now and how are these needs not being met? How much control do you have over these needs? Can you give yourself something that would meet these needs?
- You need to talk to your partner about your needs. Tell them which needs are being met and which are not. Do not forget to also ask your partner if they feel their needs are being met! If you are asking them to do more for you, be willing to do more for them as well. The discussion may turn out to be a constructive one that you can build upon, or you may realize that the discussion is tougher than the two of you can handle, you may benefit from some professional help.
- If you need to seek emotional support from someone other than your partner, make sure you choose that person wisely. Make sure they will not only support you but also your relationship. If you confide in someone who rather saw you single again, you are playing with fire.
Everyone deserves to be treated with affection and respect in their relationship. That is the bottom line. The more you and your partner can meet each other’s emotional needs the better. When needs are met your relationship becomes stronger and happier.
In December Ask Yourself series focusses on your romantic relationship. Read more here.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.