Written by Writer’s Corps member Cara Mackler
How do you know what you need in a relationship? Do you figure it out as you go, or do you know before you’ve even entered a relationship? What does it even mean to have needs in a relationship, and how do you make sure they’re met? What about what your partner needs? If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, or never thought about these questions before, you’ve come to the right article.
Having needs means having expectations and desires you feel fit your unique role in your relationship. Not everyone needs the same thing but, there are a few things that everyone absolutely deserves to have in every relationship. For example, everyone deserves respect, equality, and kindness. Without those things, your relationship may not be very healthy. But even with all of those things, healthy relationships aren’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. However, we can learn ways to love our partners even better. So, one way we can learn to #lovebetter in our relationships is by learning how to express our needs.
Related: 18 Ways To #LoveBetter in Your Relationship, Right Now
How Do You Know What Your Needs Are?
Let’s start with the basics: how do you know what you need in a relationship? A great place to start is by looking at your needs in other parts of your life. When you’re at work or at school, how do you feel valued and respected there? Maybe it’s through communication with your coworkers/classmates, or it’s regular check-ins with your boss/professor to make sure you feel like you’re doing a good job. Or, maybe you prefer to be more independent and to do your own thing and check in every once in a while. In your friendships, how do your friends make you feel good? Maybe they make you feel good by complimenting you and supporting you, or it’s by making you laugh and having a good time together. Maybe some friends are great listeners, or maybe you’re the one they come to for advice and that makes you feel good.
Identifying your needs can be easier than you think; what makes you feel loved? For me, what makes me feel loved is being held and getting physical affection, having meaningful conversations where I feel heard, doing things together (like cooking), and the occasional thoughtful unprovoked act (like when my partner cleans the apartment before guests come over because he knows I like that; even if it doesn’t really matter to him, he does it to make me happy).
Sometimes, we learn what we need through conflict. You might get upset when you feel like someone isn’t listening to you, or when someone isn’t giving you your space and alone time. It’s obviously better if we’re able to identify our needs and express them to our partner before getting into a conflict about it, but sometimes that is how we figure out what our needs are. Try to use those as learning experiences to avoid those conflicts in the future. It’s also important to remember that our partners aren’t mind readers, so we can’t assume that they’ll know exactly what we need before we tell them.
Related: 10 Life Skills You Should Have Before You Get Into a Relationship
How Do You Express Your Needs in a Healthy Way?
Now that you’ve identified what your needs are, expressing them to your partner is the next step. This can be a little tricky because you may be thinking, ‘How do I even bring that up in a conversation?’ Like I mentioned before, it can be something that comes up after a conflict. But, if we can avoid that conflict to begin with by expressing our needs ahead of time, that would definitely be better for everyone.
You can honestly bring it up however you want. If you’re in a new relationship, you can make it a part of getting to know each other. If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, you can use it to address things that have come up in the past. You can say something like, “I just read this AMAZING article about expressing needs in a relationship and it got me thinking…”
Then, it’s the question of how to express your needs without seeming, well, needy. Remember that needs are something that everyone has and everyone has the right to feel heard, valued, and respected in their relationships. Also, remember that you’re not making a list of demands because that is controlling and not okay. Needs and demands are very different. You’re not telling your partner what they have to do, you’re telling your partner how to love you better. So, it shouldn’t feel like you’re giving them a laundry list of required behaviors/actions; it should feel like a discussion about how to #lovebetter. Rather than saying, “give me hugs because I need physical affection”, you could say, “one of the things I feel like I need is physical affection, so do you think you can make an effort to hug me more?” But what happens if your partner responds, “I hate hugs, so I can’t do that”?
Related: 5 Easy Ways To Communicate Better in Your Relationship
What About What Your Partner Needs?
Uh oh. You’ve finally figured out how to express your needs to your partner only to find out they don’t match up with your partners’ needs? Time to break up?! Not so fast. This is not an automatic deal breaker so long as you find a way to compromise for each other without totally squashing each other’s needs. Okay, maybe they don’t like hugs (some people just aren’t huggers), but there are other ways they can meet your physical affection need. Maybe they can hold your hand while you walk together, or they can put their arm around you while you watch TV together.
Compromise is not always easy, but the goal is to have a win-win situation for everyone. So, communicate with your partner about how to do that without squashing either of your needs. It’s also important to remember that compromise means meeting halfway with your S.O. If one of you is not willing to do that, then you may have to re-evaluate your relationship.
Your partner should care about and respect your needs, and you should feel the same about theirs. Check in with your partner about their needs and ask them if you’re making them feel loved. We may not even realize the smallest actions we aren’t doing can make such a huge difference. And your S.O. will appreciate you caring enough to ask. My partner has anxiety, and for a long time, I never knew exactly how to support him about it. I would try to give advice and it wouldn’t help, or I would try to soothe him and it would make it worse. Finally one day I decided to ask him what he needed instead of assuming I knew. I didn’t realize I was only doing what I thought I would need in that situation without recognizing that not everyone needs the same things when it comes to anxiety or anything else.
Expressing Needs in a Relationship Helps Us to #LoveBetter
Relationships are tough work sometimes, but it’s worth the work with the right person. It’s important to be empathetic and respectful toward each other, and remember that you are equals. Not one person’s needs are any more important than the other person in any relationship, so there should be an equal shift back and forth between each other.
However, there may be instances when this shift weighs more heavily to one person, but it should always even out eventually. For example, I recently had a death in my family and lost someone very important to me. In that time of grief and mourning, my partner put aside his needs to take care of mine. He would walk our dog on the days I typically would so I could deal with the funeral home. He would keep the apartment extra clean when he knew I was coming home after a long day. He would let me cry, or give me space. He was everything I needed and more, and never hesitated to put my needs first. But after a little while, it balanced back out. It wouldn’t be fair to put one person’s needs first all the time.
When you’ve found someone that makes you happy and you feel like you bring out the best in one another, it’s an amazing feeling. But it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time and most likely it won’t be.
Learning how to love your partner better means both you and your partner are putting in an equal effort to make your relationship stronger, healthier, and happier. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty great to me. I think my partner deserves the best version of myself, and I think I deserve the best version of him, too. I also believe that you deserve the same in your relationships. Anything we can do to actively work to create those best versions together is a good thing. It can sorta make you feel unstoppable when the best versions of the two people you love the most in the world (your partner and of course yourself) join together to create this awesome, crazy thing called love.
What needs must be fulfilled in order for you to be happy in your relationship? Let us know @joinonelove