We all have basic human needs to survive — water, food, shelter, etc. Beyond this, we also have more complex needs which dictate our happiness and quality of life. It’s our emotional needs that need to be sustained for our romantic relationships to thrive.
Every relationship is different and therefore has a specific set of needs and wants. However, understanding your emotional needs in a relationship is crucial to its survival.
Needs in a relationship refer to the essential things that individuals require to feel satisfied and supported within their relationship.
Research shows that relationship quality depends on your partner’s responsiveness to one’s needs — that a partner understands, values, and supports important aspects of self.
“A need is something that you cannot negotiate on,” says Dr. Krista Jordan, a psychotherapist at Choosing Therapy. “If not present, it will breed extreme distress and/or resentment and eventually degrade the quality of the relationship.”
Studies suggest that it is the fulfillment of these needs that maintains a healthy relationship.
In romantic relationships, there's an important distinction between needs and wants.
“A ‘want’ is something that you would prefer to have, or like to have, but you can be okay without,” says Dr. Jordan. “This means that if you don’t get whatever this is, you will not hold a grudge or feel severely hurt.”
For example, you may want your partner to share the care of your pets. However, if they don’t want to walk the dog, instead offering to do something else, this is acceptable to you. Therefore, it is a want but not a need and you would not end the relationship over it.
“A ‘need’ is essentially a dealbreaker, something that you cannot negotiate on because you have very, very strong feelings about it,” says Dr. Jordan.
An example of a need might be “I need you to prioritize our financial security”. In this case, if your partner uses all your savings on a non-necessity, you would not be able to stay in the relationship without major changes.
“If this kind of thing happened several times, you would need to exit the relationship because staying would breed serious resentment and doom the relationship to failure,” says Dr. Jordan.
In a relationship, situations will arise where your needs and your partner's wants may come into conflict. Although compromise is important, you should never compromise on your needs.
“If you try to negotiate on a ‘need’ you will find yourself resentful, bitter, and often behaving in passive-aggressive ways,” says Dr. Jordan.
Partners are dependent on each other for their need fulfillment. Although primary and emotional needs can be categorized under five main pillars, specific needs can vary.
“Our needs are connected to our value systems, our life goals, and our childhood histories,” says Dr. Jordan. “Needs can only be defined by the individual, so there should never be an assumption that another person holds or understands your needs.”
Even though needs may differ in a relationship, they should always be respected. For example, if someone comes from a poor background, they may have a stronger need for financial security. Or someone may have religious needs, such as maintaining a Kosher household.
“If you don’t know your partner’s needs, it is very important to have the conversation,” says Dr. Jordan. “Be careful not to sound judgemental of their needs, even if they are different from yours.”
Relationship needs are often characterized as basic and emotional needs. Basic needs are the bare minimum that you should expect in a relationship. This, however, does not mean that your emotional needs are any less important.
As mentioned, individual needs may vary depending on the relationship. Nonetheless, these are 10 important emotional needs that you should be non-negotiable.
Relationships would be nothing without a healthy line of communication.
Foster a transparent relationship by opening up to your partner about what you need from them for the relationship to work.
“Common relationship needs might include sexual fidelity, emotional fidelity, financial stability, physical safety, or honesty and transparency,” says Dr. Jordan.
Open communication allows your partner to understand exactly why you need these things and will encourage them to respect these needs.
Trust is a foundational aspect of a relationship. Building trust allows you to feel emotionally secure and safe with your partner — this sense of security should never be compromised.
Trust can be elusive for some couples for several reasons, but it is essential to heal a relationship without trust to move forward.
Wanting to spend time with a loved one is a basic aspect of any relationship.
Studies show that people who spent quality time with their partner at least once a week were 3.5 times more likely to report being ‘very happy’ in their relationship compared to those who didn’t.
So, whether planning an at-home date night or heading out on the town together, quality time is key when building an emotional connection.
Intimacy comes in many different forms. From emotional to physical intimacy, it’s about building on that closeness and connection you share with your partner.
Intimacy isn’t just about physical touch. By understanding your partner's love languages, it’s easier to build on and preserve your intimate relationship.
By choosing to open up to your partner, you are asking for emotional support and vice versa.
According to research, emotional support includes a wide range of behaviors such as empathy, compassionate participation, caring, and valued feeling. The study goes on to show that people who receive more emotional support are happier, healthier, and more able to cope with the problems of life.
Feeling supported in your relationship is an incredible feeling and allows you to feel valued and understood by your partner. Relationship satisfaction is best when both partners act as each other's emotional support system, in both the good and the bad times.
Validation is the act of being heard and understood by your partner. When your partner shares their innermost feelings with you, it is important to validate their thoughts and emotions authentically.
Validating your partner through words of affirmation and encouragement helps to boost their self-esteem and self-worth. Making your relationship stronger as a result.
As Dr. Jordan highlights, it is important to refrain from judgment when your partner communicates their needs.
Even if your needs differ, you should be supportive of your significant other's needs at all times. This acceptance helps to create a sense of belonging and security in which your relationship can thrive.
Relationships need space. Although it may seem like a contradiction to quality time, preserving your autonomy is crucial in a healthy relationship. It is natural to feel dependent on your partner, but being consistently attached at the hip is not the answer.
According to research, autonomy stresses the authenticity of behaviors and choices that are congruent with one’s own needs, and this promotes well-being and relationship maintenance behaviors. Therefore maintaining separate interests or hobbies is crucial for your individual mental health.
For example, activities like journaling or exercise help to promote your sense of self, and can help you feel more grounded in your relationship.
Being able to see things from your partner's perspective is an important skill in itself.
Studies show that the way spouses provide everyday support to one another plays a central role in relationship functioning, with empathetic behaviors making it easier to understand and meet a partner’s emotional needs.
In a relationship, you should be your partner’s greatest cheerleader.
Empower your loved ones in all their endeavors. Encourage them to chase their dreams and be there to catch them if they fall! This shared sense of victory and defeat establishes you as a team — with every accomplishment feeling even sweeter with your partner by your side.
Before you communicate with your partner on this topic, you have to completely understand your own needs.
“Generally people don’t have more than a handful of actual needs in a relationship,” says Dr. Jordan. “Sometimes we may present our ‘wants’ as our ‘needs’ to manipulate our partner to get what we want.”
This strategy is not the right approach when communicating your needs, as your actual needs won’t be taken as seriously.
“Be careful to know the difference and then tell your partner very clearly what your needs are,” says Dr. Jordan.
By being open and honest in your approach, your partner is more likely to actively engage and respect your needs from the start.
When your partner communicates their needs to you, it’s natural to want to please them. However, no matter our intentions, sometimes this isn’t always possible.
“If people took time in courtship, to be honest about their needs, there would be a lot fewer break-ups,” says Dr. Jordan. “The problem is that many of us tend towards people-pleasing, and as a country, our culture over-values being low-maintenance.”
Instead of agreeing to please your partner, take the time to reflect on your partner’s needs and if you can honestly meet them.
“It’s okay to not be comfortable with someone else’s needs, but it is not okay to pretend to agree when you don’t,” says Dr. Jordan. “Set your partner free to go find someone who can meet their needs, rather than trapping them in a relationship in which they will come to feel bad about their needs and you will resent them for having them.”
This may seem like a harsh approach, but your partner’s needs should be taken very seriously.
“These things are deep and meaningful to your person,” says Dr. Jordan. “When you meet their needs you build a high level of trust, intimacy, and interdependency that creates a true feeling of union between partners.”
Even with the best intentions, living up to your partner’s needs and expectations isn’t easy. If needs are unmet, it is important to be earnest in your apology in support of your partner's wellbeing. Take into account how this may make your partner feel, and determine not to break their trust in this way again. “The work may be hard but the payoff is huge,” says Dr. Jordan.