In every relationship there are emotional needs. In acceptance and commitment therapy – a type of therapy that may be considered for some couples, we sometimes consider these needs a part of the person’s core values – meaning, we treat them as someone that cannot and does not need to be changed. We treat it as though these underlying needs are all valid.
For example, one partner may find that they need to feel affection in order to be satisfied in the relationship, while another partner may feel they prefer distance and space. We then approach the relationship by treating both of these needs as 100% valid.
The Difference Between Needs and Wants
Each of us has “needs” in the relationship. But most of the ways we fulfill those needs are “wants.” For example, a person may feel that they need affection, so to address that affection, they want a hug. Someone else may feel they need a house to feel orderly. To address that need, they want the partner to do the dishes.
It’s important to first establish the difference between a need and a want. Once you’ve established those differences, you can work on negotiating the wants. For example, perhaps one partner prefers physical affection, and the other wants space. The partners can then negotiate how to give both by finding a middle ground in between the ideal (in this case, non-stop physical affection) and the intolerable (in this case, no physical contact).
By defining the ideal and the intolerable, you can start to determine what is a tolerable amount that meets both of your needs. You can then talk about it openly. A conversation can be as follows:
- Would you be willing to kiss me for a few hours?
- If not, would you be willing to hug me for a few hours?
- If not, would you be willing to kiss me for a half hour?
- If not, would you be willing to kiss me for a half hour if I give you space for the next hour?
You and your partner are then negotiating in a way to make sure that both of your needs are met. It does require both of you to be flexible with your wants, but it also allows you to find a middle ground that is comfortable for both of you. By negotiating these win/win arrangements, both partners can have their needs met without sacrificing what is intolerable to them in the relationship.
What Happens if Someone’s Needs and Wants Are Inflexible?
As we explore a person’s needs, we may find that they have a schema trigger that is inflexible. For example, someone with an “unrelating standards” schema may find that their ideal situation – let’s say they want to see a movie at exactly 9pm – may be the same as their intolerable situation (in this case, being late for the movie). Negotiating a middle ground in these scenarios can be difficult.
But there are still ways to overcome it. Couples can trade “Why don’t we plan to get to the move at 8:30 so that we’re early but I would also like us to spend some time at home on Tuesday just talking” or they start by finding out their partners needs and wants, and then figuring out where a middle ground can be reached.
Doing so can help the individual with the more perfectionist tendencies to engage in their side of the negotiating table, while still avoiding the intolerable.