27 August 2007

More On Needs In A Relationship


In a previous post, I talked about Emotional Needs in a Relationship.
But what is a need? How do you distinguish that from a "want" or even a "like-to-have"?

It's all really subjective. Technically, all you "need" is food and physical protection from the elements.

But we all want more. In fact we need more to reach higher levels of fulfillment in our lives. A useful model for understanding needs is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It is usually pictured as a triangle. The bottom to top of the triangle is ordered starting with physical needs, and moving through , societal, emotional, and to "self-actualization."

The idea is that in order to reach the next higher level, you must first achieve the needs of your current level.

Anything beyond the physiological and Safety needs are not technically needs, in the sense of "you will die if you do not receive these." They are really wants and expectations--like-to-haves or want-to-haves.

So lets rearrange the emotional needs from a previous post and see if putting them on Maslow's Hierarchy makes any sense. Before going any further, position of the need on the hierarchy is not an indicator of the importance of the need to a person. Those are individual.
Clearly Financial Support is a primal need. Without that, survival may be at stake.

I put Domestic support into the Safety category, because of things like the importance of cleanliness, etc. I also put Financial Support into Safety because money is required for shelter, clothing, etc. Domestic support can also be an enabler of Financial Support. If the at-home partner can keep clothes clean and ironed, it may help the financial supporter achieve more.

Note that I did not include Sexual Fulfillment in the Physiological Needs. Obviously sex is required for propagation of the genes/species, but it is not a survival need per se. From this perspoecative, Sexual Fulfillment does belong in the Love/Belonging bucket where it speaks of Sexual Intimacy.

I put Recreational companionship, Conversation, Affection, and Family Commitment into the Love/Belonging category, although arguably Family Commitment could also be in the Safety category.

Three needs make it into the esteem category: Honesty and Openness, Physical Attractiveness, and Admiration. I believe that Honesty and Openness is a sign of respect. Lack of respect from one's partner can hurt self-esteem. Receiving words of Admiration is also in this category.

Hearing positive things from someone that you love and whose opinion you respect is very powerful.

Finally, I wasn't sure quite where to put physical attractiveness. In the Needs post I expanded that a little to include overall attractiveness (going beyond the physical and into things like intelligence, and ability to have a conversation in a social setting). So I think for many people having an attractive spouse is a symbol to the world that they have somehow "won."

I'm not sure how healthy that is, but I think it falls into the esteem category.
So what we see is that most of the "Needs" are not needs at all, (Financial Support and possibly Domestic Support being the only exceptions) but are requirements in some way for us to reach the next level of emotional fulfillment.

In today's world, we mostly tend to focus on moving into the higher levels of the hierarchy. One hundred years ago, or even more recently, before we had a social safety net, people had to focus on phyical and security needs. How the world has changed.

Are you stuck at some level of Maslow's hierarchy? What is preventing you from moving to the next level?

On to Workaholics >>>>>

16 August 2007

Emotional Needs In A Relationship

All people have emotional needs that must be met by other people. In a committed relationship, it is natural that some portion, often a large portion of them, would be met by your partner.

Steve Harley, a marriage and family therapist has a website called MarriageBuilders. He also runs MarriageBuilders seminars. I do not know anything about the efficacy of his approach, but one thing that seems pretty good to me is his list of the ten emotional needs that people need to have met. In alphabetical order, they are:
  • Admiration - "Many of us have a deep desire to be respected, valued and appreciated by our spouse. We need to be affirmed clearly and often." This one is easy to fulfill, but it is a two edged sword. Critical words can really hurt someone with this need.
  • Affection - Expressions of caring. Hugs, foot rubs, flowers, walks. For many people the defining emotional need. Affection need is often high for women.
  • Conversation - "Good conversation is characterized by the following: (1) using it to inform and investigate each other, (2) focusing attention on topics of mutual interest, (3) balancing the conversation so both have an equal opportunity to talk, and (4) giving each other undivided attention while talking to each other. "Conversation fails to meet this need when (1) demands are made, (2) disrespect is shown, (3) one or both become angry, or (4) when it is used to dwell on mistakes of the past or present. Unless conversation is mutually enjoyable, a couple is better off not talking to each other at all." Conversation need is often high for women.
  • Domestic Support - Financial Support and Domestic Support. Bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan. These often carry gender biases, but they work both ways. The working spouse is expected to contribute at home. The arrival of children can place a huge stress on this one.
  • Family Commitment - Being "active in the moral and educational development of the children." I would include their physical development as well.
  • Financial Support - This one, like physical attractiveness, may seem a bit shallow. But here's a way to think about it. " It may be difficult for you to know how much you need financial support, especially if you were recently married or if your spouse has always been gainfully employed. But what if, before marriage, your spouse had told you not to expect any income from him or her. Would it have affected your decision to marry? Or, what if your spouse could not find work, and you had to financially support him or her throughout life?"
  • Honesty and Openness - "Those with a need for honesty and openness want accurate information about their spouses' thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities and plans for the future."
  • Physical Attractiveness - Not just for Shallow Hal. It is important to have a spouse whose looks appeal to you. Perhaps the most important issue on this is that the couple is well-matched. I'm not sure how much I agree on this one. Maybe, your spouse has to have at least some minimum level of physical beauty.
  • Recreational Companionship - "The need for recreational companionship combines two needs into one. First, there is the need to be engaged in recreational activities and second, the need to have a companion." Recreation companionship need is often high for men.
  • Sexual Fulfillment - A need exclusively for marriage. This need cannot be ethically met outside. "When you married, you and your spouse promised to be faithful to each other for life. You agreed to be each other's only sexual partner. You made this commitment because you trusted each other to meet your sexual needs, to be sexually available and responsive to each other." Sexual fulfillment need is often high for men.
This seems like a pretty good list to me. Dr. Harley says that men and women tend to have five different needs as their highest ranked.

Men: Sexual Fulfillment, Recreational companionship, Domestic support, Physical attraction, and Admiration
Women: Conversation, Affection, Financial support, Honesty and Openness, Family commitment.
Your mileage may vary. (YMMV)
Each person has his or her priorities. Dr. Harley provides a questionnaire to help people ascertain their emotional needs.

The Five Love Languages

One fairly well know framework for defining those emotional needs is described in a book called "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. The five love languages are:
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time
Receiving Gifts
Acts of Service
Physical Touch

His premise is that by doing things that are part of your partner's love language, you fill their "tank." In turn, they feel more loving and respond by filling yours. A lot of people really like this approach. I think it makes sense. It ties in neatly with M. Scott Peck's definition of love, which is that love is not a feeling but rather a choice. It is what you do.

However, the five love languages don't work very well for me personally. I think the categories are a little vague. I like a more specific set of needs that were set out by Steve Harley.

The Six Secrets

Another framework for the emotional needs in a relationship is CREATE: chemistry, respect, enjoyment, acceptance, trust, and empathy

From the book The Six Secrets of a Lasting Relationship, by Mark Goulston. I have not read the book, but here is what I think.

From Goulston's website:
KEEP THE CHEMISTRY - Chemistry is the passion that sweeps you away when you first fall in love.
Test yourself: How often are you turned on by the way your partner looks dressed and undressed?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
EARN EACH OTHER'S RESPECT - This has more to do with how good a person you are -- and how good a person your partner is -- than how good each of you makes the other feel. You demonstrate respect by how well you listen.
Test yourself: How often do you listen to your partner and hear him/her all the way through without interrupting?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
ENJOY EACH OTHER - This is about having fun being together. When you're with your spouse -- or think about him -- it makes you feel lighter and puts a smile on your face. Unpleasant people -- judgmental, easy to disappoint and difficult to please -- drain your energy.
Test yourself: How often do you and your partner dine alone together?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
ACCEPT YOUR PARTNER AS IS - It is better to hope for change, rather than to keep acceptance contingent on changes being made. When acceptance is missing, partners feel judged and as if they can't do anything right.
Test yourself: How often do you feel you can be yourself with your partner?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
BUILD TRUST - Trust makes it safe to confide fears and dreams without concern that what you say will be exploited, betrayed, trivialized or ridiculed. It takes seconds to destroy trust -- and years to rebuild it.
Test yourself: How often are you able to tell your partner things you feel embarrassed or ashamed about?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.
EMPATHY TO DEFUSE RESENTMENT - Empathy is about understanding and feeling understood by your partner. It's asking, "What's it like for my partner right now?" Don't presume you know.
Test yourself: How frequently do you feel understood by your partner?
Answers: 1/Rarely... 2/Sometimes... 3/Often.

HOW DO YOU RATE? If you and your partner scored 3's across the board, you have the basis for a lasting relationship. Congratulations!If, however, either you or your partner scored less than 3 in any of the six areas, you may want to improve.Set aside time to talk through when and why any of those areas deteriorated. Make every effort to have a dialogue instead of a debate... to talk with instead of at or over... to listen openly rather than defensively.Then decide what each of you specifically needs to do now to restore the chemistry, respect, enjoyment, acceptance, trust and empathy so that you can fall in love again -- and stay there.

My take on Goulston: It seems pretty reasonable overall. I am not sure that the chemistry is something you can control. All the recent research indicates that it is determined by levels of neurotransmitters in your body and brain. This gets back to the bag of chemicals concept. I think the other five are extremely important. However, like the Five Love Languages, this one is not specific enough in my opinion. It is at a higher level and not as actionable as the Ten Emotional Needs by Harley.

On to More Emotional Needs In A Relationship >>>>>

06 August 2007

The Nature of Love, Part 2, Staying in Love

If you did not read The Nature of Love, Part 1, please go there now. It's ok. I'll wait.

I have read a lot of books and done a lot of self analysis to understand emotions and especially the multitude of issues around love and relationships.

One of the most important books that I have found is "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. I especially liked the first half of the book, where the author discusses the nature of love. The second half of the book, in which he talks about religion and spirituality, may have been a little beyond my grasp.

Peck divides what most people call love into two stages: the first initial feeling of love and the more considered, thought out acts of love that follow. He defines love as, "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Note that he does not label it a feeling, rather, it is a decision (The will to extend...).

Think of it like this. You know that feeling when you meet a new person and begin dating. The incredible energy, longing, discovery, and attention that you give to each other. That's the first stage. Really it is easy. You ignore incompatibilities and defects in each other. Life is easy. Everything is good.

Unfortunately, that is not what love is really about. If it were that easy, the divorce rate wouldn't be so high. This initial stage inv\evitably fades. Once it fades, and only then does true love begin.

Once the initial rush fades, Love is a choice--not an emotion or feeling. It is a decision that we make. We decide that we will give love to another, accept them for what they are. Only by recognizing that can we truly make a commitment to a relationship.

Another thing to note, is that Peck talks about "another's spiritual growth." He comes from a religious Christian background, so I am not sure what spiritual growth means. I don't think he means getting your partner closer to religion, but rather enhancing their emotional well-being. I interpret it to mean meeting each other's emotional needs within the relationship.

It is convenient to say something like, "I don't feel love for her, therefore I won't buy her flowers." That is a cop out. In fact, doing loving things is the essence of loving someone. Not just buying presents, but respecting that person and giving them your time and attention. It's about kindness, support, and doing the things that allow the person to feel valued in their role in your relationship. as Peck says, "Love is as love does."

I believe, and perhaps this is my dysfunctions coming through, that the high divorce rate in the US, stems from lack of understanding that love is a choice. When people "fall out of love" two things are really happening. The first is that the "chemical" attraction of falling in love fades. As stated in a previous entry, this is inevitable.

The next thing though is to choose to love. When the attraction fades (the honeymoon is over), that is when love must start. How often when people divorce do we hear something like, "I just didn't love him anymore." In the framework that I have described here, that is a reflection on the speaker, not the relationship.

In this chart, you can see that as the feeling fades, the choice has to replace it or you're left with very little. A few things to note in the chart. Notice that I put the low point at about seven years. Maybe there's something to that seven year itch thing (some studies suggest a three year itch). At that point, you can either make the choice to love, as depicted, or you don't and the orange area disappears.

Edit: Sept 5, 2007. I am thinking that perhaps I overstated the lack of feeling over time. I do believe that the feeling can continue. Not in the overpowering sense of an early relationship, but that by continuing to perform acts of love for each other it creates a virtuous circle that helps maintain the feeling.

All this does not mean that you should choose love over your own health. Do not stay in an abusive relationship.

The other thing to think about is that in a marital or long term relationship, you can give love to a person, but if the other person is not loving you back in the ways that you need, you may need to reconsider the relationship. Before you make this type of decision, I would suggest that you get couples counseling with someone who really understands that love is a choice. You love your partner by helping them to understand that "falling out of love" is natural and is only the beginning of the next and more important phase of the relationship.

Unconditional Love

We have all heard of unconditional love. I used to think it was a ridiculous concept. How could you continue to love a person despite the horrible things they have done.Thinking of love as an action verb, rather than an uncontrolled feeling puts this into a reasonable context.

All it means is that in a relationship, I will continue to give to my partner, despite that person's flaws (within reason). I am excluding from this the obvious exaggerations. The "within reason" part excludes unwanted and uninvited physical and emotional abuse. Those are issues that require you to first love yourself by putting up boundaries to prevent damage to yourself.

So suppose that your spouse is not meeting your emotional need of providing financial support. It could be that he has been laid off because of the bad economy, or he was surfing porn at work, or maybe he is just not motivated by work and career. You feel unloved because he is not meeting your need. How do you respond?

Too often people respond by withholding their love from the jobless spouse. Perhaps he has a strong need for affection and words of love. Instead, you withhold it, perhaps thinking that you can reward him once he gets a new job. This is conditional love. It bases your giving of love on someone else's performance in some arena. This kind of relationshi is manipulative, and will likely form a negative feedback loop, as each partner withholds more and more from the other.

A better response is to not withhold the things your partner needs. To love them with your actions. Continue to state your needs. Then trust them to do their best to fulfill those needs. It takes time and patience sometimes. That is the work of love.

But What If...

Sometimes, and I think much less than our divorce rates would indicate, mutual love is not possible. For example, a person may simply be unable to give his spouse what she needs. She continues to love him, but at some point, all she does is give. Again, I am leaving out the obvious abuses here.

We should not be accounting for every dish washed vs every present, or diaper changed, or lawn mowed, etc. Sometimes one of the people is putting the effort into the relationship, while the other will not, and will not seek help.

I believe that in these cases, and only once all reasonable avenues of assistance have been pursued, then the couple should pursue separation. If the couple has truly tried and done their work, the separation can possibly be reasonably amicable--both partners serene in the knowledge that they tried, did everything that they could without surrendering their own values, but were unable to make it work.

If the people have not worked, and harbor ill-will because all they know is that they did not get what they wanted, , there will be a bitter divorce that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and tears apart families and friends. Divorce can be ugly and nasty. Chossing to love is almost always a better course.

What Are These Emotional Needs

Higher up I talked about emotional needs in a relationship. I'll write more about that in a future installment (Emotional Needs in a Relationship), but if you want to do some reading on your own, try this link.

On to Emotional Needs in a Relationship >>>>>