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Your Wants & Needs in Relationships

Your Wants & Needs in RelationshipsUnderstanding the difference between wants and needs can be a challenging line to walk from our codependent habits. We don’t believe that we can meet our needs so we expect everyone else to do it for us, and if they don’t meet our needs, they’ve failed us. We’ll discuss wants and needs in relationships—romantic, friendship, work, familial or otherwise. 

This matters because when you believe that other people should always be meeting your needs and that you should be meeting theirs, you’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of unnecessary suffering when they aren’t available or interested in doing exactly what you want them to do, when and how you want them to and vice versa. 

So disempowering for everyone involved, and what a sure-fire way to end up all sad, lonely, dejected and resentful, right? And expecting other people to fill our every need does not create closeness or intimacy or true connection. And that’s largely because you believe you’re speaking a true need, but it’s really a need-story, aka a want, all dressed up in needs clothing because that feels more worthy than just saying it’s a want.

So in that moment of expecting someone to, for example, meet your need-story for validation by commenting on your haircut or tattoo, or meet your need-story for connection by being available to hear about your long day after they had a long day, you’re not seeing them in their wholeness while demanding they see you in yours. You’re creating the requirement for lovability that they not show up in their authenticity in order to meet what you’re calling a need, so you can feel safe in loving them and being loved. 

That is classically codependent—it’s also not kind and doesn’t work. 

Because truly loving someone means accepting them for who they are, and making the mutually loving choice not to be with them if you can’t accept them and wish they were different. 

So let’s pause and look at how we ended up in this particular quagmire:

  • The internet.

Meme after meme tells us that we should state our needs in relationship and should get them filled by our partners and if they aren’t meeting all of our needs then they suck, which I am just not into, as you can tell.

  • From our family blueprints.

We often have unrealistic expectations especially if we were parentified children. Meaning we were asked, for a variety of reasons, to step into a parental role as children, to be a defacto therapist to a parent, to care for younger siblings while not getting the care you needed. Or if you were never given true independence and were micromanaged or infantilized into adulthood by your family of origin, whatever the reason, you may not have a firm understanding of where you and your responsibilities stop and other people’s start. 

This is a classically codependent thought error that tells us that we can’t meet our own needs, we have to meet everyone else’s needs and they have to meet ours. 

And when we live in that for long enough, we learn to distrust ourselves to meet our needs because we haven’t shown ourselves we can, largely because we are so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs. 

The unwritten agreement is that I am meeting all your needs and I expect you to do the same, even though I never asked you for what I needed and I may be meeting needs you never asked me to fulfill. 

We put ourselves out so hard and we expect everyone else to do the same, and we resent the shit out of the people we love when they don’t. 

So we get into this push-pull with people who can’t meet us the way we want them to, folks who can’t or won’t love us or show up for us the way we want them to because we are telling this story that we just need them to do XYZ and if they only did XYZ then we would feel good and safe in the relationship. 

So we hang on, believing that that day will come where they will meet our needs, the way we wish our parents had, and we become just more and more stuck, like trying to push our way through quicksand.

The thing to always remember, cause we’re always going to find our way back to compassion fast as we can, is that when we don’t remember how to validate ourselves, we can feel desperate to get external validation.

When our nervous systems are chronically dysregulated, a want, a desire, can feel like a need. When we are in so much dorsal vagal activity, the detached and checked out part of our nervous system, it can feel life or deathy that someone texts us back or validates us—to make us feel safe and wanted. 

If we tend towards more sympathetic activation it can feel unsafe to let our guard down to actually ask for what we want or to allow ourselves to actually feel really safe, so we expect that ole mind reading from our loved ones, and if we’re subconsciously blocking ourselves feeling okay in a relationship, we can then get all revved up in the story that our needs aren’t being met.

Many of us had to go it alone emotionally as children, and our inner children are desperate to not do it any more as adults, to feel sure in our relationships, and that can get conflated with getting our needs met. 

So validation, for example, can sure feel like a major need someone else must fill for us. 

My nerds, I love the work of Helen and Harville Hendrix, two social scientists who work on and study relationships, and their theory is called Imago. In short it says that we tend to project what we didn’t get from our parents, caregivers or other attachment figures onto our partners, in an attempt to heal the attachment wounds there, to try to get a different outcome to the story of our lovability. 

And so we can unwittingly expect our partners to read our minds and know our preferences and desires without our having to speak them. Expecting them to make us “Ok” or lovable by endless affirmation and reassurance. If we have anxious attachments, we can want someone to show up and stop us from having feelings and to distract us from our internal story that we are lonely or unlovable and that it will always be this way. From avoidant attachment we can go in another direction. We are fiercely independent and we don’t believe it’s ok to ask for support or safe to ask for help. 

Add to that the story that you don’t know what you want or need because you have been so externally focused, and of course it gets all complicated.  

So of course we feel insecure asking for support, when the story is I don’t even know what to ask for. I hear all the time, ‘my partner is always asking me what do you need, and I’m like I don’t fucking know.’

We expect our partners to always be who we say we need them to be. That can mean if we want them to want something, we want them to want it. A member of the Anchored community was saying that she wants her new boyfriend to be more ambitious. He doesn’t want that for himself—he’s happy with this life and his job and she believes she needs him to want that.

We also expect them to never upset us or trigger us, when safe and loving relationships are the most powerful place to feel triggered, offering us places to heal and grow.

So how does this serve us? Well! It keeps us cozy in our emotional childhood. 

It keeps us believing it’s someone else’s job to meet our emotional needs. We can stay in the false comfort of believing that Lassie is coming to save or rescue us. Because then we don’t have to take personal responsibility and we can just project all over someone else. 

If it is someone else’s job then we don’t have to learn to identify or meet our needs ourselves. 

But the truth is that we can know and meet our own emotional needs, we just lack practice, not capacity. 

If we think it’s someone else’s job to make us happy when we are sad, then we don’t learn how to sit in that discomfort or to make ourselves happy without buffering against those feelings. Our old script says “It is their job as my partner, parent, ride or die BFF or boss to see that I am having a challenging feeling or moment and they should step up and fix it,” which is us giving away our agency and control of our emotional wellness to others. 

Co-regulation of our nervous systems, grounding and calming ourselves together, is great and vital and important but what happens when the person you’ve outsourced your feelings to is unavailable, or exhausted, or just doesn’t feel like it? We set ourselves up for disappointment. 

We make other people the boss of our emotions. 

We lose trust and faith in ourselves and our capacity to handle our own emotions by and for ourselves. And when we get a handle on our emotions, we also know we can handle our needs.

When we know that we can meet our own needs, it is easier to ask for what we want. 

Because you get out of desperation and you get anchored in yourself and your own capacity to differentiate between wants and needs, to trust that you can meet your core needs and that you can be flexible around the how. So it doesn’t become that my sense of safety is dependent on you doing X. I can honor you for who and how you are and it becomes about receiving. I can receive love the way you can offer it, and I can remember that the people in my life are in it for me to love. Not to make me or you feel any kinda way, cause they just can’t do that for you, and it’s not loving or kind to expect them to. 

So let’s talk remedies

Start by writing out all of your expectations of your partner, your parents, whomever that you’re calling needs.

For example, you may say you need your partner to tell you that they love you several times a day. But what may be underneath that is a deep insecurity or belief that you are not lovable. 

We are often telling ourselves that the thing we need we need from an external source, when in fact we can get from ourselves through thought work and somatics.

And then ask yourself what of this can I meet for myself and how, and who else can I turn to for support? List as many options as you can think of.  

One of the goals is to get really creative with the how of meeting your wants that you’re calling needs because the more options you have the less you feel desperate. We do not make good decisions from sympathetic activation my nerds! The broader our base of support, the better. We are still in the time of corona so these can be online groups, friend phone dates, etc…  

It’s not fair to you or your partner or your best friend to expect them to meet all of your wants and needs.

Often when we are telling the story my partner never meets my needs, we are coming from all or nothing thinking, so run that check. We do have a penchant for drama from our codependent thinking. So just ask yourself if you’re in drama or all or nothing, and reality check with your people if you’re not sure if your ask is reasonable or loving or ok.  

Check in to see if you are projecting your desire to control your story about how something should be onto someone else’s behavior. 

Our brain’s negativity bias will lead us to focus on the negative—what we believe we need but we are not getting, and from our codependent lens we are so scared to be wrong and bad, we will focus on someone else being wrong. We won’t look at how we are showing up. We fall into black and white thinking—it’s either all them or all us. They are either not meeting my needs or I am the worst. What’s the middle path here? Am I looking at both sides of this? Am I looking at the wholeness or am I looking from my woundedness and looking at the part that is historically easier to look at. 

What often happens in codependent relationships is we make one person our everything. 

We assign our joy and wellness to them. We make them the full stewards of our emotional safety. It sucks for us and for them. It’s not kind. And it sets us up for a lot of discomfort. 

Instead you can learn to anchor yourself in your own deep belief in your lovability and worth and safety, knowing that when you hit a rough patch, you have your own back—you can meet your needs. And that you can from that grounded place reach out to others for support, not just your partner. 

Maybe instead of leaning exclusively on your partner, you call a friend. You don’t give one person full stewardship of your heart. So often in childhood we learned that the family was this insular unit and because we were keeping secrets, or parents weren’t emotionally secure. 

That kind of history can make it easy both to believe that making one person your everything is a good idea, and that you can’t meet your needs yourself, which I truly believe you can, my perfect buttercup pony! 

In an interdependent relationship, all partners recognize the autonomy of their partners. 

They see them as fully fledged adults who are just as capable of taking care of themselves and managing their own minds, meeting their wants and needs on their own. And from that place of seeing each other’s wholeness and honoring it, they are able to meet with mutuality and reciprocity. From our codependent people pleasing habits, we don’t go into relationships expecting to be met with love and care, and instead, we say “they aren’t meeting my needs” when we mean “we have different values in a relationship and maybe we aren’t the right fit.” 

Calling it needs keeps you on that seesaw making demands, complaining they weren’t met, up and down and up and down. 

And if a partner is not interested in reciprocity, if you are not being heard, honored, if your requests are chronically unmet or devalued then that, to me, is a problem, and you get to get clear about whether you’re talking about your values or your needs. Because when we frame it as needs, as though it required extra gravitas to matter, then we can feel more and more attached to attempting to get someone else to validate and meet those needs. We stay with that person believing that if we keep pushing the issue then they will change. Versus seeing when it’s an issue of core values not being aligned and maybe they’re just not the person for you.

You get to stop struggling in your stories about unmet needs, and you get to move on to meet your own needs in alignment with your own values and from there, to connect with partners whose values overlap with yours in delightful ways.  

Secondly, whether or not your partner shares your exact values, they ought to at a minimum care about and respect what you value. And at least meet you halfway… at a minimum. 

In closing, my perfect magnificent darling angel feather—when you are not meeting your own needs you will always find an unmet want or need to assign to someone else. Instead, you can anchor yourself in you and meet your own needs. 

Go on out there, state your wants and own your needs, my beauties!

Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!

I know not everyone is into podcasts, so I wanted to provide digestible blogs to go along with the episodes! If you’re curious about the podcast and haven’t checked them out yet, click here.  

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