Unmet relationship needs get between us and the love we want to share. They can make us accidentally hurt our loved ones. They can even make us so upset that we lash out. Those unmet needs often show up due to misunderstandings.
Dealing with unmet relationship needs and the misunderstandings surrounding them can be one of the most challenging parts of being in a relationship.
Unmet Relationship Needs Manifest as Negative Emotions
I saw this situation play out recently as I worked with a couple during counseling. I first met the wife who told me about her husband, who she said she loved but who was always unhappy. She didn’t know what to do about it.
She even said he sometimes was mean–so mean she did not know how to handle his moods. I listened, but being a counselor I listen with therapeutic ears. I know that when people are unhappy and they are angry it is because something inside of them feels terrible.
Unmet Relationship Needs Often Stem from Misunderstanding or Failure to Communicate
They are feeling pain from what often starts with a misunderstanding. Maybe the hurt person believes that the other person is not listening. It could be that someone believes something about their partner and then it becomes set in stone and every time they get the same reaction they feel the same thing: unloved.
So when I met with the husband and the wife together, although it wasn’t obvious in the beginning of the session, I started to see things clearly towards the middle of it. The husband was misunderstood. He wanted some things from his wife, and he hadn’t been getting them.
It didn’t matter how many times he tried to express himself and get what he needed, he was unable to explain it to his wife where she could understand and then change her behavior.
Relationship Needs Can Be Difficult to Articulate
But I saw it. I saw how he kept saying he wanted “more of a relationship”. I realized that what he saw in his wife was that she was always talking about business and the more practical issues of raising a family. His relationship needs went unnoticed and were not met.
What he kept feeling every time she spoke was that she was uninterested in him and he therefore cut himself off and didn’t want to communicate. He got his feelings hurt and decided the best way to protect himself was to stay away from the one person who was causing him to feel bad: his wife.
When Relationship Needs Aren’t Clear, It’s Hard to Help Your Partner’s Happiness
But let’s look at this situation. She didn’t know this talk was hurting him. She didn’t even know when he would become unhappy, much less what had caused it. It took a third person—me—to point out his relationship needs and to help them both assess the impact of what had been happening.
The wife was able to realize that every time she talked about the businesses they had in common, he felt unloved. And in a marriage of more than 20 years, you can imagine how many times she has talked business without knowing it caused her husband pain.
Our Partners Are Often Eager to Please, Once They Understand Our Relationship Needs
When she realized the impact of what had happened to him she was sad and very eager to make amends saying to him, “I am sorry I didn’t know that hurt you.”
This had a huge impact on the husband. Immediately he felt understood by the one person he was looking for it from, his wife. He was grateful for her acknowledgment.
And then I turned to the husband and asked if he could think about the numerous times he had to get away and isolate in order to feel better and how that must have made his wife feel. I told him it made her feel unloved as well.
Then it was his turn to make an apology and he did, telling her he didn’t realize how he had hurt her and he was sorry too.
Understanding and Meeting Each Other’s Needs Helps You Feel Closer, More Loved, and Happier
The session ended with them holding hands and feeling something that had been missing for a while. They felt each other’s closeness, and love. And they both felt better.
So the next time someone gets upset, if you can, try not to react or write them off. Think about being a detective to discover what happened to them. Not all of us make a lot of sense about our feelings, but try and understand them because they are in pain. It might save many hurt feelings in the future. It could even save your relationship.
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