There is an extensive list of universal needs for all human beings. These include from basic “surviving” needs like food, air, water, and shelter to relational and emotionally more complex needs, like the need to matter, to be heard, to be understood, dignity, partnership, stability, order, rest, structure, freedom, acceptance, compassion, harmony, protection, play, intimacy, and many more.
Esther Perel, LMFT (therapist, author and speaker) talks about these universal needs and how they can be clustered together into two fundamental emotional needs in a relationship. These are the need for security and the need for freedom. The need for security has to do with finding the space where we have a sense of belonging, reliability, dependability, predictability, togetherness, stability, a sense of “home”. And the need for freedom has to do with the sense of adventure, individuality, exploration, journey, change, surprise, novelty, risk-taking and the unknown.
Esther Perel explained there are two principles to these needs. First, one cannot have one without the other. This means that “I cannot go explore the world if I do not have my need for security met first” and vice versa, “I am unable to have the security if I did not get the space to explore.” Think of a healthy child (a securely attached child) who feels free to explore once he/she knows that mom, dad or caretaker (their security, their home) are there to come back to.
The second principle she pointed out is that there are individual differences based on life experiences. As we grow up, we have experiences that shape us. Thus, individual differences exist in these needs; one can need more of one than the other. For example, someone can grow up in a home where they had their need for security met, but not the one for exploration and freedom (overprotective parent). This will play a part in the individual’s future relationships and how he or she seeks to meet his or her need in these relationships.
Going deeper into relationships, these two fundamental needs can be seen in how the couple makes decisions, functions, and negotiates in a relationship. For example, one of the partners may need more security when it comes to finances, therefore they save more. The other has more need of freedom, and consequently they may meet that need by playing more with money, taking risks in investing, etc.
When I see a couple in my office, I tend to look at how they meet their individual needs as well as their emotional, relational ones. Usually, with a couple in despair, I find they have some of these needs unmet or they have conflicting needs (especially when it comes to sexual intimacy). More importantly, they have not identified these, and they tend to have communication and negotiation problems to meet each other’s needs. One may need more security and the other may need more freedom and exploration, which can create conflict if not understood. The individual who needs to reinforce their need for security may see their partner’s need for freedom as a threat. This creates a large amount of conflict and distress in couples. It is vital for couples to work on identifying these individual differences. Once identified it is important for them to learn to accept the other without judgment. They need to see how these play out in their relationship, in their functioning, in their negotiation, and most importantly as part of their intimacy. If couples learn to have a full and better understanding of their partner’s fundamental need, they can better appreciate the other’s behaviors and responses without feeling threatened in their own needs (especially when different).
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Healthier more productive relationships happen when the individuals in it look at the needs of the other, not just to fulfill their own. Working on this basic part of a marriage or relationship would save many conflicts in couples. If you or a loved one needs help in identifying these or to just improve the quality of the relationship, call The Samaritan Counseling Center. A counselor or marriage and family therapist can help.
“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.”
Dr. Jessica Gibbe Fernandez is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Alabama. She is a Certified Sex Therapist, a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and an Approved Supervisor for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Jessica’s clinical interests include marriage and couples therapy, healthy relationships, and family therapy. She sees adolescents and adults with depression, anxiety, stress, self-esteem and personal growth issues, life transitions, gender issues (LGBTQ+), sexuality issues, family adjustment and acculturation.