?Some people care too much. I think it?s called love.? ? Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne
Q. What?s the most important thing in a relationship?
Most people believe it?s communication. Beyond honesty, they think being able to talk to each other trumps everything else.
Poor communication often takes the blame when a couple is struggling. And ? yes ? it can be a trouble-maker.
But communication only plays up on the surface ? if you dig beneath a couple?s flagging ability to talk to each other, you?ll find some deep needs that are not (or have stopped) being met.
When working with couples you need to explore these needs. Because it doesn?t matter how much, or how well, they talk, they?re at high risk of breakup if they neglect to address those.
Psychologists and relationship counsellors generally agree on these needs because we witness them played out by our clients in a myriad of ways. Here are the five that consistently head the list.
Emotional needs are based on feelings. While feelings shouldn?t drive everything ? our thoughts and behaviours matter too ? the way we feel within our relationships tends to dictate the success of them.
1. Feeling heard.
People often think good communication is rooted in the ability to talk, to say the right things. It?s not: it?s about being able to listen to your partner so they feel heard, they feel what they are doing, saying and feeling is relevant. That they, and their stuff, matters.
Feeling irrelevant ? or even boring ? is one of the most undermining feelings you can have within a relationship. Everyone wants to feel they are interesting or that their partner ?gets? them, understands who they truly are.
When couples are struggling they?ll often say it?s because they?ve lost their connection. It may start as simply as one person being more interested in what?s on their phone or distracted by all the other things going on in their world. So it?s important to take the time to listen to what?s really going on in your partner?s world. Unhook from technology, hold eye contact and respond in ways that demonstrate you?ve really heard what your partner is saying.
Feeling you want to create: You?re interesting and I care about you.
2. Feeling valuable.
It?s a human drive to want to feel worthwhile to your partner; that your role in the relationship is important ? that you couldn?t be easily replaced. Or even replaced at all.
It?s relatively easy to appreciate your partner for the physical contribution they make to your relationship ? for example, organising the domestic arrangements, walking the dog, paying the rates/looking after the finances, being the primary caregiver for the kids, being chief cook or gardener, bringing in so many $$ a week.
But it?s a higher level skill to validate your partner?s personality. To convey that you love and appreciate them for who they are ? as well as what they do. So give compliments based on the person they are, their personality traits, their unique quirks?but make sure it?s genuine. False comments will wreck any goodwill you?re trying to build.
Feeling you want to create: You?re unique and special; I wouldn?t trade you for anyone else.
3. Feeling attractive/sexy.
Most people want to look good ? not just to their partner, but out in the world generally.
But it?s especially important in a relationship because it?s harder to be intimate or sexual when you don?t feel whatever your opposite of attractive is. Feeling bad about your appearance or body can promote massive insecurity, especially if your partner says or does nothing to counter those feelings.
So tell your partner they look good. Try to notice any changes they?ve made to their appearance. And go to the head of the class if your compliments are specific. For example ?that?s a great colour/style on you? smashes ?you look nice today?. Although ?you look nice today? is a good effort.
Feeling you want to create: You look hot/gorgeous/sexy to me.
4. Feeling aligned.
I?m often surprised at how many people get deep into a relationship without discussing the Big Things: where each of them stands on marriage having kids, parenting, culture, religion, money, drug use, sex; where they?d like to live, where they see their future heading. While these things may not be ideal conversation starters for a first date, it?s a huge mistake to avoid them altogether.
Feeling aligned with your partner isn?t about having the same hobbies or having matching playlists on your phones or dressing like clones. It?s about knowing you want (roughly) the same things from your shared life. And, later on, about checking in to see that you?re still (roughly) on the same page. So share your thoughts and ask your partner for theirs. And don?t ignore wildly disparate views ? they?ll come back to eat you up.
Feeling you want to create: We?re in this together. We?re heading in the same direction.
5. Feeling loved.
Most people even when they are struggling ? even be on the verge of breakup ? will still say they love each other. They can be uncertain about whether they?re still ?in love? but the point is they do love the other.
But saying you love someone is not enough to maintain a healthy relationship. The more important question is: do they feel loved? And the answer, when a relationship is splintering, is almost always no.
So strive to be loving. Be warm. Be there with two feet in. Do loving things. Even ? and especially ? when it?s hard ? do your best.
Feeling you want to create: You are loved ? and you always will be.
More posts you might enjoy?
How to Know if You?re a Good Partner (or the other kind)
Take the test? and let your partners take it for themselves
How to Tell if Your Relationship is Thriving: 10 Key Signs
Got the basics (mostly) covered but want to make your relationship as good as it gets? Here?s how to tell if you?re on?
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