Intimate talks: Communicate your needs

Your partner may be unaware of your demands. Communicate your needs to your spouse for a fulfilling relationship

Happy intimate couple talking on bed

One fine day Princess Diana declared that she was getting out of her marriage because her deepest relationship needs were not being met. She, who could have been the Queen of England one day, left Buckingham Palace, gave up her throne-to-be and all the other perks in pursuit of her dreams of a better relationship. She had needs that needed fulfilment.

Know the needs

It is okay to expect from your partner, as long as your needs are valid. Needs could be physical, emotional, spiritual and financial in nature.

Physical needs are more specifically the need for tenderness—to be touched, caressed, hugged and held. We all need to be encouraged and feel physically welcome and intimate. A satisfying sexual life is the most basic need.

Emotional needs are in the form of the need to feel that you are loved and valued and are a vital part of your partner’s life. It is the need to feel respected, accepted and appreciated for who you are and what you do.

It is the need to feel wanted for things other than the tasks that you perform [cooking, housekeeping, and earning]. The need to be forgiven for small transgressions, the need to feel that you and your partner are close and trusted friends. It is the need to feel desired by your partner and to feel special.

Financial needs include the need to have access to family finances, the need for jointly making major financial decisions, the need to save for a rainy day, the need to be sure that no financial decision will be made by the partner which could jeopardise the future financial security of the family.

Spiritual needs include the need to feel that your partners support your spiritual values and respect them even if they are different from their own.

Security needs pertain to knowing that your partner is loyal and committed to the relationship. It’s the need to know that the relationship is not put at risk because of disagreements. The need to know that you can count on your partner to be your unfailing support system at all times.

Communicate your needs

You need to recognise, acknowledge, accurately label and finally communicate the above-mentioned needs to your partner.

Some people spend their entire lives remaining in an unfulfilled relationship without communicating their needs. If your partner is not recognising and meeting one or more of your needs, it is your responsibility to make him/her aware of them.

Before communicating your needs to your partner, ensure that your needs are truly valid and not unreasonable demands that you insist on getting fulfilled. Unreasonable demands should not even be communicated, but valid and reasonable needs require clear and complete expression.

Once you have accurately communicated your needs to your partners without being accusatory and without attacking their self-worth, the ball is in their court. It is now their call to make.

Evaluate your partner

The only three reasons why your partner would not have fulfilled your needs are because they are:

  • Unaware
  • Unable
  • Unwilling

Your communication will cross the first hurdle by making your partner ‘aware’. Once they are aware, things will get okay if they are able and willing to fulfil the need. However, if they are willing but ‘unable’ to fulfil your need, there could be a problem.

The inability, may be temporary [eg a preoccupation with a major project, a temporary illness, a conflict with someone else, work pressures, a financial crunch etc.] or permanent [eg personal intrapsychic problems, a mental illness, a physical disability, a chronic irreversible organic disorder etc.].

Cope with inability

If the inability is temporary, it is they who need to be understood and supported with your needs kept aside for a while. Feel assured that your spouse is aware and willing to fulfil them, given a conducive environment.

If the inability is permanent, then sometimes difficult decisions need to be made. If your unfulfilled needs keep you a discontented, disgruntled and unhappy person, then you need to communicate the same to your partner and arrange to harmoniously terminate the relationship formally, so that you can move towards your dreams.

However, it is also possible that sometimes in an otherwise caring and committed relationship, one particular need is not fulfilled, but because the partner is emotionally nurturing in other areas, this particular unfulfilled need simply recedes into the background, and both focus on what can be shared in the relationship.

Sonali was married for 12 years when her husband met with an accident and became a paraplegic. But though many of her valid needs were not being fulfilled now, she felt that she had many beautiful moments with her husband in the past which she could cherish forever, and grow spiritually.

In another case, Shaila, married for 10 years, discovered that her husband had recently developed erectile dysfunction due to uncontrolled diabetes, and was also undergoing a lot of physical pain and agony due to severe spondylitis. Her decision was different from Sonali’s. She felt frustrated and cheated out of her dream, and could not accept a life without sexual intimacy. She decided to seek sexual pleasure outside marriage.

Whenever spouses decide to fulfil their physical needs outside marriage, it raises eyebrows and a number of questions. The point here is not whether it is right or wrong, moral or immoral, but whether the person is willing to exercise her ‘freedom of choice’ along with the ‘responsibility of the consequences.’

These could arise in the form of sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, a one-sided emotional involvement, social alienation, family disapproval. If one is truly willing to exercise ‘freedom with responsibility’, it is nobody’s business to adopt a moral high ground on the issue.

Cope with unwillingness

The real problem however, arises only when the partner is now aware and is also able to fulfil your needs, but is ‘unwilling’ to do so. This unwillingness is either due to flawed beliefs and faulty assumptions resulting from their childhood conditioning and which they carry forward into their adult life.

It could also be due to unresolved issues between the partners that are causing hostility, withdrawal and an unwillingness to fulfil even the valid needs of the partner.

Ravi was miffed at the fact that his wife Neha did not rigorously follow family traditions and rituals, but instead chose to follow her personal spiritual path. He felt awkward in his family’s presence and allowed himself to be affected by their opinions.

Because of this, he would be unsupportive of her in front of the family, kept her out of social activities and never consulted her in family and financial matters. He also did not care much for her sexual and other intimacy needs. He only quickly gratified himself in sex. His lopsided social values and faulty beliefs and insistences, kept them from having a fulfilling relationship.

In counselling, he was helped to have a sound scale of social values and respect Neha’s spiritual values. However, every case does not end like this. Counselees could be in denial of, and also reluctant to give up their flawed beliefs and faulty assumptions. Some would rather sacrifice their relationship than give up their distorted beliefs. At such times again, difficult decisions need to be made.

If however, the unwillingness to fulfil the needs of the partner is due to unresolved issues between the two, couples counselling can help. The counsellor encourages both to freely communicate their feelings, their needs, their fears, thus helping them to have an emotional closure on the unresolved issues.

The counsellor helps to re-establish a connection between the two, and then teaches them healthy communication and problem-solving methods to avoid any further tensions. This makes them once more willing to fulfil the needs of each other.

Rescue the relationship

But when too much water has flowed under the bridge, when the bitterness is so deeply entrenched in the minds of either one or both, and the hurt, anger, pride and resentment is all-consuming.

Parting ways is the only solution. However, before quitting a relationship you must earn the right to quit it. You should be able to look into your own eyes in the mirror and say to yourself that you have tried everything you could in all honesty, in order to save your relationship, but it could not be saved.

The valid needs of both partners need to be fulfilled in a healthy relationship. But if the needs, hopes, dreams, dignity, purpose and spirit of one of them are crushed in order to keep the relationship, it is the greatest tragedy of human life.

Such a relationship is just a parasitic existence with one person living off the other. It is really a ‘non-relationship’, and those in it need to recognise this fact and call it quits.

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Minnu Bhonsle
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, is a Mumbai-based consulting psychotherapist and counsellor. She conducts training programmes in Personal Counselling [Client-centred Therapy] and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, and also workshops in Stress Management, Art of Listening, Couple Therapy, and Communication Skills. Minnu has co-authored the book, The Ultimate Sex Education Guide along with Dr Rajan Bhonsle.
Rajan Bhonsle
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, MD, is a consultant in sexual medicine and counsellor. Along with his wife Minnu R Bhonsle, PhD, who is a consulting psychotherapist and counsellor, he runs a unique therapy centre


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