Effective Couples Communication: What Are Your Emotional Needs?

“You must communicate your emotional needs directly and clearly…”

I shared this sentiment recently at a workshop and I noticed a blank look on several faces, particularly on the faces of the men in attendance. After a few moments, one of the husbands tentatively raised his hand and asked, “What do you mean by ’emotional needs?’” In the discussion that followed, it was clear that others were also contemplating this question.

Relationship Help: Start Focusing on What You Need

The idea that we have psychological and emotional needs (compared to our physical needs for food, water, shelter) isn’t obvious to many people. And people often confuse wanting something with an emotional need. When a “want” isn’t satisfied, after some healthy perspective-taking, you might react with slight disappointment and think, “Oh well, maybe next time.”

But when an emotional need isn’t met (particularly for extended periods of time), our emotional center gets shaken and we might feel off-kilter in significant ways. In these instances, you’re likely to feel angry, agitated, anxious, or depressed. Frequently, it’s our emotional reactions that signal that an underlying relationship-emotional need is being neglected.

It’s important to remember that without a clear understanding of your underlying relationship-emotional needs, effective communication suffers. If you’re not sure of your own needs, how will your spouse/partner know what you’re needing?

Couples who don’t communicate their needs clearly often focus on what they don’t want or like in the relationship (“You never…”; “You always…”; “How come you never…?”)—this negative spin can suffocate many interactions couples have with each other. Rather than leading to an emotional openness that fosters sharing of our underlying needs, these negative-focused interactions create cycles of criticism and defensiveness.

The challenge for all of us is to identify those relationship moments that make our emotional Geiger-counter cry “Foul!” and identify which of our relationship-emotional needs are being trampled on.

To find out more about the importance of particular emotional needs, read my article, Relationship Help: Why Your Emotional Needs Are Central.

All best,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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