Who would have thought that discovering and understanding our own emotional needs and sharing them with our spouse would be a key to unlocking a deeper emotional oneness and satisfaction in our marriage? It’s true. It has enabled us to communicate to each other ways in which we best feel loved, ways best fitting our emotional needs. It has allowed us to deepen our understanding of each other and strengthen the togetherness of our marriage. We’ve been able to present our hearts to the other and say, “Here’s how I best feel loved. Can you love me like this?”
Note that in the discovering and understanding, and in the sharing and receiving, there will be learning curves. Be gracious with each other as you bear your heart to one another. Remember you are learning about each other’s deepest emotional needs, each other’s deepest means of being loved. So, listen with care and respond by learning and doing…together.
Where to begin?
In seeking to spell out for each other ‘How you best feel loved’, consider the list below of common emotional needs. Read them carefully and pick the top three that sound most like the way you best feel loved. Share them with each other and talk about what it would look like for the other to love you like that. Don’t rush. When ready, start listing descriptions, in affirming language, under each emotional need you have chosen. Aim for at least 4 or 5 descriptions. For some emotional needs you might be able to list a few descriptive phrases right away, for others it might take longer. No problem; give it some further thought and simply build your list over time.
My wife and I have added to and tweaked our lists for up to a year now and may still may do so.
Once you’ve worked through this process, review your notes often, keeping the means of how you love each other current. Perhaps review this in your weekly marriage meeting.
At the end of this post, I’ve shared a couple of examples from our own lists.
So, let’s begin.
Common Emotional Needs*
*Cited from Family Life Canada Weekend Getaway material
For you, affection is the expression of love. Simple things — a hug, an “I love you” note, small gifts, holding hands, walks after dinner, back rubs, texts during the day, kind words, non-sexual touch — these things make you feel important and cared for. Without affection you feel alienated. With it you feel fulfilled and emotionally bonded to your spouse.
It’s not just that you like sex. You have an emotional need for a sexual bond with your partner. Somehow this touches on issues of worth and significance for you and when this need is met it builds confidence that extends far beyond the bedroom. When you married you promised to be faithful to your spouse so you are very dependent on your spouse to meet this exclusive emotional need.
Unlike sex, conversation is not a need that can be exclusively met in marriage. But if this is one of your most important emotional needs you will likely grow to love whoever meets it best. You want your spouse to be that person. If you see conversation as a practical necessity, a means to an end, you probably don’t have this need. But if being listened to feels like love, if you crave conversation to feel connected, this is likely an emotional need.
Early in your relationship you and your spouse were probably each other’s favorite recreational companions. Perhaps that’s changed and you miss it. If recreational activities are important to you and you enjoy them most when shared with others, this is likely a need for you. You feel close and bonded to these companions and for this reason it can be dangerous for you to have recreational companions of the opposite sex. You most desire to share these experiences with your spouse.
Important and Cherished
“I choose you.” That’s what you need to hear from your spouse. You want to feel special and highly valued. Your spouse makes you feel this way by showing you that you are a priority. Choosing to be with you over other commitments, paying attention to your tastes, interests and desires, telling you how important you are, listening to you, standing up for you, displaying pride in you — these are ways your spouse meets this emotional need.
Admiration / Respect
A compliment goes a long way with you. In fact, it may have been one of the reasons you fell in love with your spouse. It gives you oxygen to be told often that you are admired and appreciated. It makes you feel valued, powerful, affirmed. On the flip side, criticism hurts you deeply. A trivial word of rebuke or critique can be upsetting. Your spouse has the power to cut off — or fill up — your oxygen supply with just a few words.
Honesty and Openness
Every marriage should be an honest relationship but you need details you want to know your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, habits, likes, dislikes, personal history, daily activities, and plans for the future. This information helps you feel safe and secure. For you, honesty leads to trust. You deeply appreciate it when your spouse reveals his or her private thoughts to you. Conversely, you feel very frustrated when those seem hidden.
This is a complicated emotional need, often related to security, and many expectations, assumptions and resentments can go unexpressed. It can also be difficult to recognize as an emotional need if your financial house is in order. But if you crave financial security, if you respect your partner’s ability to earn money, if your partner’s financial contribution to your family feels like loved you, this is likely in emotional need for you.
You desire a peaceful and well-managed home and you want your spouse to contribute to that. Marriage usually begins with a willingness to share household responsibilities but as life goes on — particularly if there are children — division of labor becomes more complicated. For you to feel emotionally fulfilled domestic tasks need to be taken care of in a shared way.
You long for your spouse to be involved with the educational and moral development of your children. When he or she is helping care for them you feel very fulfilled, and when he or she neglects their development you feel very frustrated. Your spouse’s participation in family activities thrills you. Quality time as a family makes you feel satisfied and emotionally bonded to your spouse.
Provide and Protect
Nothing makes you feel more powerful, more fulfilled than meeting your spouse’s everyday needs. You find great satisfaction in being the go-to person in your relationship. Knowing your spouse feels safe, provided for, secure and perhaps even pampered makes you feel content. You need to be needed.
Time alone / Personal space
You love your spouse, you enjoy time with him or her, but you don’t feel completely grounded or at peace unless you have occasional solitude or some individual pursuits. This can be threatening to a spouse who may feel you are distancing yourself from the relationship, but if this is an emotional need they will learn that it enhances, rather than diminishes, your marriage.
Stability and Security
You don’t like change or uncertainty, especially in your marriage. You need to feel that your feet — and your relationship — are on solid ground. It may be a response to your life before marriage or your family of origin but your deep desire is for your marriage and your family to be peaceful, consistent and safe. You’re not boring. You’re open to adventure and challenge but only if things on the home front are rock solid.
You look to your spouse to direct the spiritual development of your marriage and your family. You love it when he or she initiates a spiritual conversation or suggests that you pray together. It helps you grow, but in some deep way it also makes you feel safe knowing that your spouse is being guided by a moral compass, that he or she is seeking God’s best for your marriage and your family. It makes you feel at peace and fulfilled in almost indefinable ways.
You want your partner to be your biggest cheerleader! You need to know your efforts are appreciated, that you are “enough”. You want to be acknowledged for your accomplishments but even more for your character — for who you are. Encouragement feels like love to you, so you may be at risk of growing attached to whoever meets this need. Best it comes most often from your spouse. Praise from him or her — especially in public — is pure oxygen!
If Choosing is difficult…
Often people have said to me that choosing their top three emotional needs is difficult because numerous emotional needs resonate with them. A clue to help you choose is to imagine which ones you really can’t do without.
An example of an Emotional Need from Mark’s list, with 5 affirming descriptions:
Emotional Need: Affection
- See me out the door when I leave and greet me in the door when I return
- Touch me on my back, my leg, or put your arm around me when sitting together
- Hold hands with me walking or sitting
- Sit with me when I am working on something, like out in the garage
- Text me or leave me notes (randomly) ‘why you love me’
An example of an Emotional Need from Joanne’s list, with 4 affirming descriptions:
Emotional Need: Spiritual Leadership
- Join me at least 4 times per week for evening devotions before bed
- Read a devotional with me
- Pray with me
- Lead our children in their spiritual walk
Be clear to your spouse how you best feel loved by them. Spell it out for them and be gracious as they learn this.
At the same time, become a student of your spouse, learning to love them in the way that they ask – in a way that best fits their needs.
Then together, watch your relationship grow and deepen in a remarkable way, unlocking a deeper emotional oneness and satisfaction that will help your marriage endure for life.