Does your spouse know what it is you need most from him or her? When was the last time you talked about your needs?
Last fall I ran a month-long survey asking the question of husbands and wives, “What is the one thing you need most from your spouse?” I’ve compiled and analyzed the results and am presenting them in a special report, What Husbands and Wives Need Most.
Know Your Needs
The ancient Greek maxim, “know thyself,” rings true in marriage.
It is true that the Bridal Paradigm, the understanding that your marriage is to be a living reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church, is a paradigm of selfless love. I encourage couples all the time to focus more on meeting the needs of their spouse than on getting their own needs met. It takes determination to fight off our natural tendencies to be self-focused and self-protective, but I firmly believe that selflessness is one of the most important keys to an enduring, intimate, and passionate marriage.
At the same time, however, it is also true that it is very important to understand and communicate your own needs.
Spend some time thinking about this question: What is it that you need most from your husband or wife? It shouldn’t be a long list; maybe three things tops. They should be more than mere wants and wishes. These are the essential needs that if unmet for a protracted period of time could put tremendous strain on your marriage.
If your spouse is going to love you well, it’s imperative that you understand and clearly articulate the things that are most important to you. Expecting them to guess is a bad strategy and a formula for certain disappointment.
Communicate Your Needs
You may be under the illusion that if your spouse really loves you, they should already know what is important to you. In truth, he or she may not know your needs, because the needs of husbands and wives tend to be very different. And even if they have a general idea, they may have no clue what meeting those needs should look like. It’s easy for us to give love in the ways that mean love to us; but it’s not so easy to give love in the ways tthat are completely foreign to our own love needs.
The poll I did last fall showed that the needs of husbands and wives were typically quite different, though there certainly was some overlap.
Bottom line: don’t expect your spouse to know automatically your needs!
The way you communicate your needs is also important. Do it in a way that honors and respects your spouse. Avoid saying things like, “You never…” or “You always…” or “Why can’t you just…” Rather than pointing fingers at all the ways your spouse has failed to meet your needs in the past, express in positive terms what having your needs met would look like to you.
Try something like this, “I know you love me and that you want to love me well. In order to help you do that, I want to tell you the things that matter most to me.” Then go on to explain, in a non-demanding way, what things are most important. Don’t dwell on how your husband or wife has missed the boat in the past, even if they have. Don’t focus on past mistakes, unless your spouse asks. Instead, be forward looking.
What Does That Look Like?
One really important question should always be included in the discussion of your needs. “What does that look like?“
Because the needs of men and women are often different, you need to paint a clear picture for your spouse.
Even if a wife tells her husband, “Romantic time together is really important to me in order for me to feel loved.” If her husband isn’t romantically inclined like she is, he may have no clue what he is supposed do with that information. So to help him out, she might say “And here is what that might look like. If we could have a couple of dates together every month, maybe dinner out followed by a walk in the park, where we can really get a chance to talk and connect, that would be great.” If her love language is more gifts than quality time, she might point him toward the occasional gift of flowers or other tokens of love that she appreciates.
Similarly, if a husband tells his wife he wants a deeper sexual connection with her as one of his most important needs, his wife might not really know what that means. So he should be specific in order to make it clear to her. “I would love it if we could make love two or three times a week. And it would be great if once a month or so we could try something new, just to keep things fresh and interesting. We could take turns coming up with ideas. No pressure, just for fun.”
It Still Counts
Here’s the thing. If you tell yourself it doesn’t count if you have to tell your husband or wife how to love you, that’s a completely self-defeating attitude. When your spouse responds by doing what you’ve asked, don’t dismiss it. Instead of saying, “You’re only doing that because I asked you to,” say “Thank you so much. It means so much to me when you express your love for me that way.” Choose to believe that what they want is to love you well by doing the things that you say are most important.
It may take your spouse a little while before they feel comfortable going “off-script,” especially if your needs aren’t on their own love-needs radar. By giving encouraging feedback (instead of criticism) they are much more likely to continue to move forward in creatively meeting your needs.
Another way to encourage your spouse to keep meeting your needs is to be diligent and proactive in meeting their needs too. This creates a positive cycle in your marriage that strengthens your love and builds intimacy. Keep your motives pure, however. This isn’t a “give-to-get” arrangement. Love your spouse well for love’s sake, not to get something in return.
Needs are not static. Seasons change and so can the needs we feel are most important. That’s why it is a good idea to keep the dialog ongoing.
Be watchful. When it seems like the things you’ve been doing don’t have the same impact or don’t seem as valued, ask questions like, “I know I’ve always done this for you, but you don’t seem to be enjoying it as much as you used to. Has something changed?”
If you sense your own needs changing don’t expect your spouse to pick up on it. Subtle hints may not be enough. It may be time to speak up, again in a respectful and non-demanding way, with lots of appreciation for the things your spouse has been doing.
It’s Time to Talk
If you haven’t done so recently, I would encourage you to talk with each other about your top needs. As a great discussion aid, I suggest you download the marital needs report I mentioned at the top of this post. Again, you can get it by subscribing to my posts or by taking the second round of the poll. [links] Point to the one or two items on the results that are most important to you. Talk about what meeting that need would look like.
How do you and your spouse approach identifying and communicating your key needs? Are you sure your spouse knows what your top one or two needs are? Do you talk about it specifically? Do you provide helpful descriptions of what meeting that need would look like?
More posts in this series:
- When Needs Go Unmet
- Are You A Lover or a Worker?
- Your Wife Wants More of You (Men Only Monday)
- From “Have to” to “Want to” (Wives Only Wednesday
You might also want to read “How To Voice Your Needs So Your Spouse Will Hear Them.“