When Your Needs Go Unmet

when needs go unmet

What do you do when you’ve communicated your needs to your spouse, yet they remain unmet?

Several comments on my last post, Talk About Your Needs, may have begged this question, “What do I do when I’ve expressed my needs and my spouse still will not meet them?”

I love wrestling with the tough questions, and this certainly is one.

No Easy Answers

Responses are pouring in from my current marital needs survey. It’s clear that a significant number of respondents are suffering from unmet needs. Somewhere around 40% say their husband or wife is not meeting their single most important need (rating them a 1, 2 or 3 on a 10 point scale).

I am certain that some of the respondents to my survey have tried, perhaps repeatedly, to express their needs to their spouse. Some may even have gone so far as to describe clearly what having that need met would look like, as I explain in my earlier post. This is a vital first step to helping your spouse learn how to love you well.

But what if you’ve done all that, had numerous conversations about what you need and how you would like it to look, but your spouse either still doesn’t get it or refuses to do the things you say you need?

Every Situation is Unique

Every marriage relationship is different. The personalities, histories and issues you face will be different from those of others. Likewise, the nature of your unmet needs is probably unique.

Is it that your spouse has withdrawn from the relationship altogether? Does it seem they have stopped trying? Is it that they continue to not “get it” that the needs you express are really important. Are they in denial of the depth of the pain you are in over this? Is it that they are trying but just aren’t fulfilling your need in the way you need it fulfilled? Do they feel criticized and doomed to fail, so no longer wish to try?

The disharmony caused by key needs going unmet on a long-term basis is very real and very hard. The encouragement I offer below is in no way meant to downplay what can be a very difficult situation. Please realize that I am not simply speaking platitudes into your pain. My goal is to offer you truth and hope.

Give First, Give Most

We all have a tendency to withhold love when we feel we aren’t receiving love in the way we want. It’s natural.

It’s natural, but it’s not helpful or Biblical. We are called to radical love by the One who loves us radically. Consider the verses that open Paul’s famous chapter on marriage.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)

Ask yourself whether there are areas where you are withholding from your spouse. Is it possible that they are feeling exactly as you do about unmet major needs? I’m not accusing you. I’m asking you to lead the conversation by first seeking out the unmet needs of your spouse.  Are you willing to ask the hard questions and then listen in a non-defensive manner, without striking back in response or justifying yourself?

Are you willing to “win” by out-giving and out-loving your spouse?

Sometimes by overtly focusing on what you can give rather than what you are not getting, it will draw your spouse into a deeper awareness of their own lack of charity and generosity.

Sometimes it won’t.

Some will say, “I’ve tried that. I’ve been giving and giving, but I’m tired of never getting anything back.” I get that.

What is Your Source?

If you are giving of your own human capacity for love, you are surely going to soon reach the end of your ability to love and keep on loving. The good news is that we have an Infinite Love available to us – the love of Christ.  And it’s ours for the taking.

It’s simple, but certainly not always easy.

That’s why it’s absolutely critical for us all to inhale deeply and daily of the love of Christ. I encourage you to first try to grasp the “unknowable love” that Christ has for you personally. This daily love injection will not only expand your capacity for love, but it can also help you understand God’s love for your husband or wife. Worship, prayer, the Word, and quiet reflection on what the Holy Spirit is saying can all help you be filled afresh with God’s love and power.

My Journey

This is exactly what happened to me in the journey of my own marriage. When I began to more deeply understand and experience the love of Christ in my life, my understanding of marriage was transformed. As I discovered the passionate emotions and unstoppable love that God has for me, I was better able to love my wife in the same way.

Of course, there is no guarantee of love returned, but unconditional love is the Kingdom principle we are called to press into. It’s the way Christ loved us and laid down His life for us – with no guarantee we would love Him back.

There are no easy answers to the issue of unmet needs. I will continue to share my thoughts over the next few posts. I would also love to hear your own ideas and struggles with this issue.


Important Note: This post does not apply to marriage situations where abuse or addiction is present. My assumption in writing the above is that spouses are basically good-willed toward each other and desiring to see their marriage thrive.

Photo by Charlie Foster


Based on a survey of 450 husbands and wives answering this question: “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, available as a download from the HMM web store.

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