Everyone has needs that require fulfillment in order to be happy in their relationship. Each person’s relational needs can be very different from their partner’s, or at least arranged in a different order of importance based upon their uniqueness. For couples to be successful, they must find that “sweet spot” of mutual exchange of giving and receiving that allows the couple to feel loved along with a sense of satisfaction with the person they’re with. If the mutual exchange of giving and receiving is maintained, it allows the relationship to strengthen and find balance.
For example, let’s say your partner has a high need for conversation and quality time, but for whatever reason, you don’t consistently meet her/his need in this area. Over time, if your partner’s relational needs go unmet, feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, and eventually resentment will begin to build, diminishing the quality of the relationship. A deep sense of dissatisfaction will begin to set in.
Disclaimer: I know that this can quickly get complicated and since this is a short blog, I won’t be able to address every aspect of this topic; therefore, I’ll surely miss some very important pieces to the subject, and I won’t be taking it deeper than a blog can address.
For example, I make a distinction between relationship needs and the deeper personal needs that people often mistake as relational needs. It’s reasonable to expect your partner to meet relational needs, but it’s unreasonable for you to ask your partner to meet your deep personal needs. Those needs are met from another source and that’s a subject of another blog. Suffice it to say, it’s possible for couples to put undue strain on the relationship by expecting your partner to meet needs he or she is incapable of meeting. I’ll leave that there for now.
Formula for disaster
Here’s the way it would work: My needs carry an expectation of fulfillment. If my needs go unfulfilled, I then feel hurt feelings/anger. If not immediately, over time, conflict and relational distress will become the new normal. Finally, with enough failed instistence and ensuing conflict, couples begin to withhold love from each other until he or she earns it.
Back to our example. Your partner’s need for conversation and quality time goes unmet, and after some time, she or he will find it increasingly more difficult to meet your needs, which in turn makes you feel less like having good conversation and spending quality time together. See the cycle?
Let’s say for illustration purposes that one of your primary needs is sexual, and making love with your partner is the highlight of your week. Stay with me. I know where your imagination was going. Your partner, who has a high need for conversation and quality time, begins to feel extremely resentful and pressured to meet your need while not getting her/his need met. Moreover, making love then becomes an issue of conflict and power struggle, rather than a moment of life-giving connection. With enough time, what was once beautiful, fun, and full of adventure is now a point of major conflict. Relational dissatisfaction is around the corner.
Reciprocal vs. Transactional
What is true of relationships, from my view, is that there isn’t any way around this reciprocal principle of giving and receiving. As mentioned above, you and your partner have relationship needs that demand each other’s attention. The overall satisfaction of your relationship depends upon how well each of you are attentive and responsive to those needs. It’s the relational rhythm that keeps the relationship in balance.
However, if the dynamic of reciprocity loses rhythm for too long, the relationship will deteriorate into a dysfunctional state of functioning known as “transactional behavior.” When the relationship moves from reciprocal to transactional, couples begin to withhold love from each other until he or she earns it. In other words, couples who start to function out of this transactional mode will begin keeping score and withholding love based upon their partner’s performance.
Finally, couples in distress end up stuck in gridlock in their respective positions, waiting for the other to initiate the act of meeting their need. When the relationship deteriorates in this way, the problem becomes feeling so depleted from neglect that each person is now being asked to give out of a deficit rather than a surplus. This is often too daunting of a task. Two people who once loved each other and found it easy to meet their partner’s needs now struggle getting past very powerful resentment.
It’s worth noting that the masters of relationships are so good at keeping the reciprocity rhythm and flow going that it allows them to forget they even have needs. It’s much like breathing, a rhythm so natural that you forget you even have to take a breath. While reciprocity is normal and healthy, behaving transactionally is destructive to the relationship.
Tips for keeping the rhythm in your relationship
Allow your partner to impact you.
When your partner communicates a need to you, it’s imperative for the health of the relationship that you allow it to mean something to you and that you make the adjustment for your partner. John Gottman, a renowned couples researcher, teaches that one of the leading causes for divorce is that one or both in the relationship doesn’t allow the other to impact them.
Have a growth mindset vs. a self-preservation mindset
In other words, if you can take in the feedback from your partner as an opportunity to grow and transform, the relationship will have a chance to evolve as you grow together. Avoid getting defensive. If your partner is communicating a need or asking for change in an area, a very common response is to get defensive.
Know what makes him or her tick
You need to be a student of your partner. Work at building intimate knowledge of your partner so that you can really make him or her feel loved. A big mistake in keeping the rhythm going is that we stop becoming curious about each other. We become so familiar that we stop paying attention. That is a choice.
Make selflessness part of your personal growth goal
When I say “selflessness,” I’m not saying that you should allow someone to take advantage of your kind nature or become a doormat. Refer back to good boundaries. And if you’re in an abusive relationship, this is not a good goal and you should seek help immediately. Once you have effective healthy boundaries in place, then you’re free to choose selflessness with a humble spirit. Usually, couples in distress are selfish and primarily focus on themselves and their needs. Practicing selflessness as a personal growth goal is a good quality in relationships, because it helps you become more giving, more forgiving, and less prideful.
To this end, hopefully you both can get on the same page of music and find a good rhythm that allows your love to flourish.