A number of scholars and authors have written about our primary human needs. Perhaps the most well-known is Abraham Maslow who wrote about the hierarchy of needs. Another related framework that I find useful is described by Chloe Madanes in her book Relationship Breakthrough. This framework of core need has also been used by Anthony Robbins in his teaching and coaching. According to Madanes, the premise of human needs psychology is that each individual is a self-determined entity able to make choices about how to get his or her needs met. Biology, chemistry, and early life experiences are all influences that we can choose or refuse to be effected by.
In order to make conscious choices about meeting our needs we need to have some level of self-awareness. I used the following simple exercise from my book, Date Night Conversations, with some clients and it led to some surprising revelations:
Core Psychological Needs
Adapted from Relationship Breakthrough by Chloe Madanes
Certainty: The need for predictability, security, and safety.
Variety: The need for change, adventure, playfulness, and stimulation
Significance: The need to feel important, valued, and respected
Love and Connection: The need for emotional bonding and intimacy
Growth: The need to develop, learn, advance, and evolve
Contribution: The need to make a difference, have a purpose, and leave a legacy
Rank order which needs are most important to least important to you.
Love and Connection: ______
Both the husband and wife who did this exercise ranked certainty as most important and significance as second. As we discussed the reasons why these were most important some important information came out. The wife talked about a period of time in their marriage when her husband had been unfaithful. She revealed how this shook her confidence and trust in him and the stability of their relationship, even years after the event. Additionally she was able to describe how this also made her feel insignificant and without value.
When discussing his core needs, the husband talked about how feeling he has control and predictability in his life was very important for managing his anxiety. He also talked about feeling a lack of respect from his wife over the years because she doesn’t seem to value his opinions. He learned to shut down and keep his thoughts and feelings to himself because he felt he couldn’t be honest without his wife getting upset. Her anger or even disagreement felt like an attack or a rejection.
This couple, like many of us, developed a pattern of avoiding honest communication, acting out their pain, and pulling away from one another because they didn't know what else to do. These are complex concerns and have roots all the way back to what they learned in childhood. What they are beginning to learn are some skills in talking about these difficult issues and new ways to understand themselves and each other. The sensitivities about their needs for certainty and significance show up in many ways in their relationship and they are beginning to be able to acknowledge them and work through them. Fortunately they are making the commitment to put in the time and energy to renew their marriage and create a better future together. For more guidance and tools please check out my book and recommit to creating the marriage you desire.
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