Needs versus neediness, and how to get your needs met in your relationships.

Needs versus neediness, and how to get your needs met in your relationships.

Last week I was hosting an event about the basics of open relationships. We were talking about asking for reassurance. For a lot of people when their romantic and sexual partner starts dating someone else fears and insecurities come up. Not everyone feel this way, but in my estimation, most people do at least initially when polyamory is a new thing, and for many these feelings of fear and insecurity don’t fade.

So what to do? In the lecture/class that we were leading our advice was (and remains) ask for the reassurance that would feel good for you. “When you get home from your date, can you hold me and tell me you still love me and still want to be with me?” I said to Gloria as little mini role-play of what that might look like. One of the students had an authentic “oh yuck” reaction and exclaimed “that sounds needy”

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So I’ve been wondering. Was it? Is that needy?

I’ve seen needy, and I’ve been needy. I know “needy” is a real thing. What qualifies?

Because needs are a thing too.

I’ve spent the last few days trying to metaphorically wrestle this stuff to the ground, I’ve been writing and having conversations with close friends and lovers and fellow educators.

I think we have a lot of damage in our culture around needs and wants and neediness right now. We don’t talk much about what our needs actually are, neediness in others or in ourselves is seen as a problem. And neediness is a problem, but if we don’t now the difference between needs and neediness then we don’t let ourselves think and talk about our needs, or god forbid ASK for something!

It’s a knotty question. What separates a legitimate expression of a need from neediness?

I think the first thing to do is disambiguate a need -vs- a want.

Credit Hyson Epstein for the best most succinct language around needs vs wants. A want you can take or leave. A need doesn’t go away if it isn’t unfilled.

I can want a pizza, but I need to eat. If I don’t get my pizza I might be disappointed, if I don’t get to eat I die.

People have all kinds of real needs. They need love, attention, affection, touch, sex, freedom, autonomy, safety.

Part of the needs -vs- neediness morass is what happens when people aren’t getting their needs met. Lets face it, for all kinds of reasons, tons of people aren’t getting some, most or even all of their relationship needs met. Maybe they don’t know what their needs are. Maybe they know what they need but they don’t know how to ask for anything. Maybe they ask for things and are told “no” heck, some people are in relationships where they hate each other. I have been. My first marriage comes immediately to mind.

So, as we discussed, the needs don’t go away just because you don’t know how to ask or any other reason, so what happens next might become an expression of neediness.

So what do you do? The first step is to figure out what your needs are. How much attention, freedom, touch, sex etc do you need?

But here is the final piece. I’m giving you this for free, but it is an idea that will save you thousands of dollars in relationship counseling.

You have to translate your needs back into wants.

To illustrate, let’s start back with the food analogy. “I’ve figured it out, I need to not hunger or die of starvation!”

That’s great, but if you ask someone that they might not know what to do with that.

So you ask instead for pizza. Maybe they can’t give you a pizza. Do you have another way of getting your needs met? Maybe you are in a taqueria and you’d be better off asking for a taco. Maybe they are your car mechanic and they don’t provide food of any kind, so you should look elsewhere for your pizza.

Now let’s translate back to romantic and sexual relationships. “I’ve figured it out, I need to feel safe and secure in our commitment!”

That’s great, but if you ask someone that they might not know what to do with that.

So you ask instead for reassuring words of love. Maybe they can’t give you words of love. Maybe they are not very verbal people. Maybe you’d be better off asking for touch. Maybe they don’t love you in the way you’d like them to and you’d be better off getting those needs met in a different relationship.

So, to summarize nice and succinctly (or as they say on Reddit TL:DR)

Everyone has needs. Neediness is asking for someone to fill a need they can’t fill instead of asking for something you want.

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