When it comes to relationships, we all have our own visions of what we expect, whether you want someone who makes you laugh or gives you solid advice. But aside from what we look for on paper, there's another aspect of a relationship that matters—how well does your partner meet your emotional needs?
"In relationships, everyone has the same basic emotional needs to ensure not only the survival of the relationship but their survival as an individual," relationship psychologist Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., CSAT-S, tells mbg. "Without good-enough relationships, humans run the risk of isolation, and that poses a real threat to an individual's ability to make it through the day... It is challenging to focus on thriving if someone feels emotionally unseen, unheard, or unimportant in primary relationships."
Everyone has their own set of emotional needs that they value the most, but as humans, we tend to gravitate toward the same needs, including security, volition, attention, emotional connection, sense of self, and more. Although you shouldn't expect to fulfill all of your emotional needs in a relationship, your partner should be providing support in the areas important to you.
Unmet emotional needs can trigger certain behaviors that at face value may seem like other issues. Here are a few signs that your emotional needs aren't being met in your relationship:
Signs your emotional needs aren't being met in your relationship:
You feel resentful.
"When your needs remain unaddressed or unmet, it is natural for the hurt that ensues to transition into resentment, irritation, annoyance, or anger," says Balestrieri. "Anger is Mama Nature's way of ensuring we don't let people disrespect or take advantage of us."
You try to minimize your needs.
You may find yourself asking if your needs are unreasonable while trying to minimize them and pretend they don't exist. "When you do ask for emotional support, it gets turned around, and you find yourself on the defensive," relationship therapist Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, tells mbg. "Either what you are asking for doesn't make sense, or there is something wrong with you for needing it."
"When someone's needs are not being adequately tended to, most people may put up a stink initially," says Balestrieri. "But if their emotional needs remain unmet, it is only natural they would begin to retreat their investment in that person."
You're picking fights.
You may also find yourself fighting for time and attention, whether that be picking fights, making demands, or getting caught up in logistics. "If you are being critical and nitpicky, it may be because you don't feel emotionally fulfilled," says Ross.
You're seeking attention elsewhere.
"If someone feels unseen or unvaried over time, they may start seeking connections with others, whether platonic, professional, or romantic," says Balestrieri.
How to move forward if your partner isn't meeting your needs.
Just because your emotional needs are unmet right now doesn't mean they'll remain that way for the future, especially with the right type of communication. Follow these steps to move your relationship forward and clarify what you need:
Step 1: Identify your needs.
First, check in with yourself and uncover what your emotional needs actually are. "My clinical practice is full of individuals complaining their partner doesn't meet their emotional needs, who are unable to identify or verbalize what their emotional needs are," relationship therapist Brian Jory, Ph.D., tells mbg. "How can your partner understand what you need and want if you don't understand yourself? Do an emotional needs inventory on yourself—be honest about what you need—and update it often."
Step 2: Communicate those needs clearly.
You might be quick to blame your partner for not being there, but look inward first—have you been clearly communicating your needs? "It is easy to get stuck in a mindset of expectation, especially when you've been in a partnership for a while and expect your partner should know what you want and need, when you want and need it," says Balestrieri. "Reiterate to your partner that you have a need, and do not expect them to read your mind."
Step 3: Provide a solution.
In many cases, a partner believes they are helping out, but they're actually missing the mark. "Help them out a little, and give them a bit of blueprint, if you know what would allow you to feel like your needs are sufficiently being met," says Balestrieri. "For example, you might say something along the lines of, 'When you tell me not to feel sad, I feel dismissed. I know you're trying to help, but I really need to sit with these feelings right now. Are you willing to sit with me while I cry?'"
Step 4: Designate a time to check in.
Your needs may change over time, and rather than reacting strongly in a heated moment, create a time to check in with each other and how each of you is feeling. "Designate time to check in without any distractions, especially screens," says Ross. "Make it sacred, and agree not to engage with anything but each other."
Step 5: Remember you may need to look outside your relationship.
It's important to acknowledge that your partner can't meet all of your needs all of the time, so it's OK to turn to others to get certain needs met. "Consider a situation where your partner may support your work but may not know much about it," says Balestrieri. "[They] really can't help you with all of the validation or kudos you may desire. Divesting your needs amid colleagues and other professional resources may provide you with the professional validation you seek, freeing you and your partner up to show up for each other in other arenas."
Getting your emotional needs met is important to both your relationship and your personal well-being. Recognizing the specific types of support you desire—and being able to communicate them clearly—can help encourage an emotionally fulfilling relationship.
Carina Wolff is a freelance writer and blogger who covers food, health and wellness. Her bylines have appeared in Bustle, Reader’s Digest, FabFitFun, and more. Carina has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology from New York University. She is the author of two cookbooks and runs a clean-eating food blog called Kale Me Maybe. When she's not writing and cooking, you can find her reading, hiking, or at the beach.