Many of the problems we experience in romantic, platonic, and professional relationships are rooted in miscommunication (or lack of communication) about relationship needs.
The truth is, we can't communicate what we do not know. Most of us were not taught how to understand and express our needs. Adults who have unmet needs from childhood may also find it more difficult to identify their relationship needs.
So, how do we bridge this gap?
Yes, today we are peeling back the layers to uncover hidden needs and core primary emotions.
This post will cover:
How unmet needs lead to loss of connection
Primary and secondary emotions
How to dig deep to identify your hidden needs
Let's get into it.
Why We Lose Connection
Have you ever experienced an amazing start to a relationship? You may be too busy enjoying each other's company to grapple with any real issues. As time goes on, you notice things that upset you and the relationship may begin to feel wrong. At this stage, it's common to feel frustrated with our partner and ourselves.
We tend to lose connection at the stage where expressing needs becomes important!
So ask yourself this: What unmet needs are behind my anxiety or frustration with this person?
Identifying the emotion is important (i.e.. I am disappointed).
And effective communication takes it one step further to investigate what need is this emotion nudging me to fulfill?
We'll approach this step-wise. Emotions first :)
Primary And Secondary Emotions
On the theme of digging deep and peeling back layers, did you know that certain emotions can actually mask others?
Most emotions can be categorized into
- Primary emotions
- Secondary emotions
Research shows there are seven universal emotional responses. Regardless of your race, religion, culture and/or sexual orientation, we are all hardwired to express the following emotions in a similar way:
We can think of those seven universal emotions as our primary emotions. These are often our first reaction to something that happens.
Secondary emotions are often our reaction to primary emotions. Secondary emotions are coloured by our personal judgments over the experience of the primary emotion.
An example may help illustrate this a little more clearly.
You are crossing the road at a crosswalk and it's clearly your signal. As you step out onto the street to begin crossing, a car comes out of nowhere, screeching to a stop and nearly missing you by inches.
Your chest constricts, your palms sweat, and you curse the driver as you shake your fists at them, demanding an apology.
At that moment, the primary emotion (fear) is overtaken by the secondary emotion (anger). Anger in particular often masks more vulnerable emotions. It's easier to express anger than truly feel the vulnerability of being afraid, frustrated, or feeling ashamed.
How does this apply to our relationship needs?
Well, identifying the primary emotion being masked by secondary emotion is a gateway to helping us understand the hidden needs. If you can recognize that the anger directed at your partner is actually fear, it can lead to a deeper reflection on that fear: what are my relationship needs that are not being met, leading to this sense of fear?
Let's talk about that next.
How To Identify Your Hidden Relationship Needs
Our emotions, reactions, and behaviours reveal our unmet needs. And our unmet needs are usually at the root of relationship conflicts. How do we bring them to the surface?
Moving From Reactivity To Vulnerability
Conflict is an opportunity for us to have our needs met and ensure we are meeting the relationship needs of others.
Pay close attention to your first reaction in a conflict- it often reveals an emotion we need to peel back, which we can then use to understand the unmet need that sparked the reaction
For example, let's say your first reaction is to be defensive. Take a moment to pause and reflect on what lays underneath that defensive reaction. Maybe it's guilt, embarrassment, or a sense of injustice.
Once you recognize the underlying emotion, ask yourself what the emotion is telling you about your needs. In other words, why am I feeling this way? What needs are not being met?
Perhaps you feel defensive because you need to be understood is not being fulfilled. Here are a few other common unmet needs that show up in relationships:
A need to feel valued/appreciated: This need can go unmet when people take us for granted or do not properly acknowledge us help us feel seen and heard
A need to be safe: Physical, emotional, and mental safety is foundational in a relationship
A need to feel understood: This need can go unmet when we feel misunderstood, or our words and actions are being interpreted in a way we did not intend
A need for intimacy and also differentiation: Sometimes we want to feel physically and emotionally close; other times we need room to express our individuality
This is nowhere close to an exhaustive list! Relationship needs vary depending on the relationship and the individuals in it. This makes the possibilities truly endless.
The important work of anyone engaged in a relationship with someone they care about, romantic or not, is to understand first their own needs, and to communicate them.
Also, it goes both ways! If a partner lets us know how we can meet their needs better, we should be willing to step up :)
Understand What Bids For Attention Mean
Another way of ensuring we are understanding our hidden needs is to reflect on our 'bids' for attention, intimacy, or affection. How we express these can be confusing sometimes.
Say, for example, you start sending good morning and good night texts. Try reflecting on why you are doing this- what need are you trying to meet? Maybe you need to feel emotionally close or perhaps you have a need to feel like an important part of your partner's life.
Reflecting on how your actions are fulfilling or attempting to fulfill your needs is a great way to uncover identify what those needs are in the first place.
Before You Go...
Our partners, family, friends, and colleagues are usually not trying to withhold our needs from us. Sometimes they may assume things are fine just the way they are, until a conflict emerges.
Identifying and expressing your needs opens up a world of possibilities in a relationship because it helps your loved ones gain a deeper understanding of the real you.
We want to hear from you: How has expressing your needs impacted your relationships?
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist
WellNest Psychotherapy Services