1. What are your primary emotional needs?
Part of being human means having emotional needs. We want to be loved and to give live. We want to feel we belong and have a sense of purpose. We want to feel self-esteem and respect from others. These are some of the most common needs, but individuals have emotional needs unique to them. In a healthy relationship, both of you understand the other’s primary emotional needs, and you both work to respond to them because you love and respect your partner.
2. Am I responsive enough to your emotional needs?
We can’t expect any one person to meet all our emotional needs, even our love partners. Sometimes we have needs that are beyond the scope of any one person to handle. But we can ask our partners to be responsive to our needs and to honor them. There are some emotional needs your partner might be happy and willing to meet, but he or she is simply not aware of them. It’s your job to enlighten your partner. There might be needs that they aren’t able to meet. Discuss the emotional needs you have where you’d like more from your partner. Speak honestly and specifically about what you are each willing to offer the other, and discuss alternatives for getting your needs met without your partner if necessary.
3. What should I say to you when I need more from you emotionally?
It’s hard to hear the words, “I need more from you. I need more love, more affection, more respect, and more intimacy.” We all want to feel like we’re enough, that we are appreciated and accepted for all that we do and give to our partners. But you can’t intuit all your partner’s needs, and you might not be able to understand or relate to some of them. Even so, your partner should feel comfortable expressing those needs and asking you to respond to them. How can you make that request safe and easy for your partner?
4. Do I give you enough emotional space?
One of your emotional needs might be autonomy and freedom. Perhaps you need less emotionally than your spouse does. Needing emotional space doesn’t mean you don’t want to be intimate or close with your partner. You can balance the need for closeness with the desire for space. Ask each other if you have enough emotional space. If not, exactly what kind of space do you need, and how can your partner support you in this need?
5. What could I do to make you feel more understood?
Even if we can’t meet all of our partner’s emotional needs, we can strive to empathize with him or her. We can listen and show we care. We can acknowledge the efforts at meeting his or her own needs (for self-esteem or independence, for example) or in reaching out to another support person to help. We can let our partners know they aren’t in this alone, and that we acknowledge and understand their feelings and desires.
6. Do you feel free to express your emotions with me?
Some of us are more expressive with our feelings than others. We laugh and cry easily and have little difficulty saying what we feel. Others don’t feel so free to express emotion, especially painful emotion. Or we might express our feelings in unhealthy ways, such as anger or withdrawal. In a love relationship, we need to feel safe expressing our deepest emotions, especially those that are painful or shameful. We need to know that our loved one will treat our feelings tenderly, without judgment or criticism. Find out from your partner whether or not he or she is completely at ease with you in expressing emotions. If not, what is holding him or her back?
7. Do you have any negative emotions about our relationship you need to express?
We might hold back when expressing our emotions because we fear the reaction of our partners. Maybe they will be hurt or angry. Maybe they won’t understand. Maybe they’ll diminish how we feel. If either of you are harboring negative emotions about the relationship, you need to discuss these and get to the root cause. When communicating negative emotions, speak kindly and constructively. When listening, set aside defensive ness. If negativity exists for one of you, it is an issue you both need to resolve.
8. What from your past has shaped your emotional needs and reactions?
So many of our emotional reactions and triggers are shaped by our childhood experiences. How you were parented and the environment in which you grew up can have a profound effect on your emotional well-being as an adult. Your significant other can’t fully understand you and your needs until he or she knows something about how the past has shaped your outlook and behaviors. Share with each other the positive and negative events that have contributed to your particular emotional needs.
9. Would you consider yourself a highly sensitive person, and if so, how can I support you?
A highly sensitive person (HSP) is one who feels things more keenly than the average person. You notice more subtleties in the environment, feel overwhelmed by too much sensory input, and are easily affected by other people’s moods. You have a rich inner life and enjoy creative pursuits. You also need time alone to recharge and get relief from too much stimulation. Highly sensitive people are extremely conscientious and try hard to please others. You can read more about highly sensitive people in my book, Finely Tuned. If one or both of you are highly sensitive, you will need to have a special understanding of the traits of HSPs and what they need in order to feel comfortable and thrive. This is particularly true for the non-sensitive, as many of the HSP traits might seem overly sensitive or needy. However, this trait is perfectly normal and has many positive qualities. Find out how your highly sensitive partner needs your understanding and support.
10. What other ways do you have for dealing with your emotions if I feel overwhelmed by them?
When emotions run high during conflict or during times of difficulty or pain, both partners might be flooded with emotion and have little reserve to offer each other. If you are accustomed to turning to your spouse or partner for emotional support, then you need an alternative plan when you are both feeling overwhelmed. If one of you loses a job, there’s a death in the family, or you have financial difficulties, you both might need outside support to see you through. What is your emotional back-up plan if your partner can’t handle your emotions in a particular situation?
Follow-up: Are there any behavior adjustments you’d like to request from your partner related to emotional needs? What specific action steps will you both take to help you get your emotional needs met and to better understand the emotions of the other? Write these down and determine how and when you will initiate these changes or actions.