6 Human Needs and Having a Happy Marriage

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6 Human Needs

There are 6 human needs. They describe your likes, dislikes, and passion. These 6 human needs describe why you do the things you do. Of the 3 sets of personal needs, love, emotional, and human, these human needs are the most important to your marriage. 

In a happy marriage, your partner fulfills these needs in you. When your partner meets your 6 human needs there is an unbreakable bond. Likewise, when our partner stops fulfilling your needs, the bond weakens to the point where the marriage can be at risk.

In this article I will explain the six human needs, why they are so important to your marriage, and at the end, offer you an opportunity to look deep into yourself and discover how you prioritize the 6 human needs in your life.

Cloe Madanes explains the six human needs in her book “Relationship Breakthrough.” The workbook she includes at the end of the book helps readers understand and use the 6 human needs in relation to their partner. It is said that if 2 needs are fulfilled between you and another person, a connection is formed. When 4 are met, a bond is formed. When all 6 human needs are met, an everlasting relationship is formed.

The value in knowing and understanding your needs and those of your spouse is that these human needs get to the root cause of why we do the things we do. Marriage coaches have to sift through a myriad of surface issues before getting to the root cause(s) of a problem. When you understand what drives you and your partner, we can quickly discover what is causing problems and develop strategies to resolve those problems. When dealing with the root causes of problems, solutions tend to be long term. Right now as you read this article and do the exercise at the end, you will probably discover more about yourself and your spouse than you realized possible.

As your read below, understand the human needs are not in an order of priority. Each person needs to discover their own prioritization. The first 4 human needs are considered the needs essential for human survival. The last 2 are considered needs of the spirit – needs essential for human fulfillment. It is important to understand that needs can be met in positive or negative ways. You’ll see examples of both below.

6 Human Needs

The 6 Human Needs

Certainty / Comfort

We all want to feel safe and secure. This sense of certainty is physical, financial, and personal. We like to feel secure in our job. We like to feel secure in our home. We like to feel secure in our relationships. We like to know we are financially stable. In tough economic times it’s easy to see where those who prioritize certainty high will have to find other places to get certainty. If someone has lost their job, had to take a pay cut, or feel insecure with their job, they can feel stress until they find another place to fulfill their need for security. Some turn to food. Some turn to sexual gratification. Other words used for certainty and comfort include security, safety, control, stability, and predictability.

A Closer Look at Certainty / Comfort

The human need of certainty is in all of us. There are many things we need certainty for. Some include:

  • As a child we need certainty of touch, love and food.
  • As a teenager we need the certainty of a home, meals and clothing.
  • As a middle-aged person we need the certainty of a home, healthcare, job and love.
  • As a senior citizen we need the certainty of healthcare, loved ones, housing and safety.

Positive Fulfillment of Certainty / Comfort

When a teenager wants the certainty of attention he may learn to tell jokes. When someone needs certainty of healthcare, they may get a job where a great health plan is a benefit. When a wife has the need for safety she may get a job so her family can move to a better neighborhood. When a husband needs certainty at work he may work longer hours and take on extra work to gain favor with the boss. The parents of a foster care child knows the child needs certainty after being moved from home to home, they plan and prepare dinners at a set time as something the child can always count on. A military wife with a deployed husband needs the comfort of her man by arranging, as much as can be allowed, regular communication with her deployed husband.

Negative Fulfillment of Certainty / Comfort

When a teenager wants the certainty of attention he may misbehave or become a bully, knowing his parents will pick him up from the principal’s office. When a wife has the need for safety she may nag her husband about how to get a raise or a better job so they can move to a better neighborhood. When a husband needs certainty at home he may start many projects so there is always something to work on around the house. A foster care child who has been moved around a lot may misbehave in order to have the certainty of moving again to avoid the pain of getting attached to foster parents. A military wife with a deployed husband needs the comfort of a man by cheating on her husband while he is deployed.

Consider the Needs of Your Partner

A husband and wife may look at the same behavior but from two totally different perspectives. In any situation consider the actions from a person as purposeful and the needs that action may be fulfilling.

For example, a wife needs certainty by creating schedules and traditions. She may want to have dinner at 6:30 every night with her husband. He understands she wants to have dinner, but he’s trying to get a promotion at work and bolster his career so they can move to a nicer home. He works late many nights missing the 6:30 dinner. She gets angry and nags him when he comes home. He gets frustrated with her when he’s working so hard trying to make more money for the family.

Her need for certainty is clashing with his needs for significance and growth. Until they look at the root causes of the conflict, they’ll be sniping at each other over a surface issue, a simple 6:30pm dinner.


Uncertainty / Variety

It’s a paradox that another need is the opposite as the first, but it is still a fundamental human need. We want variety, adventure, challenges, and surprises. If one were to live the same routine exactly every day, they could get bored and want something out of the ordinary.

Every year I take a white water rafting trip. If I were to analyze why I take that trip it could be to fulfill my need for variety and adventure. Such variety or uncertainty makes us feel alive. Those who are into extreme sports might use those activities to fulfill their need for uncertainty.

If uncertainty were prioritized higher than certainty, this person might be one that doesn’t keep a stable job for long, and does risky actions. Other words for uncertainty include fear, change, entertainment, conflict, and crisis. Given those last couple alternate words, can you see where one might use a personal conflict or family crisis as a way to fulfill their need for uncertainty? Do you find it interesting if you think about it, that some folks are always in some state of dysfunction, crisis, or health scare?

A Closer Look at Uncertainty / Variety

The human need of uncertainty is in all of us. There are many things we need uncertainty for. Some include:

  • As a child we need uncertainty for surprise and new learning opportunities.
  • As a teenager we need the uncertainty of sports, music and gaming.
  • As a middle-aged person we need the uncertainty of entertainment, news, sex and adventure.
  • As a senior citizen we need the uncertainty of entertainment, friends and travel.

Positive Fulfillment of Uncertainty / Variety

Uncertainty plays an important part of our lives. The more uncertainty we can comfortably handle, the better prepared we are for natural life changes.

When a teenager wants uncertainty, he plays extreme sports, games, and accepts challenges. When a wife has the need for variety she may plan an adventurous vacation, join a local club, start a garden, or read books. When a husband needs variety he may buy a sports car, take on a new hobby, pick up a new sport, or travel to new destinations. Foster care parents may provide uncertainty to their foster child by giving her new learning opportunities, travel, read to her exciting stories, or feed her new foods. A military husband with a deployed wife already has a lot of uncertainty, but may balance what he already has with joining a local service organization, take tennis classes, or learn how to fix things around the house.

The quality of your life depends on the amount of uncertainty you can live with.
– Tony Robbins

Negative Fulfillment of Uncertainty / Variety

When a teenager wants variety he may do extra risky behaviors, do drugs, drive too fast, experiment with sex, or become addicted to gaming. When a wife has the need for uncertainty she may have an affair, flirt with a friend, create chaos at work, or get addicted to TV. When a husband needs uncertainty he might have an affair, do extreme sports, or test his boss at work. Foster parents may provide too much uncertainty for their foster child by threatening to give her up, not provide any routines, or making life appear like a crisis. A military wife with a deployed husband may add variety to life by taking on too many activities, creating fear for her husband, or create conflict with neighbors.

Consider the Needs of Your Partner

A wife puts variety in her life by cooking new dishes with a variety of ingredients. Her husband ranks certainty higher than uncertainty and when it comes to meals, likes the same kinds of dishes over and over again without the variety. They argue at dinner about the food. She counters with boring food choices, which he’s happy with, but frustrates her. Resentment builds in her mind that he’s not allowing her the freedom to try new dishes or express herself.

It’s a common fight and one that stems not from the meals cooked (the surface issue), but rather the different priorities they each place on the human need for uncertainty. Once they each understand this, the solution is easy, but does take a little effort, effort worth taking to meet the needs of each partner. The wife needs to find recipes that are suitable for his certainty needs, and which can be altered at the plate for her addition of other ingredients to suit her need for variety. It takes a little extra effort on her part, but probably balances other places in their married lives where he has to make extra effort to accommodate her needs.


Love / Connection

You knew I’d get to this one sometime, right?! We all need love and connection. When we put love above all other needs in priority, we take actions that will bring us love, sometimes at the expense of security, variety, or other needs.

A guy values the love of his wife, puts off playing sports with his buddies, to express and feel the love with his family. A girl not in a romantic relationship will reach out to other female friends for the connection she gets when she is with them. Infants need love and touch, or will die without it. Other words for love and connection include passion, warmth, tenderness, and togetherness.

A Closer Look at Love / Connection

In a marriage, the prioritization of love is crucial. Love and connection can make a person do wonderful things, or terrible things.

  • As a child we need love and touch for normal human development.
  • As a teenager we need love of family and connection with friends for the development of social skills.
  • As a middle-aged person we need love as an anchor when life changes are at the highest.
  • As a senior citizen we need love as confirmation that we led a good and proper life.

Positive Fulfillment of Love / Connection

A teenager learns love from watching her parents express love to one another. She develops connections with her friends by doing team sports, joining social clubs, or participating in competitions. A wife feels love from her husband when he attentively listens to her at the end of the day and doesn’t offer his advice unless asked. A husband feels love from his wife when they have sex or she holds him. A woman at work may bring in cooked goodies for her teammates to build a connection with them. A foster care child feels connection when the foster parents make long-term plans involving the child. A senior citizen feels love when friends and family stay in touch, taking away the feeling of loneliness.

Negative Fulfillment of Love / Connection

People will go to extreme lengths in order to feel love or connection.

A teenager will develop severe illnesses like headaches or get into a fight with a sibling to stop her parents from fighting. A husband or wife may go outside of the marriage to get the love they need if they are not getting from within the marriage. A man at work may sneeze or cough extra loudly to have some kind of connection with the people who work around him. A senior citizen may develop constant health problems so family and friends visit.

Consider the Needs of Your Partner

Providing love to your partner is of the highest importance in a marriage. Knowing your love needs and the love needs of your partner is critical. Rationing or denying love to a spouse is the fastest way to destroy a marriage, yet partners do it to each other so often.

When it comes to love, if we feel deprived of love, we often withhold love, thinking it is fair or what the spouse deserves. We become judge and jury. When you took your vows, you vowed to love your partner in good times and in bad. Somewhere along the way, when we feel slighted, we stop doing what we know is the right thing to do, love our spouse with all our hearts, even when it is not reciprocated.

This is often the most effective strategy for struggling couples: that of not thinking about yourself, but giving love to your spouse. When we give love without reciprocation, it is not easy. It may take time. But love thaws ice. Love will break down barriers. Love will eventually be returned. Someone has to start. Someone has to decide to be the one to fix the marriage. Will it be you, today?


Significance

In a paradox with love, significance is the need to feel important, wanted, and different. We gain significance when, in comparison to others, we can view ourselves higher. Whether we achieve something great, built something huge, or tearing down something or someone, we can fulfill the need for significance.

In a positive way, significance can help us achieve more and be more than we presently are. An athlete who competes and wins gains significance by bringing home the trophies. In a negative way, we can gain significance by destroying or hurting someone else. Gang members and mobs feel significant when they steal or beat someone up. “Look what I did” proclaims the proud teen who beat up an elderly woman. Animal abuse is also a sign of the need for significance, and a sign of future human abuse. CEO’s often have a high need for significance and fulfill the need by spending countless hours at work making the company bigger and greater. Other words for significance include pride, importance, performance, competition, and rejection.

To better understand significance, think of the Hollywood crowd. They do outrageous things just to be different and gain attention. When that constant need for attention is met, they often find themselves lonely and not relating to other people. When teenagers desire tattoos or piercings, it is often a sign they want to be different and stand out from everyone else.

A Closer Look at Significance

The need for significance can drive a person to great heights, or it can make us lonely and depressed. High levels of significance usually associate with low levels of love.

  • As a child we need significance to build confidence and self-esteem.
  • As a teenager we need significance to mold our destiny.
  • As a middle-aged person we need significance to feel valued.
  • As a senior citizen we need significance to know we mattered.

Positive Fulfillment of Significance

The need for significance will make a teenager study harder in school for a better grade. A woman is filled with significance when her baked goods are praised and company food days. A husband is filled with significance when his wife tells him how proud she is of him for being a great father. A wife is filled with significance when her husband tells her he appreciates, with specifics, all the things she does around the house to make it look and smell nice. A child practices harder learning to play a musical instrument when both parents want to hear her play.

Negative Fulfillment of Significance

Significance also has its downside, and the downside is very deep. A teenage boy, not getting significance from home joins a gang and they lift him up for participating in gang activities. A teenage girl wants to stand out among her friends and gets a branding. A husband, not getting significance from his wife, stays at work where he gets praise from the boss, or secretary. A wife, not getting significance from her husband turns to alcohol to lift her spirits. A woman at work gains significance by complaining about her husband, making him out to be worse than other husbands. A man at work gains significance by tearing down fellow employees and playing office politics to move up the corporate ladder.

Consider the Needs of Your Partner

We all need significance in the eyes of our spouse. We need to know our spouse sees us in high regards. When we don’t get the significance we need from our spouse, we will get it from other behaviors. Often these behaviors hurt the marriage as they compete with the love of our spouse.


Growth

We’ve all heard the phrase about growing or dying. It’s true, if we are not growing we are dying.

We can grow emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, and intellectually. Those really into reading books might be doing so to fulfill their need to grow. Adults taking classes or going after more degrees might be fulfilling the need to grow. Anytime someone studies or tries learning new things it could be contributed to the need to grow. It is said that anything in your life, if it is not cultivated and growing it is dying. One works endless hours but the house is a wreck. Another person tends to the lawn and house tirelessly, but the spouse feels neglected. Growth is a balancing act, trying to keep everything growing and not dying.

A Closer Look at Growth

Growth fulfills a spiritual need. It pertains primarily to us alone. It’s about you becoming better in whatever ways you want to become better. Too often as we move into adulthood we feel we can put down our needs for growth thinking we know all that we need to know.

Comfort and certainty is often contrary to growth. A man comes home from work and sits in front of the TV, mindlessly fretting the hours away to relax. Later in life we often learn how much we need to learn to accomplish something and put pressure on ourselves to catch up for the time we lost not growing.

  • As a child we need to grow in so many ways to become good adults who make a difference in society.
  • As a teenager we need to grow deeper in areas that will help define who and what we are.
  • As a middle-aged person we need to grow in ways that shifts us away from egocentric activities to more divine activities.
  • As a senior citizen we still need to grow to keep the mind and body sharp so we can instruct the younger generation.

Positive Fulfillment of Growth

Growing can be fun and feed our other needs. A child learns something new in school and runs home to share what she learned. A man learns a new technique to chip golf balls, reducing his score by 3 strokes. A woman taking piano classes feels great when she learns how to not just play the notes but to play with her deep emotions. A young entrepreneur learns how to do marketing videos making her online business more profitable. A senior citizen reads books about adventure and travels making him visualize he was there in the action.

Negative Fulfillment of Growth

Growth can also take us away from the here and now, reducing our presence with others. A woman reads books all the time, not attending to the house or children. A young man takes drum lessons and practices so often he does not progress at work. A middle-aged man commits himself to college degree after college degree, always in search of who he is, but never settling down. A senior citizen spends his days in his workshop creating furniture that he never intends to sell or use.

Consider the Needs of Your Partner

While growth is about our fulfillment, we need to also look at the fulfillment of our partner. How does your partner want to grow? What does your spouse enjoy doing and want to get better at? These are just a couple ways you can help your partner grow and become more fulfilled.


Contribution

Fulfilling the need to contribute goes beyond personal needs in an effort to help someone or something else. Know someone dedicated to a cause? Getting involved in the community, planting trees, volunteering, and writing a book are all ways to contribute back.

If you live in a home owners association, the board members are contributing their time. If you give to the United Way you are contributing. Do you know someone who runs a United Way campaign? Contribution makes the spirit feel good. You are helping others. The focus is not on you but on others. By helping others, however, you really are helping yourself. Someone who has a high prioritization for contribution will be actively involved in a lot of causes and freely gives of their time. If you want to help a person with high contribution prioritization, help them feel like they are contributing.

A Closer Look at Contribution

Contribution helps us empathize with others. Studies show society today scores low on empathy, and have become rather narcissistic. When we contribute our time and resources to others we become connected with others. This connection feeds the soul, our most inner being.

  • As a child we need to contribute to know the value of charity and gratitude.
  • As a teenager we need to contribute to know life is not just about ourselves.
  • As a middle-aged person we need to contribute to shift us away from focusing on ourselves and more on to others.
  • As a senior citizen we need to contribute to help us feel we mattered.

Positive Fulfillment of Contribution

A young child brought to a nursing home can contribute by spending time with the residents. A teenager contributes time to participate in a car wash for a cause gets to feel good about helping that cause. A woman contributes time at an animal shelter has a direct impact on the lives of those precious animals. A man contributes his time to build a house with Habitat for Humanity helps the least fortunate in society. Any worker who contributes something to United way or whatever the corporate cause is, can make a difference in the education of our least educated. A senior citizen who does not have a lot, gives a little money to Feeding America, feels good that she with her limited means can help someone else have a few meals.

Negative Fulfillment of Contribution

Like growth, anything taken to an extreme can be harmful. The man who has such a strong need for contribution, directs all his efforts to outside causes, leaves his family neglected. The woman who becomes an animal rights activist can spend an inordinate amount of time away from the home, neglecting her own family. The senior citizen living on a fixed income can create problems when giving away more money than she has.

Consider the Needs of Your Partner

Contribution is a wonderful thing when put into context. It can be activities you do together. If you and your spouse have different interests, try to schedule the activities at the same time so you can both be back home together and share stories of how you helped. When you and your spouse are doing things together to benefit others, the rewards are magnificent.

Action Exercise

It’s time to do some work.

Step 1

Print out this post. Take some quiet time where you will not be distracted. Bring a blank sheet of paper with you. Review the 6 human needs and how they can be fulfilled. Now, on the blank piece of paper, write down at least 40 of your most common behaviors. Next to each behavior write down which of the 6 human needs applies. Take a count of how many of each human need is listed.


Now prioritize them how you think the six needs fit in your life, 1 through 6. Take a close look at the first two. Are these in the right order? Think about your life and your actions. Your actions are what matters. Do your actions conflict or agree with how you rank the first 2 human needs?


Spend some time in deep thought. It’s not about what you think is right, or what you want them to be, it is what your actions say they are. (When I did this for myself the first time, I made a number of changes. I reordered. When I seriously looked at my actions, the top 2 did change.)

If you are in a relationship with a serious partner or spouse, think about how you would rate their 6 human needs following the same process above. Write down how you would prioritize their needs.

Step 2

Have your partner or spouse do the same on their own. Have him/her come up with their own prioritization. Have them come up with your prioritized 6 human needs.

Step 3

It’s time to compare. Please – listen to each other and not be judgmental. Each of you go through what you believe are the human needs for yourself, explaining the reasons for each in the order you believe to be correct.


Then listen as your partner tells you what your partner believes to be your prioritization order. You do not have to be in 100% agreement. You just need to know what your partner thinks and why. Do the same for your partner.

So, what do you think of the 6 human needs? When you prioritized them, did you discover something new about yourself? Did you discover something new about your spouse? Please share your thoughts below.

In my marriage coaching programs I dig deep into these 6 needs and how they apply to your marriage. Careful consideration has to be given not to have competing needs or rules for the needs.

About the author

Mark Jala is a certified marriage coach, researcher, and consumer advocate. Certified in Strategic Interventions, Mark bases all of his services and advice on verifiable research. With nearly 40 years of problem solving experience, Mark has developed a holistic approach to marriage coaching which provides a context and execution plan not seen in ordinary marriage services.

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