Everyone has emotional needs. When these needs are fulfilled you feel a special love and connection. Emotional needs represent the middle tier of the 3 sets of personal needs: love, emotional, and human. These 3 sets of needs make up your 13 Personal Needs. When your partner meets most of your needs, a strong bond and romance develop. These emotional needs focus more in terms of love and romance.
Let’s face it, when we feel romantic love from our partner, we don’t think about divorce.
In his book “His Needs, Her Needs,” Dr. Willard Harley, Jr. thoroughly examines the 10 emotional needs. This landmark work has had a profound impact on millions of marriages worldwide. To put it simply, his many years of research reveals that feelings of romance and love are learned association based on triggered responses.
What does that mean?
In a lab experiment, it might be demonstrated by giving a person a violent shock when showing them a picture of a city, and giving them a comforting massage when showing them a picture of mountains. After enough reiterations of this experiment, the subject would get uneasy when seeing pictures of a city, but relaxed and happy when seeing mountains.
How does this relate to your marriage? It’s simple.
When your emotional needs are met by a particular person, you draw closer to that person. When that person continues to meet your emotional needs, you can develop feelings of love and romance. That person, your partner, is triggering a learned response within you of love.
The opposite is also true.
When your partner stops meeting your needs in a way that hurts you, you develop a learned response to pain when you see your partner.
Many couples develop feelings of love and romance when they date. You and your partner probably did many activities together, talked, and shared intimate conversations.
The good feelings were imprinted on each of you as love. You got married. It was good for a while. However, somehow things changed. Life got in the way of your romance. Work took each of you away from the other. Children created massive change in your time together and finances. Each of you changed a little as you matured and grew older. Your human, emotional, and love needs may have also changed. Now, however, there may be little romance and a lot more anger and frustration.
The solution is surprisingly simple:
You each need to identify your emotional needs, and re-commit to providing each other with these needs. When each of you start to provide each other with the needs each requires to feel love, on a continuous basis, the feelings of anger and frustration will be replaced with love and romance. When you see your partner, you will once again be filled with joy and love.
The Love Bank
You may be asking why these emotional needs are so important. Several of the marriage experts I admire refers to a concept Dr. Willard Harley, Jr. calls the Love Bank. Dr. Gottman calls a similar concept the Love Map. Dr. Gary Chapman calls it the Love Tank. Dr. John Gray and Mark Gungor refer to the concept in all of their works.
Quite simply, the Love Bank refers to the deposits and withdrawals of love units for all the interactions we have with other people.
When someone does something that makes you feel appreciated, love units are deposited into your love bank. When someone does something that leaves you feeling anxious or angry, love units are withdrawn. The units are not exact mathematical units, but rather, relative units to how you feel.
When you first started to date your spouse, the dates that left you happy were the result of love units being deposited into your love bank. The more your partner did that helped you feel love, appreciation, admiration, respect, and so on, all were the result of love unit deposits. When your partner forgot a date, said something inconsiderate or left you feeling insecure, love unit withdrawals are made.
Love unit deposits and withdrawals are directly represented by the degree your partner meets your emotional needs.
When your partner meets your emotional needs, you feel love and romance. The love bank has a large positive balance. When your partner fails to meet your emotional needs, you feel insecure, frustrated, angry, and neglected. The love bank has large withdrawals and may even leave the balance in the negative.
When the love bank runs low or in the negative, we tend to look for ways to bring it back into the positive. It makes us feel better. We tend to pay more attention to those who leave us happy and with joy. This is how affairs begin. This is when we start to have emotions towards friends and coworkers who otherwise would not have registered on our radar.
When we are not having our emotional needs met at home,
we look in other places,
with other people.
We do anything we can to get our love, emotional, and human needs met.
You can affair-proof your marriage by making sure you meet the emotional needs of your spouse, and your spouse meeting your emotional needs. You can increase the love bank deposits to where it has an abundant positive value. To do this, you need to understand the emotional needs, and how to fulfill those needs within yourself and your spouse.
The 10 Emotional Needs
There are 10 emotional needs. Some are stereotypically associated with women, and some are stereotypically associated with men.
Today, that concept triggers some folks. As I describe these emotional needs and who usually has that need, I ask that you understand it is based on science. Not social theory. Not feelings. Studies and science.
It doesn’t matter which ones you associate with. What does matter is that you identify with the ones that help you feel a special sense of love. As I discuss each one, I will refer to the sex that typically identifies with that need. Use this just as a reference, not an absolute.
As you read about these 10 emotional needs, please be aware that at the end of this article, I will provide an exercise where you will select your top 5 emotional needs. Dr. Harley, Jr. has found that the top five emotional needs are the most important. Continuing to rank the remaining 5 do little to help a marriage.
Let’s get started.
The 10 emotional needs are:
- 2Sexual Fulfillment
- 3Intimate Conversation
- 4Recreational Companionship
- 5Honesty and Openness
- 6Physical Attraction
- 7Financial Support
- 8Domestic Support
- 9Family Commitment
Affection is the expression of caring. When you are shown affection by your partner, you feel that your partner cares about you. You feel secure. You feel comforted.
From “His Needs, Her Needs” by Dr. Willard Harley, Jr. page 37:
“To most women, affection symbolizes security, protection, comfort, and approval, vitally important commodities in their eyes. When a husband shows his wife affection, he sends the following messages:
I care about you.
You are important to me, and I don’t want anything to happen to you.
I’m concerned about the problems you face and I’ll try to help you overcome them.
…Men need to understand how strongly women need these affirmations.”
Many men try to show affection to their wife with sex. No. Sex is sex. Affection is non-sexual. Any hug, kiss, or physical touch that is sexual in nature, or intended to lead to sex, is not affection. I'll talk more about sex later.
Affection is very closely related to the 5 Love Languages popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman. When you show love to your partner in the language they prefer, you are showing affection.
If your partner has a need for affection, what can you do to provide them a feeling a security and comfort in a non-sexual way?
Sex is most often associated as a need for men. Today however, more women are reporting a similarly strong need for sex. A partner can feel cheated in a marriage because they don't get enough sex. For a partner with a strong need for sex, it is nearly as important as the air they breathe. Without sex, one can feel unloved. When feeling unloved a partner can do very bad things.
Men often do not understand the relationship between affection and sex. They want sex, but forget about giving affection first. Sex and affection are highly inter-related.
When a man gives ample affection to his wife, she is far more likely to be in the mood for sex.
If you have sexual fantasies, that is a good indicator that sex is high on your list of emotional needs.
As I said earlier, women can also have very high sex needs. Sometimes, it is the woman who is the sexual aggressor in a marriage. That is OK.
When sex is a high emotional need, it is beneficial for both partners to educate themselves in the art of sex. Boring sex is a drag. It can take all the fun of sex out of it. If either partner isn’t into it, the other partner will know. If a woman likes to get a rose now and then, she wouldn’t like him to throw it on the table and say “Here’s your damn flower.” Likewise, if he or she just goes through the motions, the more sexually aggressive partner will sense it and not receive the love they could have received from sex.
If a man wants more sex, he has to give his woman more affection, all the time. He can have fun with this. He can be creative in when and how he gives affection, and she can get creative in the bedroom, or wherever. When the wife wants more sex but is turned away by the husband, she needs to get creative in finding out what is causing his sexual shyness.
A man thrives on making his wife happy. Likewise, when a woman has a strong need for sex, she also wants to make her man happy. Full participation in lovemaking is essential. I’ll get more into lovemaking versus just sex in another article.
Intimate conversation is the next step beyond normal, everyday conversation. Intimate conversation is personal. It reveals feelings, concerns, cares and is often emotional. Intimate conversation often occurs while dating, and then drops off after marriage. Most women not only crave intimate conversation, but they need it. Men tend to not need it as much, nor enjoy talking intimately after marriage.
Intimate conversation does not take place when one partner is distracted by the TV, radio, or something else. Intimate conversation is dedicated time set aside for the exclusive purpose of connecting about the day, problems, achievements, dreams, fears, and goals. Dr. Harley, Jr. recommends 15 hours of such conversation each and every week. While that may sound difficult, it is a sound way to develop a happy marriage.
If you are familiar with the concept of the Love Bank, intimate conversation is a great way to make love bank deposits. Men need to understand this and develop intimate conversation skills.
For those with a need for intimate conversation will fall in love with someone who can have such a conversation with them. They will stay in love with the person who continues to have an intimate conversation.
It is fun to share your preferred recreational activities with your partner. Men will often enjoy playing tennis, softball, soccer, or go on hikes and other adventures. While dating, both parties try to do as many things as possible together, whether they like the activity or not. They enjoy spending time with their love. Once married, however, couples have a tendency to only do the activities they enjoy, often letting their partner spend an inordinate amount of time doing activities solo or with other friends. This separation of activities is a dangerous practice.
Marriage coaches often hear from one partner that the other partner changed. We hear that before marriage they used to do all kinds of things together, but not now.
Men are the ones usually wanting to do recreational activities. It is a real bonus when his wife participates in the activity or supports him from the sideline. Women also love to do activities and would love to have her husband join her. When they each stop doing activities together, each is making a conscious decision to not support their partner. It is a bad decision.
Recreational companionship combines two needs into one – that of recreation and companionship.
The answer is one that takes a little work and a lot of compromises. You need to find recreational activities you both enjoy doing. Yes, that means one or both of you may have to stop doing a preferred activity. This is a decision you are making for the betterment of the marriage. You may have to try several different activities before you find one or two you both like. The result is that you and your partner will be spending more time together. This will be time to talk, share experiences, and enjoy life together.
Honesty and Openness
Honesty and openness give us a sense of security. When a partner shares their innermost thoughts and feelings, becoming vulnerable, they give a precious gift to their partner. It is no surprise that women tend to need honesty and openness more than men.
If you feel especially loved when your partner shares their soul with you, becoming vulnerable, you have a need for honesty and openness.
Tied to intimate conversation, honesty and openness take the need to a whole new level covering many topics. Very simply, there can be no secrets between husband and wife. Anytime I come across a partner talking about their privacy and needing their own space, I know the marriage is in serious trouble. They are trying to hide something, past, present, or future. Such secrets drive a wedge between the partners. How can any person fully trust another person when there are secrets?
Dr. Willard Harley, Jr. suggests a policy of radical honesty. Radical honesty includes:
- 1Emotional Honesty – reveal your thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, especially regarding your spouse’s behavior.
- 2Historical Honesty – reveal everything about your past, especially as it pertains to your weaknesses and failures.
- 3Current Honesty – reveal information about your day, calendar, and activities, especially anything that pertains to your partner.
- 4Future Honesty – reveal full details about your future plans and goals.
Such honesty is rare today. When we date we tend to put our best face forward. That’s fine for an initial meeting, but afterward, you cannot continue misleading your potential partner. If you married this person and still have secrets or things you don’t want them to know, now is the time to share that information. Simply by holding back, your partner knows there is something. That uncertainty leads to questions and doubt. Doubt and uncertainty have a way of building walls between people. The only solution is radical honesty.
It is well known that men are more visual creatures. Yes, this means that men tend to have the need to be around their wife who looks beautiful in their eyes. I know, it is not politically or culturally correct. Men shouldn’t think that way, you may say. The fact remains we live in the real world and this is an innate need for many men, and women also.
Ladies, if you are having an issue with this particular need, I ask you to be honest. When you go out on a date with your man to a special place, don’t you like it when he cleans up, shaves, and puts on a nice set of freshly pressed clothes? Doesn’t it make you feel special that you are with such a handsome man?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You may have a need to be with someone you find physically attractive. What is physically attractive to you? What you find attractive, someone else may not. All that matters are what you find attractive, and your partner makes a serious effort to look attractive for you.
What is beauty? Some may suggest the following:
When we do our best to look good with how we are, we are giving a special gift to our partner. If you have a need for your partner to be physically attractive, you need to be radically honest with your partner. When both of you have the same understanding, you will both feel loved.
What do you expect financially from your spouse? Do you have plans financially that depends on your spouse earning a certain amount or higher? Do you expect your spouse to work when you will not be working? All of these expectations need to be shared with your partner. It is no surprise that women often have an emotional need for financial support, even when they work or earn more than the husband.
Today, women are far more independent than they ever have been. The actual need for a man is less than it ever has been. Many women earn more than their male spouse. Even if that is the case, what are the expectations? Women tend to like a man that can provide, or at least participate financially.
If a couple is planning to raise children, the expectations on the husband increase dramatically. If they dream of owning a house or fixing up where they live, financial demands can increase. If they like driving nice cars, the same applies. There are many areas where financial matters are very relevant. Discussions in these areas are best done early and often.
Dr. Harley, Jr. puts it well: “The need for domestic support is a time bomb.” There was a time when it was expected that the man would earn the money to support the household, and the woman would raise the children and keep the house clean. Today with many women working a full or part-time job, having to raise the children and keep the house clean is an undue burden. Yet, there are still many men who want to put in their time at work and come home to relax, having dinner waiting for them.
When children arrive, the need for domestic support changes radically. The fact is, we do not live in the 1950’s any longer and cooperation in taking care of the children and household are mandatory.
Consider the following actions:
- 1Identify all household responsibilities. Both partners must agree on the list of duties.
- 2Assume responsibilities for specified tasks. From the master list, each partner agrees to do the tasks they wish to take on.
- 3Assign the remaining tasks. Both partners agree to who will do what and when they are to be completed.
- 4Each spouse indicates which duties they would like help with. Some tasks are best done together or with the help of the other spouse.
- 5Each partner helps the other spouse with other tasks. Love units are earned by giving help where your help is volunteered and appreciated.
Family commitment is not child care. Family commitment is the active participation in the raising of the children with their moral and educational needs. Many women need help from the father to properly raise their children. Some of the help includes:
Parenting takes a lot of time and training. Schedules need to be adjusted for family events. Parents may need to take classes or read how to raise the children. Some of the key areas include:
- 1Learn how to reach an agreement with your spouse. The two of you must be on the same page when it comes to the children.
- 2Learn how to explain the rules to the children. No one parent should be the preferred or good parent when it comes to the children.
- 3Learn how to be consistent. Don’t let the mood of either parent allow rules to be broken or swayed. This can pit one parent against the other. Children will learn how to leverage a parent.
- 4Learn how to punish properly and fairly. Spanking can be appropriate when done properly. Corporal punishment can be excessive, especially as the child grows up.
- 5Learn how to handle anger. Never punish a child when in the state of anger. Develop the skills of emotional intelligence to recognize when you start becoming angry and act accordingly.
Kind words and recognition for your efforts can make serious love unit deposits for someone who needs admiration. Most often, men need admiration. Just as kind words can make serious love unit deposits, harsh words and criticism make serious withdrawals.
Men are often driven to achieve, accomplish, and succeed. Men like to hear they are doing well. They like to hear that their efforts are appreciated. I was listening to a Dr. John Gray interview recently, and he was elaborating on how important it is for a woman to show admiration to her man. Even when they are experiencing difficulties, sincere compliments go a long way. When a man hears his wife say something positive about him in front of neighbors or friends, he gets serious love unit deposits.
Dr. Gottman is well known for his writings about the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. These are 4 actions that destroy a marriage and lead to divorce. One of them is criticism. Many people confuse criticism with a complaint. A complaint is when you might say “Honey, you said you would take the trash out today. We’re ready to go to bed and the trash is still in the house.” Criticism makes it personal. A criticism sounds like this: “You are worthless. You promised to take the trash out and you didn’t. Why can’t you do anything you say. You’re a liar.”
In relation to the 5 Love Needs, the need for admiration is similar to Words of Affirmation. Kind words heal. Harsh words hurt. When we feel pain from our partner it may seem OK to use harsh words. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every harsh word causes a withdrawal in the love bank. Enough harsh words cause a negative balance. When the love bank goes into the negative the marriage is in serious jeopardy. We control the words we use. We make the choice to make deposits or withdrawals.
Determine Your Emotional Needs
The way to determine your emotional needs is to first read the descriptions above and make a list that you think are your 10 emotional needs, prioritized from 1 to 10. Now, imagine you could only have 1 of these needs. Take a look at number 1 and number 2. Make a mark next to the one that would help you feel more loved. Then look at number 2 and number 3. Make a mark next to the one that would help you feel most loved. Continue down the list for all 10. Make sure the last comparison is between number 10 and number 1, so that all 10 get an equal comparison.
The next step is to imagine you can have 2 of the emotional needs. This time look at the first 4 needs and place a mark next to the 2 you most associate with. Then, look at 2 through 5 and place a mark next to the 2 you most need. Then 3 through 6 going through the entire list placing a mark next to the 2 you feel would most help you feel loved. Like before, make sure the last comparison is between number 10 and number 3.
Now, count up all the marks. The 5 with the most marks are your 5 emotional needs. Now rank them from 1 to 5 according to the ones with the most marks to the least marks.
Doing this exercise can TRANSFORM your marriage. When it comes to personal needs, we often do not have proper words to describe them. This exercise provides you with terms you can now discuss with your partner.
In my coaching programs I continue this exercise and coach you how to tie these needs into your everyday life. The emotional needs covers the middle tier of the 13 Personal Needs. In addition to the emotional needs, you have love needs and human needs.
I often talk about how important it is to get to the root cause of a problem and not deal with the surface issues. Your 13 Personal Needs are often the root cause of problems you experience in life and your marriage. ALL marriage problems are rooted in the marriage foundation.