Owning your needs

We all have needs, there is no denying it. Every action we take is based upon a strategy to get those needs met. The real question here is how aware are we of our needs? In my own life, and in the family and the culture that I grew up in, needs were things to be denied. There was empowerment to be had in being self-sufficient, in not needing much at all. This is admirable, but when there is a need for consideration, respect and care in an abusive relationship, or when there is a need for clarity and communication in an unclear, messy work situation, donʼt you think it would be good to know what your needs are very concretely?

When you know what those needs are, then you are acknowledging they exist which in itself can be a very freeing exercise. When my children were little, life was pretty overwhelmingly taken up with diapers, nursing, dishes and reading picture books. Only once I acknowledged to myself that I needed a little serious time to focus on something that would nourish me and build a future for me when my children didnʼt need me quite so much, was I able to ask my husband to help me with this, rather than just feel jealous and resentful that he was making such headway towards his life goals while I was being devoured by the never ending daily needs of my growing family.

Even when one knows oneʼs needs, how do you get them met? Demanding to get our needs met is not the answer. We know what we need, but we need also to own it, to take responsibility for it. To me, this means taking care that we donʼt expect to get them met by others. I knew a woman who believed that being loved and getting her needs met were the same thing. “If you love me, then you will meet my needs – if you wonʼt meet my needs, then you donʼt love me enough”. Love may be many different things to different people, but it isnʼt about being a slave to anotherʼs needs. Meeting a need is a free deed, and one that is best done when holding everyoneʼs needs equally. If we feel obliged to meet anotherʼs needs because otherwise there will be unpleasant consequences (disappointment, annoyance, resentment…) then we have not been asked at all. Instead there was a demand – as with my woman friend who believed that love and getting her needs met were one and the same thing. If one said no to her, she would feel unloved, which puts an obligation on the other to do the deed. This is not taking responsibility for oneʼs needs, instead this is putting the responsibility onto others to get oneʼs needs met.

When we ask another to meet our needs – “my dear husband, could you please take the children so I can study?” – we need to make a request, which is different from a demand. A request leaves the other free to say no if they need to. Not only that, but there isnʼt the added emotional edge of: if you donʼt say yes I will be upset, which leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the one who was asked. A request puts the onus back on the one with the need, where the responsibility belongs. If you canʼt meet my need, I will find another way to get my need met, because that is my responsibility.

Making a request can feel like a demand to the other because that, more often than not, is what we expect to hear in communication. Here is a technique to help the other to hear the request, rather than a demand, and to leave them free:

When you make your request, make it very concrete and clear, and give it a time frame.

For instance, I could ask my husband, would you please take the children tomorrow night from 6PM until 10PM, so I can do my study in my room? My dear husband says no, not tomorrow night, but he can do it the night after, will that work? Because I was clear about exactly what I wanted, for how long and when, he was very clear about what I was asking of him, he didnʼt have to figure out what I wanted through any unclear communication or muddy expectations like, “it should be obvious to him what I need!” – making the whole thing more charged and difficult – and he knew the terms of the ask. He canʼt do it then, but because he has been left free from any demands from me, he can hold my needs and his equally. Tomorrow night doesnʼt work because he has other commitments that are too late to get out of, but the night after will work even though he will have to cancel some calls – he is happy to do that. He can hold my needs and his equally, because his heart is open in that situation. The ask that is a subtle demand closes the heart, and takes a toll on any relationship.

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