So is there hope if you and a loved one have different relational needs or the same relational needs in different quantities? Is there any way to break out of the habit of judging others' relational needs by our own? And, more to the point, is it possible to meet someone else's needs and still get our own needs met when those needs are different?
When differences in relational needs are causing dissatisfaction in a relationship, many therapists and self-help gurus wave the time-worn banner of COMMUNICATION. The solution to mismatched needs, they say, is to communicate those needs to each other.
Talking can help diffuse feelings of resentment and further a compromise if your needs are not too far apart. It can also bring to light mistaken assumptions about your needs or your partner's. For instance, using the example of togetherness versus independence, it may turn out that your seemingly clingy girlfriend would prefer to spend more time apart but thought you wanted to be a malignant growth on her hip. Or, using the example of self-disclosure versus privacy, maybe that friend who's about as talkative as the Mona Lisa would like to open up if she knew you wanted her to.
Even if discussion reveals that your needs really are at opposite ends of the spectrum, communicating can help you rethink how you judge your partner's relational needs. If you recall the story of Evan and I, for example, I mistakenly assumed that he didn't call me as often as I would have liked because he didn't care enough about me. After we talked, I understood that he did care about me but had lower communicational needs than I did. Sometimes, just knowing that different needs are different, not bad, can be enough to help you coexist with the differences. Occasionally, you may even realize that your own relational needs aren't reasonable and that you need to revisit the origin of those needs and learn to satisfy them in a more realistic way.
On the other hand, in some cases, even if you understand and empathize with another's needs, that can't bridge the Grand Canyon sized gap between their needs and yours. For instance, even though I revised my understanding of the significance of Evan's relational needs, nothing changed the fact that I still wanted more frequent communication than he did. You can rehash your needs till the sun goes supernova, but if they're not the same, nothing is ever going to make them the same. You may understand you partner better, but you still need what you need, and trying to forgo your own needs or fulfill needs you're not equipped to meet will only engender bitterness and frustration.
If you're in an otherwise happy dating relationship, friendship, working partnership, etc. and are intent on saving it, be honest with yourself about whether you can live with the differences in your relational needs. Remember that some aspect of your relationship will always be conflicted because you're not getting your need met in that area. However, all relationships require compromise, and if you're willing to compromise your relational needs, you have to also be willing to consciously and repeatedly let go of the hurt, disappointment, resentment, and perhaps anger that the denial of your needs will continually provoke.
The alternative solution is to make a preemptive strike, if you will, and end the relationship as soon as you realize that your needs are incompatible. If you're paying attention, this will be early on, so neither of you should be devastated when it doesn't work out. However, be sure to discuss your incompatible needs first so that your partner isn't clueless as to why you're dissatisfied. Give him or her a chance to respond in case you're mistaken but also be wary of the wishful thinking that might drive him or her to deny your differences. One of the main reasons that so many relationships fail is that people gloss over these basic dissimilarities because they're so intent on being in a relationship.
It's tragic when an otherwise healthy relationship can't continue because of conflicting relational needs, especially when you've already developed strong feelings for the incompatible partner. So when you add someone's relational needs to your home decor, train your eye to identify which ones complement yours and which don't. It's easy to make a return during the trial period, but if you let incompatible needs settle into your living room and start collecting dust, they'll be so much a part of your life, it will break your heart when you finally have to redecorate your home.
When you and someone else have had conflicting relational needs, what have you done to resolve the differences? If you chose to continue the relationship, were you able to make it work despite the differences?
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