Non Hierarchical Emotional Needs
Maslow’s grouping of needs is great.
However, from a communication standpoint sometimes needs to be understood from a more equal grouping.
An emotional need is “a craving that, when satisfied, leaves you with a feeling of happiness and contentment, and, when unsatisfied, leaves you with a feeling of unhappiness and frustration.”
The 10 most common emotional needs were identified by “Harley” after interviewing numerous couples.
The following is a list of those top ten needs, along with some examples and explanations of the need. There is no particular order of importance within this list since all that matters is deciding what is important to an individual and to that person’s partner.
They are listed here in alphabetical order:
- Admiration/Appreciation: Receiving compliments, comments about positive traits, appreciation for work done at home or at a job, avoidance of criticism
- Affection: Receiving a hug, a “love you” note, a text greeting, a loving smile, holding hands
- Companionship in Recreational Activity: Participating together in a sport or hobby that requires more than one person, such as tennis, basketball, or a game of cards
- Domestic Support: Getting help with cooking meals, washing dishes, doing laundry, house cleaning, child care, pet care
- Family Commitment: Spending quality time with children, teaching/modeling values, sharing responsibility for children’s well-being
- Financial Support: Having a partner who provides an income, having a certain standard of living, having a partner who stays within an agreed-upon budget
- Honesty/ Openness: Willingness to reveal facts about past and present events, as well as hopes and plans for the future
- Intimate Conversation: Having discussions to inform or ask questions, discussing topics of mutual interest, willingness to listen to each other, giving and receiving undivided attention
- Physical Attractiveness: Factors such as weight, clothing style, hairstyle, and hygiene
- Sexual Fulfillment: Having sexual closeness (this usually predates the relationship and is distinct from the need for affection)
Some of us are vaguely aware that we have personal emotional needs that take priority other others.
For example, one may not have a strong need for financial support but may feel a need for appreciation or admiration.
Of course, in communication, the question becomes, as always, how to harmonize with the communicators, when those communicators have different needs.
Harley interviewed numerous couples in therapy and asked each person to identify their top five emotional needs. He determined that the several needs listed as most important by one partner were usually the least important for the other partner (Harley, 2001).
Given this difference in the priority of needs, it is not surprising that many individuals have little understanding of what their partner actually needs from them emotionally. Most of us tend to assume that the other person’s needs are the same as ours.
You may have noted that some of these needs are more often reported by men, while others are more commonly reported by women. Whether or not there are gender differences is really not the relevant issue. The critical point is that all 10 emotional needs are valid and commonly experienced.
Some of them may not appear to be emotional, but rather physical (sexual fulfillment), or even superficial (physical attractiveness).
However, given the definition provided earlier, it is easier to acknowledge that all 10 of these stated needs are emotional in nature. When met, they result in happiness, while if unmet, they can lead to unhappiness and frustration.
In communication, you need to make judgments about which needs are more important for someone at that time.
Of course, circumstances change, and needs may change. For example, the need for domestic support, family commitment, and financial support may all increase in importance when children become part of the family.
Each person is faced with their own determination of what they can or cannot do for the other without sacrificing their own well-being.
Those decisions are critical. The value of Harley’s description of needs is in the understanding and the empathy that it adds to the relationship. Each of us wants to know that we are important enough to our partner that they will at least accept our needs as valid and make efforts to meet them.
Willard F. (2001). His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage, Fifteenth Anniversary Edition. Revell Publishing.