What do I need and want from a relationship?
January 23, 2010 1:06 PM   Subscribe

Looking for tips on to figure out what one needs in a relationship.

I am an older male, married. I've always considered myself low maintenance in relationships and pretty self sufficient in them.

However my wife has been ill lately (past two years), forcing us to focus more on her as opposed to myself. Over time, that has left me feeling neglected. But when I ask myself the question of "What do I want from my SO in a relationship" most of my answers are of the vague sort, i.e. wanting to be loved, with an occasional blow job thrown in. I would like to develop a way to quantify and explain what I need, but at the moment lack the skillset to do so. To be clear: When I ask myself what I want in a relationship, I'm literally drawn up short and speechless, to the extent that not only do I not know the answer, I don't even know how to figure out the answer and never quite realized that I didn't know the answer.

Yes, therapy is an answer, but that'll take a few weeks to get rolling. What I'd like some help with now is figuring out what questions I should be asking myself. You know how there's various personality tests to see what type of person you are? Are there any similar tests, online or book form, that help you determine what you need in a relationship? I don't expect the quiz or book to be the definitive answer, I'm just looking for a basic starting point, a basic primer, a compass to help guide me in a general way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

Helps you figure out what makes you feel loved and what makes your partner feel loved.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:38 PM on January 23, 2010

I think you will really find Willard Harley's His Needs/Her Needs to be a useful starting point. Harley comes up with 10 basic categories of emotional needs in a relationship (sex, affection, domestic support, recreational companionship, and so on). He argues that men and women tend to have different needs in relationships (hence the His/Her in the title, and subsequent accusations of sexism/bias/old-fashioned fuddy-duddiness from certain camps). The main book offers a questionnaire that will help you figure out which types of needs are most important to you (and reading through will give you many concrete examples).

Harley's web site does a good job offering a basic overview of his basic concepts.
You may also take a look at the companion workbook, Five Steps to Romantic Love. It has several more in-depth questionnaires that will help you pin-point the specifics of what your spouse can do to go about meeting those broader categories of needs.

For example, wanting to be loved--well, sure. Unless your marriage is really down the toilet, though, you probably *are* already loved. The problem is coming to a mutual understanding with your spouse about what sorts of actions make you *feel* loved.
posted by drlith at 1:57 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

David Richo's How To Be An Adult in Relationships suggests attention, acceptance, affection, appreciation and allowing (allowing = freedom to be and express yourself fully, and to make choices, even if your partner doesn't agree with them, without threatening the relationship) as the basic needs people have with respect to intimate relationships.
posted by jon1270 at 1:58 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I recommend this book all the time: How to Be an Adult in Relationships. (Caveats: the title is totally misleading, as it's not a how-to book at all; it also has a fair amount of touchy-feely/hippy-dippy language that some may find a bit offputting.)

The author's basic framework is that healthy adult relationships must supply "The 5 A's" for both partners: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and what he calls "allowing" (by which he means the freedom to express and pursue our needs, desires, and values).

(on preview: ha! beaten to it!)
posted by scody at 2:07 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bet I know why you are blank: for the last two years, you've had to put your needs on hold. "I can't ask her to do anything for me right now, she's too sick." So you learn to do without, you go hungry, and eventually you forget what you were hungry for in the first place. Adding to the fun, I'm assuming she's still sick now? You're wondering, "what can I reasonably ask a sick person to do for me? If anything? I bet I can't really ask anything, can I? Or else she can't fulfill it, or I'll feel guilty, or she'll feel guilty, and I'll wish I hadn't asked for anything in the first place."

That's why you don't know what you want any more. Am I right? It's more like, "I don't know what I want THAT'S STILL ON THE MENU, and I don't even have a menu to choose from here." It's easier for you to just say, "Uh, I dunno," than it is to say, "I want a blowjob once a week, I want some affection once in a while even if you're feeling bad," etc.

I can't think of a book or primer to tell you to look at in this case. I can't help but think this is something to ask a counselor about together, to work out what the menu is at this point in time and what can be done and not done.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:59 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chiming back in: I wonder if brainstorming memories of things that felt good in your relationship before your wife fell ill might help clarify things a little, too. For example, think of some specific times or events when you felt particularly satisfied in your relationship: what exactly was involved? Was your wife being spontaneously affectionate/intimate (whether physically or verbally) in some way? Was it a time when the two of you were enjoying a shared hobby or activity? Did she do something for you that you particularly appreciated (whether as simple as fixing you a favorite meal, or as special as planning a surprise getaway)?

Memories like this may be a key into clarifying what you feel has gone missing for you in the past few years, and may help you talk with her about what you need from her now. And even though your present circumstances may have changed due to her illness (particularly due to pain or fatigue that she might have), you could still work together to find new ways to recapture some of that togetherness -- for example, finding less physically taxing ways to be intimate with each other, or trading an old high-impact shared activity (say, hiking) for a new low-impact one (say, target shooting).

Also, I haven't read it and I don't know the details of your wife's illness, but I wonder if it might be helpful to read this book? Maybe reading about the perspective of a fellow husband who has been the "well spouse" in a marriage might help clarify some of your feelings as well.

Best of luck to you.
posted by scody at 9:55 PM on January 23, 2010

In a sort of reverse-companion to scody's suggestion of recalling times when you felt particularly fulfilled in your relationship, you could try recalling times in the recent past when you've been unhappy or angry. Perhaps write them down, and go through and determine what it was you were really needing in that interaction with your wife, below the surface reasons.

I do this for a slightly different reason, to help with conflict resolution with my partner, but it might be useful to you too. So, for example, one of mine might be:

Instance: I am angry because he still forgets to hang his damn towels up, though we've talked about it before and he knows it particularly niggles me. Argh!
What i'm really wanting here: I'm not really irritated about the towels, more about feeling that he won't make this small effort towards alleviating tension.

..And from there, you can perhaps extrapolate some ideas of what you need.

(I don't have any actual towel irritance, example only! Mine is a blissfully towel-tension-free household.
Dishes, however..!)

posted by pseudonymph at 9:10 AM on January 24, 2010

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