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He's not meeting her stated emotional needs — now what?

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

He's not meeting her stated emotional needs — now what?

Massachusetts: Can you break down some psychological vocab for a dumb guy? I have a hard time understanding what my girlfriend means when she refers to her emotional "needs." For instance, she "needs" me to ask how her day was and to be willing to hang out with groups of her friends sometimes. She has said before that she cannot stay in a relationship where her "needs" aren't being met.

I would argue that anything you can live without doesn't qualify as a "need." Before we got together, she was presumably making it just fine without anyone asking her how her day was or being her date in big groups. So how am I the bad guy if I don't automatically provide these things?

Carolyn: First, let's define the key term. An emotional need is different from a survival need. We need water, food, shelter, etc., to survive, and then we need companionship/adventure/intimacy/privacy/humor/whatever to be happy. The former list is universal, the latter is highly individual.

Your girlfriend is telling you what she thinks is necessary to her happiness. She likes to engage with loved ones after a day full of work and strangers and whatever else. She likes to have her separate groups of loved ones know each other and spend time together. Again, these are highly individual; certainly there are people who need space at the end of the day, and for whom combining groups is more stressful than rewarding.

You're not the bad guy if you don't automatically provide these things. You just might be the wrong guy for her, if these aren't things you provide naturally, or if any extra effort you're willing to put in to make her happy isn't enough to make her happy. In that case, you need to channel Mature Guy, tell her you respect her preferences, but the guy she wants you to be isn't the guy you are — be it because you're a loner or set in your ways or whatever else. You can also say you hope the things you can provide will be enough for her.

At that point, it's up to her to figure out whether she really means what she's saying. Is she ready to break up, now that you've honestly said you can't/won't give her what she wants? Or was she making empty threats, hoping she could pressure you into changing?

Or, third option, did she really think these things were deal-breakers at the time, but now — since it's put-up-or-breakup time — she realizes she'd rather have you as is? Sometimes it dawns on people that their needs are being met so well in a general way that the details aren't as important as they thought.

What matters most is that you're honest with yourself, and with her, about what you can provide, and that she's honest about whether that's enough. Acknowledge your needs, too, even if it's just a need to be loved as is — and weigh whether you get that from her.

The situation you want to avoid is when half of a couple doesn't make good on breakup threats, and just sticks around, stating and re-stating a need that it's obvious will never be met. That's when the other half has to say, "Enough."

He's not meeting her stated emotional needs — now what? 05/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 12:27am]

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