10 Emotional Needs to Consider in Relationships
Everyone has emotional needs.
Consider basic survival needs like water, air, food, and shelter. Meeting these physical needs means you can stay alive, but it takes more to give life meaning.
You can’t see or touch things like companionship, affection, security, or appreciation, but they’re just as valuable. The same goes for feeling heard or valued.
In a relationship, the strength of your bond can make a big difference in whether you both get your needs met.
Although every relationship looks a little different, these 10 emotional needs are a good starting point for considering whether you and your partner are each getting what you need from the relationship.
Most relationships involve different kinds of affection:
- physical touch
- sexual intimacy
- loving words
- kind gestures
Affection helps you bond and increase closeness.
Not everyone shows affection in the same ways, but partners generally get used to each other’s unique approaches toward fulfilling this need.
Someone who doesn’t say “I love you” might show their regard through their actions, for example.
If the level of affection in your relationship suddenly changes, you might start to worry. Many relationship issues stem from a lack of affection, and it’s pretty understandable to wonder why a once-affectionate partner seems distant or avoidant of touch.
If they seem less affectionate than usual, a conversation is a good place to start. Remember, you don’t know what’s happening without asking.
Try a nonconfrontational approach:
- “I’ve noticed some distance lately. When we can’t connect through touch, I feel lonely. I wonder if there’s a way we could connect with words instead, if you don’t feel up to physical affection right now.”
Knowing your partner accepts you as you are can help create a sense of belonging in the relationship.
Acceptance doesn’t just mean they accept you, though. It also means you feel as if you fit in with their loved ones and belong in their life.
This sense of belonging might increase when they:
- introduce you to family and friends
- plan activities to do together
- share dreams and goals for the future
- ask for advice when making decisions
If you don’t feel accepted, you might feel as if you’re hovering on the edges of their life. This isn’t a comfortable place to be.
Some people don’t open up easily, and they might have other reasons for not including you in certain parts of their life. All the same, feeling like you don’t belong can make it difficult for you to see yourself in the relationship long term.
Here’s one strategy to try: If you haven’t already, invite them to meet your friends and family. Use this to open a conversation about how you’d like to be more involved in their life.
Even the closest partners don’t always see eye to eye, and that’s OK. When you don’t completely agree, though, you still want to know they’ve heard your concerns and understand where you’re coming from.
If you generally feel validated, but this happens once or twice, it’s possible they had an off day. It doesn’t hurt to have a conversation, regardless, to share how you feel.
But if you consistently feel unheard or invalidated, you might start to build up some resentment, so it’s best to address the issue sooner rather than later.
- “I haven’t felt heard lately when I bring up important issues. Could we find a good time to have serious conversations, when we can both listen without distractions?”
As a relationship deepens, partners often begin sharing interests, activities, and other aspects of daily life. You might notice you’re becoming more of a unit as you grow closer.
But no matter how strong your relationship becomes, it’s essential to maintain your sense of self. While you might have plenty of things in common, you’re two separate people with unique goals, hobbies, friends, and values — and that’s a good thing.
If your identity has started to blur into theirs, take a step back to examine the situation. This blending of selves can happen naturally as you grow close, but it can also happen when you believe you need to become more like them for the relationship to succeed.
In reality, maintaining individual interests can fuel curiosity about each other, which can strengthen your relationship and keep it fun. If you’re losing sight of yourself before the relationship, set aside some time to reconnect with friends or restart an old hobby.
A healthy relationship should feel secure, but security can mean many things.
If you feel secure in your relationship, you generally:
- know they respect your boundaries
- feel safe to share your feelings
- feel physically safe with them
- believe they support your choices
- feel able to share your feelings
Setting clear boundaries can help boost your sense of security:
- “I don’t want to be shouted at, so I won’t respond if you raise your voice.”
If your partner becomes abusive, seek professional support. Physical abuse is often easy to recognize, but emotional abuse can make you feel unsafe, too, even if you can’t put your finger on why.
If you’re looking for help, our guide to domestic violence resources can help.
Trust and security often go hand in hand. It’s hard to feel physically or emotionally safe with someone you can’t trust. When you trust someone, you know they’re looking out for you as well as themselves.
If you start to doubt them, try bringing up specific behaviors, such as staying out late without explanation. This helps you get to the bottom of what’s going on while touching base on communication needs.
In general, trust doesn’t happen immediately. You cultivate it over time, but you can also lose it in an instant. Broken trust can sometimes be repaired, but this requires effort from both partners and often, support from a therapist.
Be upfront about how you’ll handle breaches of trust in the relationship. While your specific response might vary based on the context of a given situation, you probably have a good idea about behaviors you can’t accept, such as infidelity or lying. Don’t feel guilty about making those deal breakers known to your partner.
Having empathy means you can imagine how someone else feels. This ability is essential to romantic relationships since it helps people understand each other and build deeper bonds.
Say they forget your birthday. You feel angry and hurt. After 5 years together, how could they? You’ve never forgotten their birthday.
But after your initial rush of disappointment and anger, you start to consider their side. They’ve been struggling at work lately, and that anxiety has started affecting their sleep. Most of their emotional energy has gone into planning a big project that could help turn things around.
With all that on their mind, you reason, it’s more understandable how they completely blanked on your birthday. You know it wasn’t an intentional slight, and you also know they feel terrible.
Your understanding of their situation helps you accept what happened and offer them compassion and forgiveness, which can bring you closer. Continuing to stew, on the other hand, might lead to an argument or drive you apart in other ways.
It’s pretty normal to want your partner to make you a priority. You want to know you come first and that after they meet their own needs, yours are next in line.
Of course, most people have a few (or more) significant relationships. From time to time, someone else in their life might need to come first, such as a friend going through a crisis or a family member experiencing a rough patch.
In general, though, if you don’t feel like a priority in their life, you probably feel as if they don’t really value your presence. This can make you wonder why they even bother with the relationship.
A conversation can often help. First, mention why you don’t feel prioritized — try an I-statement to avoid sounding judgmental. Maybe they don’t reply to your texts for a day or so, or consistently reschedule date night to catch up with friends.
Then suggest a possible solution, like replying to texts each evening or with a phone call, or choosing a regular date night.
It’s OK not to do everything together. In fact, maintaining separate interests and friendships can be good for individual mental health, as well as the health of your relationship (see autonomy above).
But you probably want to feel connected at the same time. That’s perfectly understandable. What are relationships for, if not sharing your life?
Without connection, you can feel lonely even when you spend most of your time together. It might seem as if you’re just two people who happen to share a living space or spend time together sometimes. Chances are good that’s not how you want your relationship to proceed.
Here’s the good news: If you lack this sense of connection, it’s completely possible to reconnect and engage with them again.
Some helpful tips:
- Ask questions about an aspect of their daily life you’ve never really thought about before.
- Suggest a new activity to try together.
- Break out of your usual routine by taking a day or weekend trip.
- Bond over shared memories or swap individual ones from your childhood.
Connection is important, but so is space.
Space within a relationship means you both have the freedom to do your own thing when you want to. You feel supported but know you can make your own choices.
It also means you still enjoy some privacy. This privacy can mean separate spaces to work or relax at home, but it also means emotional privacy.
Being honest doesn’t mean you need to share every thought that crosses your mind. If you feel annoyed, for example, getting some physical and emotional space can help you work through these thoughts in healthy ways and avoid taking things out on your partner.
When it comes to space, asking for what you need is key.
- carving out a bit of alone time each day
- creating a private space for yourself at home, whether that’s a separate room or a little nook
- spending more time outside
Before we dive into some key emotional needs in a relationship, it’s important to consider a few things.
Emotional needs aren’t set in stone
You might have different needs throughout your life, and your needs can also shift within one relationship. This might happen as you learn more about yourself through personal growth or in relation to your partner and your development as a couple.
It’s perfectly normal to adapt over time, even to discover needs you never considered before. Past experiences can have an impact, too. Your experience in a previous relationship may have taught you just how important communication really is, for example.
People can have different needs
Again, emotional needs vary from person to person. Some people might value belonging over love, or trust over desire, for example.
While you might prioritize certain things, such as attention and connectedness, your partner might place more importance on privacy and independence.
This doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed, but you may need to put some extra effort into communicating needs and discussing ways to meet in the middle.
No one has to meet your needs
Emotional needs play an important part in relationship satisfaction. If they’re fulfilled, you might feel contented, excited, or joyful. When they go unmet, on the other hand, you might feel frustrated, hurt, or confused.
That said, your partner does not have a responsibility to meet all of your needs.
Some needs, such as trust and communication, do affect relationship success. Without trust and openness, relationships typically don’t work out long term.
But they can’t fulfill every need, and you shouldn’t expect them to. Even within a romantic relationship, it’s essential to explore other avenues of getting needs met, whether by yourself or through meaningful relationships with others.
As you may have noticed, getting needs met usually involves some collaborative problem-solving. And what does collaboration depend on? Good communication.
Discussing your needs with your partner is typically the best place to begin. If you can’t communicate, you probably can’t explore needs fulfillment together.
Struggling to get started? Couple’s therapy can offer a safe, judgment-free space to begin talking through your concerns.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
Last medically reviewed on April 30, 2020