We all long to have a life-long marriage – certainly no one gets married thinking, “I can’t wait to spend the next two years with this person.” Not only do we desire an “ever-after” relationship but we also want one that is enjoyable and thriving.
In pursuit of a life-long and satisfying marriage, one of the most important things you can do is to understand what each person needs within the relationship.
To give you an idea what a relational need looks like, let me tell you about a time I almost drove the car into the Mississippi River.
One day my wife, Erin and I were driving from Springfield, MO to Nashville, TN to attend a conference. The days leading up to the trip Erin had asked me to consult AAA about the best way to get to Nashville. As a guy, I resented her request and felt I could get us there as well as AAA could. I spent several hours diligently studying maps. Finally, I found a route that was basically a straight line.
Several hours into the trip I was feeling great because my route was perfect. We were thirty minutes ahead of AAA’s schedule. I was king of the road. But just like that, disaster struck.
Erin and I were laughing and singing, and miles back she had stopped asking me if I knew where we were. Then all of a sudden, Erin said, “Did you see that sign? I swear it read ‘dead end’.”
“Nice try,” I joked, “You just can’t admit that I was right and you were wrong.”
“I’m serious,” she begged “I think this road dead ends.”
“This road does not dead end,” I shot back, “Don’t worry. Trust me!”
We continued to drive for about one hour while neither of us spoke a word, waiting for the truth to be revealed. The surrounding area began to be less populated until it became cornfields as far as the eye could see. And then it happened.
I barely stopped the truck in time to avoid crashing into the rather large “dead end” sign. “That’s impossible,” I shouted in disbelief, “This wasn’t on the map!”
The worst part was that Erin didn’t have to say anything. She just sat there with that look of disdain, shaking her head from side to side. Next I did what any man would do in this situation. I got out of the truck to survey the area.
As I gazed down at the mighty Mississippi River, you could actually see my road form again on the other side. “It’s not my fault that the map didn’t show that a bridge wasn’t here!” I shouted back at the truck.
As I reached to study the map, Erin quickly jerked it out of my hands. Sadly, I didn’t even try to get it back. I was defeated. Sitting there watching my wife attempt to determine our location, I began to notice how scary fields of corn look at night in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t help that buzzards had begun circling overhead, squawking excitedly. I started to remember a movie about murderous children who lived in cornfields. The worst part was that I couldn’t recall whether the movie was based on a true story or not. The bottom line was that we needed to leave. Now!
Driving back, Erin and I didn’t speak for quite some time. When she finally started to say something, I was certain that she was going to give me a piece of her mind. And I deserved it no doubt. But she didn’t yell or tease me. What she did was actually the same thing you can do to begin to unlock the most important relational needs of your spouse.
Erin spoke in a calm voice and said, “I believe we can learn a great deal about each other’s relational needs by answering the statement: ‘I feel loved when you…'”
I gulped and nodded, grateful to have escaped what could have been well-deserved wrath.
“Well, I feel loved when you ask AAA about our trip route.”
What is an emotional or relational need?
Relational needs require constant attention. Relational needs are things that we would like to have happen within our marriage. They are our wants, desires, and the things that help make us feel loved or cared for.
Imagine a ten-cell battery, each cell wired to one of your mate’s top basic needs. Now, consider each of these needs as individual power cells in your mate’s relational “battery.” When the “battery cells” are drained by everyday living, working, children, friends, and “just life in general,” humans need their relational batteries recharged, just like your car battery needs charging after too much neglect or overuse.
When needs are not being met, look out! Your marriage is at stake. Your mate can become overly defensive, argumentative, jealous, belligerent, withdrawn, or degrading of others. When our deepest relational needs are not met, we tend to be more irritated, discouraged, edgy, hypersensitive, and reactionary to “average” events that occur in a typical marriage.
Furthermore, the need for companionship in a long-lasting relationship is so strong that men and women will go to any length to satisfy it. But if marriage isn’t meeting their needs, they may go outside the marriage and into an emotional or sexual affair. Or they will get these needs fulfilled at work, play, through relatives, friends, children, or in the community at large.
Discovering your mate’s needs
One thing is certain: before you can begin meeting your mate’s deepest needs, you have to know what they are. The first law of fulfilling needs is to realize that everyone’s are different, based on personalities, backgrounds, and expectations. So you must first learn to recognize your mate’s individual needs, as well as your own. In order to accomplish this, simply ask each other to respond to this statement: “I feel loved or cared for when you…” Your answers will unlock the door to your greatest relational needs.
Just twenty minutes per day…
Back to the battery. Your spouse’s relational batteries will be recharged by attending to his or her needs. According to Dr. John Gottman, this can take place in only about twenty minutes a day! Gottman discovered through his research that the difference between a couple who divorces and one that stays together but unhappy is ten minutes a day of “turning towards” each other daily. By this, he means that a couple must “turn towards” each other every day through positive words or affirmative interactions.
Furthermore, Gottman found that couples who stay together and are happy “turn towards” each other an additional ten minutes more each day than unhappily married couples. From these discoveries we can surmise that a total of twenty minutes a day of “turning towards each other” in substantial ways can make the difference between divorce and staying together in a happy satisfying relationship.