Emotional Distance in a Marriage – Personal Needs and Frustration

You are lead to believe, are you not, that one of the primary purposes of marriage or a relationship of significant emotional involvement is to meet personal needs?

Once married or in a significant relationship, your partner will meet your personal needs, give you the attention and love you crave and desire and all that that means.

You will live happily ever after. You will be emotionally complete.

Countless books have been written about the crucial nature of meeting the other’s personal needs. Whole therapies have been developed over the years that focus on reciprocal need meeting as the panacea for a happy marriage or relationship.

And as you scan the media, as you encounter others at work or in other contexts, and if you look a little below the surface, you notice that getting personal needs met is a huge priority in our culture. The need for attention, the need for power, the need for success, the need for recognition, the need for control, the need for belonging, the need for adoration, the need for acknowledgement, the need for love are just a few that propel night and day. (In reality, I have a list of over 200 personal needs that fuel the fire of a person’s life.)

But, here’s one huge problem: need meeting is like trying to drain the ocean. It NEVER ends. There is NEVER ENOUGH!

Another problem: you are never able to “get beyond yourself.” Think about it. Need meeting is self-oriented (what can I do to get MY needs met.) Need meeting is fear oriented (what if it doesn’t happen? What if it’s not enough, or the right kind?)

Another problem: little room is left for other important aspects of your life. (What makes you unique? What can you contribute? What standards do you hold? What do YOU want to orient your life around that gives a deep sense of satisfaction and is not dependent on the whims of another?)

My little diversion here is important so you understand the power and ultimate futility of the personal need meeting process.

A tremendous amount of frustration and resentment builds in your marriage when you believe you must squelch yourself and spend inordinate time and energy going that extra mile to meet the personal needs of your spouse.

Resentment emerges as you begin to expect reciprocity. “I’ve met your needs; now when are you going to do the same for me?”

An internal scorecard emerges and the game playing begins. Intimacy, knowing and being knonw, flies out the marital window.

You feel the frustration because, from your point of view you have attempted to meet his/her needs, and yet s/he says, “Not enough! Nope, that wasn’t quite right! I need more! Do it again! Etc.

You may assume you know what your spouse needs. Even if you are intentional about meeting his or her needs, that need meeting may arise out of what you think s/he needs. Often what you think s/he needs is a projection of what you need or desire.

You become two ships passing in the night.

You begin to feel hopeless because a part of you knows, deep within you somewhere, that his/her personal needs have no end. You will NEVER FULLY meet his/her needs.

And so, you throw up your hands and distance.

Over the years in my clinical practice I’ve run into two common perpetual need meeting situations.

There is “daddy’s little girl” who growing up was the apple of her daddy’s eye, carried that pattern forward and expects that men should meet all her needs and treat her as a princess – all without her asking. She has a strong personal need for attention, especially from men.

The counter part is “mommy’s boy” who was overindulged (and usually emotionally denied) and “spoiled” by mom. Mom thought he could do no wrong. He carried that pattern forward and expects the world, specifically women, should wait on him hand and foot. Never should a need go unmet. He has strong personal needs for appreciation and adoration.

So, you ask, “Should I ignore his/her needs?”

No, of course not. Meeting the personal needs of your spouse may bring a sense of relief. However, that relief is only temporary.

Your distancing may mean that you are mired in the frustration and sense of inadequacy in EVER getting this need meeting process right.

For, now I want you to understand that the frustration and resultant distance you create is normal and typical, especially for the Yellow Marriage which has at its core the pursuing-distancing cycle. (page 98 in “Save Your Marriage Without ‘Working on it’ or ‘Talking.’”)

This cycle is usually wrapped around the pursuer attempting to get his/her personal needs met and the distancer backing away, out of a sense of deep frustration and resentment, believing that the ocean will never be drained.


This entry was posted in Emotional Distance, Emotional Infidelity, Infidelity Marriage, Rebuilding the Marriage or Relationship, Relationship Communication, Relationships: Marriage and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Emotional Distance in a Marriage – Personal Needs and Frustration

  1. bor says:

    Ok What about a normal sex life? that is the only personal need that if one is beiing met will lead to another seeking ways to get that need met which is really a problem if you want to actually get it from your partner and isnt happening.

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