Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Becoming An Expert On Your Spouse's Emotional Needs

June 12, 2006

It is one thing to want to please a spouse and another to actually do it. How many times do we think we are doing and or saying something wonderful only to have it be unappreciated or have it turn out to be the wrong thing?

Often the goal of pleasing one’s partner gets lost in the pressures of life or in our own self-centeredness.

Needs are not identical. In some important dimensions people are attracted to each other’s opposite qualities. There are important gender differences, differences related to family background, and different expectations of what it is to feel loved and cared for by one’s partner.

One common mistake is to assume that our partner’s needs are the same as our own. We mistakenly try to please our partner in the same way we hope our partner would please us.

In his book, "His Needs, Her Needs," psychologist Willard Harley Jr. of White Bear Lake, Minnesota advocates that marital partners become experts at knowing and then persistently devoting the required effort to meet their partner’s needs.

I often have couples take this test. How well do you know your partner’s emotional needs? I ask them to listen to a list of emotional needs being described and then have them guess which would be their spouse’s top three or four needs.

Each spouse identifies what their actual needs are versus the guesses of their partner. The discrepancies are interesting and can be the basis for getting to know one’s spouse better.

This list in no particular order of importance. Put your spouse’s initials in parentheses beside what you consider to be his or her top three needs and have your spouse do the same. After you do that, initial your own needs. Then discuss the results.

1. Physical attractiveness. This is usually important in courtship and may continue to be an important value. If your partner has gained or lost a lot of weight since marriage this could be a concern. Being pleased by your spouse’s appearance in public means something. Some spouses are finicky when it comes to grooming, cleanliness, and good taste.

2. Emotional intimacy. This is the feeling of being connected to your partner. There is conversation, sharing of feelings, a turning to your spouse for comfort and consoling, for sharing ideas and perspectives, of having a sounding board and a best friend to be there for you to talk over life. There is freedom to say what you want to say without feeling judged or criticized.

3. Recreational companionship. You count on your spouse to do things with you. You want to do things together, to have a companion, to share some of the same interests and activities, to have fun and find enjoyment in each other’s company. It could be as simple as being in the same room or as complex as having high adventure



vacations or a shared hobby.

4. Sexual fulfillment. Your sexual needs and desires are an important aspect of love, sharing and pleasure. You feel connected, desired and loved. You want your spouse to care about this aspect of your relationship and to have regular and reasonably predictable sexual relations.

5. Affection. You like the expression of love and caring shown in a variety of ways including touch, hugs, kisses, embraces, appreciative and endearing glances, cards and gifts, expressions of love, warm greetings, and loving actions that cushion life and relieve burdens. The composite of these actions are obvious to you and others that your partner loves you and wants to be with you.

6. Honesty and Openness. You value trust, honesty and openness in your relationship. You want to know important emotional details of what is going on in your spouse’s life and what your spouse really thinks and feels. You trust their word and their commitments.

7. Admiration. You want your spouse to recognize your positive qualities, to notice and appreciate your talents and to feel you are special. You want your spouse to recognize your value and the contributions you make at home, at work and in the community.

8. Domestic support. One aspect of domestic support is to share equitably in household responsibilities, child care, family activities and obligations, holidays and special occasions. You want a partner who is a team player in making the home a functional and pleasant place to be. You want the home to be a place of peace and relaxation where you feel supported and encouraged instead of attacked or criticized.

9. Financial support. You want your partner to be a team player who cares about the financial well being of the family and the future. You care about the budget, savings, spending and making ends meet. You have financial goals and want your partner to care and support your efforts.

10. Career support. You want your spouse’s care, concern, interest and support as you manage your career and work life. You would like your spouse to be a valued sounding board for the challenges you face and to show recognition and appreciation for your accomplishments.

11. Family commitment. You want your spouse to actively care about family events, children’s activities and obligations. This may also include family devotions and church involvement. You also want your spouse’s support when it comes to your relationship with your own parents, siblings and in attending family gatherings.

How did you do? Are an expert - or not?