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When your spouse doesn’t “meet your needs”…

This phrase, “meet my needs” is very popular in relationship psychology and I bought into it quite a bit before I was married and for some time after I was married. I remember music and movies and other media encouraging me to find someone who meets my needs, who “completes me”. Many clinicians and self help books will actual encourage spouses to have a sit down and make a list of needs they want the other person to meet for them. This activity tends to lead to a great deal of resentment because quite often the spouse does not fulfill the expectation even after a long, emotional conversation on the topic. Why does trying to get someone else to meet my needs cause so many problems? and What do we do instead?

Quite often, when we choose a spouse, it may not be one of the personality characteristics we put on our “what I am looking for in a spouse” list, but accidentally we tend to look for someone who is motivated in personal improvement. We also tend to look for someone who has a pattern of working hard to fulfill their stewardships. Both of these characteristics are very attractive.

Ironically, although we married someone who was “doing all they could do” to be the best person they could be before we met them, without any help or motivation from us, after the honey moon phase of the relationship, we begin to notice things about them that are “insufficient”. Because these insufficiencies are inconvenience/disappointing/frustrating, we try to be “helpful” by pointing them out to loved one. At first, we do so kindly, but after a while, when they don’t get the hint, we increase the intensitiy with which we communicate (like you would with any child, right?)

Why do we do this? Because we think that they have all sorts of left over energy, because they haven’t given it their all, and we can tell because we watch them so closely to see what they are doing wrong (how they can spend their time more wisely like us, etc.)

Shel Silverstein wrote a book called, “The Missing Piece”, which is full of great wisdom. One of his main themes of that book is to avoid looking for others to meet your needs. He recommends you become a complete person, able to meet all of your own basic needs, before you enter a relationship.

This is a good goal, but each of us would be very late in life if we waited that long to be complete enough to bring a spouse into our lives. Instead, I recommend retaining one of the skills/attitudes we each had before we got married. Before we got married, we held ourselves responsible for doing what it takes to make ourselves happy enough, and when we had an unmet need, we learned to deal with it, with our own resources instead of expecting someone else to resolve it for us.

In more than one scripture, Christ referred to how this is done correctly. He said in 3 Nephi 14:3-5, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” It has been my experience that it takes a lifetime to find and remove all the beams in my own eye, so it will be a while before I start attending to hers.

I could go on-and-on on this subject, but for now let me summarize. I am sad when we experience times in our lives when we feel like our needs are going unmet. I am sad when our culture trains us to believe that our spouse is responsible for meeting our needs. I invite you to ask your partner, “Do you feel maxed out? Do you feel like you are doing all you can do?” Be very careful. Make sure you ask these questions with sincerity and not with negative emotion. And if they say, “Yes” and they know that they are still dropping the ball in many areas of their lives, I implore you, please remember what it feels like to be doing all you can do and being aware that it is not enough. This is a devistating experience. And if it wasn’t for the Atonement, each of us could be crushed by the regular awareness of our inadequacies.

Please, show your partner compassion, as you would hope they would show you. (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) This act of love will do more for you and your partner than any “meet my needs” conversation you could have.

Let me know if you have any further questions or comments of this subject.

Maurice

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