The secret to having a long-term healthy, happy relationship with your spouse, as well as your business partner, family and friends, is to understand your personal and emotional needs and learn how to fulfill them in healthy ways. This also happens to be the best way to avoid toxic, energy-draining people and relationships. It all boils down to getting crystal clear on what your emotional needs are, how specifically you want those needs to be satisfied, and then putting in place firm and clear personal boundaries to protect you from those toxic relationships—the people who won’t respect your boundaries and have no interest in fulfilling your personal and emotional needs.
Easier said than done, true, but also not rocket science either. The first obvious step is to get some real clarity around your personal and emotional needs.
The late psychologist and researcher Abraham Maslow came up with a handy pyramid of personal growth.
At the base of the pyramid is our survival needs. And in a crisis, we revert right back to survival, stockpiling essentials to weather the storm. This is normal behavior as our need for safety, food and shelter will always come first. Once we’ve gotten survival under control, we scout around for our emotional needs, which include the emotional needs to be loved, cherished, appreciated, heard, understood, included, accepted, as well as the personal needs for balance, peace, order, control, to be right, independence, freedom, to be touched, held fondly, and so on.
There are over 100 different personal and emotional needs and about 21 that are very common.
Can you clearly articulate your top four personal and emotional needs?
Most of us realize that we have some version of the need to be loved, but other than that, we can be pretty clueless even about our own needs. Yet, we enter love relationships fully expecting our partner to not only intuitively know what our own emotional needs are but also to fully satisfy them. Not really fair given most of us can’t articulate what we actually need. You can begin to see why relationships break down and fail over time. In the initial stages of love, both bend over backwards to accommodate and please their partner. However, over the years, you might feel a burden of having to fulfill all your partner’s various needs, especially since you don’t even know the expectations.
Your partner starts to complain that you aren’t behaving like you used to and that they’ve lost that loving feeling. Well, this is usually a case of unmet emotional needs. We simply can’t be our best if our personal and emotional needs are unfulfilled. We end up feeling annoyed, irritated, apathetic, unloved, unappreciated or some other negative emotion. And this can last for years until finally you end the relationship, hence the 50% divorce rate.
If you are curious to find out what your top four personal and emotional needs are, take the free Emotional Index Quiz. It takes about 20 minutes to sort through 100 different needs, but you’ll then be emotionally smarter than most.
Now, once you’ve identified your personal and emotional needs, the next step is to figure out what specifically satisfies that need. There are no hard and fast rules here as two people can have the same need but want different actions. For example, one of my own needs is to be cherished. I personally love getting a foot massage or any kind of massage for that matter, and that makes me feel cherished.
But a client of mine said she couldn’t abide anyone touching her feet and tried massages but doesn’t like being touched. She prefers getting love letters or notes. This is why you need to tell your spouse exactly what works for you so he or she knows what to do. The more specific you are the better in this case. I like old-fashioned chivalry as well — doors opened, treated for dinners out — but one of my friends insists on paying her way and opening her own doors to assert her independence and equality and feels offended if her date tries to be chivalrous. You can see why men don’t know what to do anymore.
The second step, and this helps in preventing relationships from becoming toxic as well, is to set really firm and clear boundaries. Boundaries are simply what people can’t do to you or around you and can include everything from you can’t hit me, yell at me, insult me, make digs or derogatory comments about me, interrupt me, be late when meeting me, smoke in my home, call me after 9 pm or on Sundays, and so on. You can choose the boundaries you want. How great is that!
The key to a healthy, happy relationship is to have strong and firm boundaries with all your friends, family and especially your significant other. Women tend to collapse their boundaries in a relationship, thinking this builds intimacy, but it actually works in reverse. Think of the boundaries as the vessel that holds the love. If you let people take too many cracks at you, the vessel cracks and the love leaks out. Then one day you wake up and feel no love for your partner. The boundaries create respect. Respect is essential to holding the love. Without respect, there is no place for holding onto the love. You gradually lose that love that you initially felt.
The same is true in professional relationships. You won’t get the promotion or the bonus if your boss doesn’t respect you. To get respect you have to have boundaries. Nobody promotes a doormat.
Boundaries and needs go hand in hand. If you don’t have strong boundaries, it is very hard to get your needs met. In fact, you’ll end up appearing needy and will repel the very people you most want to attract. For example, take my need to be cherished. When I was working at the bank, we were taught that good customer service entailed allowing customers to first vent their frustrations. So we’d spend the day with clients who would complain, and in NYC, even yell at us. Not pleasant.
After a day of abuse, I’d come home exhausted and need a lot of cherishing from my boyfriend to compensate for a hard day at work. I also would treat myself during my lunch break to a little shopping spree (again trying to compensate, unconsciously trying to cherish myself). Unfortunately, you can never get enough of what you don’t really need so shopping doesn’t work, but we’ll talk about emotional spending in another post. Once I learned about boundaries, I immediately put in place the boundary that people can’t yell at me or my staff. Then, when a customer started to yell, we used the 4 -Step Communication Model to gracefully inform them that it wasn’t okay. It worked! We transformed one of the worst branches in Manhattan into an almost library-like peaceful place in the space of one week.
The same works in personal relationships. If you allow your loved one to mistreat you in even the smallest of ways, you open up cracks in that vessel of love. It will ultimately destroy your relationship over time. The key to transforming any relationship from toxic to healthy is to put in place those boundaries first.
This is a complex topic and a challenging one so I have written an entire book about it to simplify the steps: The Secret Laws of Attraction: The Effortless Way to Get the Relationship You Want. And, I’ve created a virtual Relationship Course that will help you figure out exactly what boundaries you need, and how to get those personal and emotional needs satisfied once and for all. This will make every single relationship you have in the future easier and you’ll be naturally more attractive when your needs are fulfilled as any unmet need is inherently unattractive.