Three options for moving forward
How to deal with your unmet needs
I’d been in love with my girlfriend nearly since the day we met.
Alright, it wasn’t love, but it was something close to it. Most likely lust and some unhealthy attraction to her unavailability, maybe.
The fact that she was in an open relationship, traveled often, was running a startup, and was too busy to spend much time with me probably contributed to the fact that I was hooked from the get-go. I wanted what I couldn’t have.
But, as time went on, we began spending more time together. Her previous relationship ended, and she traveled a little less. She slowly made more time for me in her life, and we got considerably closer over the next 18 months or so. I was smitten, and I was falling.
Yet, she kept some distance between us, never wanting to go too deep or too fast. And, she was hesitant to call me her boyfriend or her partner.
She preferred the term lover.
She wanted to keep the label small so that we could grow into a larger one together, rather than slap the label ‘partner’ on our relationship. She found that label too big and loaded with expectations she didn’t want to commit to yet.
And here I was, falling in love, and wanting nothing more than to call her my partner. I’d been single for five years when we met, and I was ready to progress to the next level of partnership. At the same time, I recognized that she wasn’t ready, nor did I know if she ever would be. She wasn’t able to tell me whether she would ever get there.
My need for clarity and commitment conflicted with hers for freedom.
And this is a familiar spot for many of us.
Wanting something that another can’t give us
You might want more quality time with your partner, and they might want more time with their friends and less time at home.
You might want more non-sexual touch from your boyfriend, but he wants more sex and isn’t available for cuddles.
You might want to spend less time cleaning around the house, and he might want to spend Saturday mornings mopping the floors and tidying up.
Or you might be like me — wanting more commitment from someone isn’t wasn’t able to meet that need.
So, what now?
What options are available when you feel at a standstill in your relationship? How can you get your needs met from someone who can’t or won’t meet that particular need?
Well, you have three options. Elizabeth Earnshaw is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and together, we discussed those options on an episode of The Love Drive podcast.
Here they are for you in written format.
Related Podcast Episode: Setting Loving Boundaries with Kelsey Grant
Three options for when your partner won’t meet your needs
1. Get creative with your needs
Here’s the thing about needs: they are your responsibility. That means getting creative about ways to have those needs met.
Sometimes getting creative means negotiating or compromising.
Ask your partner if there’s anything they’d be willing to do to meet you in the middle.
Is there a way for you to come together?
If you want a clean house and your partner doesn’t value that as much as you do, would they be willing to help you out every other weekend? Or would they be open to pitching in to get a house cleaning once a month.
Getting creative sometimes looks like finding a different way to get your need met.
Can you think outside the box?
If you want more touch and your partner won’t meet your need, what else can you do to get more touch in your life? Can you afford a monthly massage? What about asking a friend to exchange foot massages with you every other week? You could join an acro-yoga class and enjoy friendly high-touch exercise with like-minded folks.
I want to emphasize that relationships take compromise.
Ideally, you have a partner that wants to meet your needs as much as possible and is willing to do what it takes to make that happen (as long as they want to meet your needs and aren’t self-abandoning to do so — but that’s a topic for a different article).
If getting creative with your needs isn’t an option, then it might be time to move to your second option.
Related podcast episode: Setting Healthy Boundaries with Silvy Khoucasian
2. Accept that your needs will go unmet
That’s right. Accept that some of your needs will go unmet in your current relationship and that it’s OK.
Your partner can’t (and shouldn’t) meet all your needs. They have a life, and their own needs to tend to, which means they’re limited in the amount of support they can give you.
It’s natural for some of your needs to go unmet. One great way to deal with those unmet needs is to accept that, for now, your partner can’t (or chooses not to) meet your need.
When you accept that, you’re making a conscious decision to move forward in your current relationship, knowing that a significant need is going unmet.
It’s empowering to know that you are deciding to stay, even though things aren’t exactly how you want them to be.
If you want to spend more quality time with your partner which goes against their need for space and freedom, accept that you’re spending less time together than you’d like. Make a conscious choice to stay in the relationship, knowing that you’d be spending more time together if it were up to you.
It’s a hard choice to make, but it keeps you connected to reality.
When a need is crucial to your happiness, safety, and self-worth, sometimes getting creative about how and who will meet it, or accepting it as an unmet need aren’t options.
What then? What if the need you have is non-negotiable?
Related podcast episode: Dating After Your Ex
3. Leave the relationship if your needs are non-negotiable
If your need is non-negotiable and your partner is unwilling or unable to meet it, then leaving your relationship is always an option.
If you’ve exhausted all your other options, have asked for your need to be met, have gotten creative with your partner (or others who might be in a position to meet your need) and have tried accepting that it won’t be met, leaving is always an option.
Here’s the reality: you are in charge of your life.
If you want to build the life of your dreams, you do what it takes to create that life. And sometimes that means leaving situations or people that are holding you back.
Leaving your current relationship because your partner isn’t willing to have sex with you more than once a week, or refuses to clean the house with you, or won’t spend more time with you are all perfectly valid reasons to leave.
That said, it’s important to note that no partner can meet all your needs, and to expect that is unrealistic. Humans are incredibly needy, and it would be a full-time job for one person to tend to all your unmet needs.
Related podcast episode: Make Space For Someone New
You are in charge of caring for your needs
Ultimately, you’re in charge of caring for yourself and you need to do what it takes to get your needs met.
And, life is easier when you’re with a partner who’s willing to do the work to meet you halfway as much as possible.
I want that partner for you.
I want you to have a partner who cares for you while tending to their own needs. I want you to have a partner who knows they can’t be everything to you, but that compromises and finds solutions to meet your needs as much as possible.
And I want you to be with a partner who doesn’t compromise when to do so would go against their essential needs.
Oh, and if you were curious about which option I chose with my then-lover, I’ll tell you. I accepted that she wasn’t ready to commit to me to the level I wanted or needed.
I sat with the discomfort of not getting what I wanted and needed and shared with her how it made me feel not to have her commit to me. I told her what I wanted and needed and that I would stay to see what developed; I chose to take our relationship one day at a time.
And I’m glad I did because now we both proudly call each other partners.