Communicating Personal Needs

We were recently asked to talk about personal needs, and especially, how do you communicate these needs to your partner?

We all have personal needs. It doesn’t make us codependent just because we have these needs. The important thing is that we accept our deeper needs – our inner child’s need for love and nurturing. Unless we do this, our more surface needs will unconsciously carry the weight of these more primal needs, and will create havoc in our relationships.

We like to talk about the difference between codependence and interdependence. Codependence arises out of our unconscious need or dependence upon another person, and is thus often expressed in an unhealthy way. It is a refusal to acknowledge our psychological dependence upon another. In order to grow in love, we must realize our interdependence, the awareness of our healthy need for one another. Embracing our interdependence brings more love into all of our relationships.

An important aspect of the journey of relationship involves first the recognition of our codependence, or our mutual addictions, and then our acceptance of it. For each of us to accept our codependence is to accept a part of our humanity, rather than to judge it, make it wrong or push it away, which keeps it buried and unconscious. The acceptance of our codependence humbles us, and can lead to our awareness of healthy dependence, which we refer to as interdependence.

It is important to remember that there is a vast difference between feeling our need for another (an aspect of interdependence) and expecting or demanding another to fill that need (an aspect of codependence). Interdependence implies taking responsibility for our feelings, desires and actions. When we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, a codependent interaction is the result. For example, the other day I got upset at Joyce because I couldn’t find my slippers and was sure she had put them away. In my unconscious mind, I was wanting and expecting Joyce (“Mommy”) to take care of my inner child. If, in that moment, I would have recognized my projection onto Joyce and accepted the part of myself that was needing to be taken care of by her, I could have relaxed more in the “slipper” interaction. I could have even found joy in my inner child’s need for “Mommy.” When there is a feeling of joy or peace mixed in with our feeling of need for another, we are touching upon interdependence and healing our codependence.

Another example of codependence, and the unskillful communication of personal need, is the mother who complains to her grown children that they don’t telephone her enough. Her complaining is an unconscious cover-up for her need for their love and attention. If she can be more emotionally honest and simply share her need for love, her honesty will give her the best possible chance of receiving what she needs. More important, if she can be at peace with her need for love, she will heal her codependent complaining.

Our codependence can often be traced to our inner child’s need for love, our fear of that need, and our protective mechanism (my anger over my slippers and the mother’s complaining) to keep this vulnerable child hidden from view – and therefore protected from possible hurt or rejection. The healing comes when we find the courage to look into the mirror, see our vulnerable inner child, and accept and make peace with the love that child needs.

It is healthy to feel our physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs for others, because this represents a humble acceptance of where we stand as human beings. It is unhealthy, however, to project those needs onto someone else and expect or demand that they do something about them. This projection is manipulative and is the root of codependent behavior as well as many other relationship problems. It is, at least in part, looking outside of ourselves for the source of our happiness. We will
never find it out there. The healthy position is to feel both our human need for love as well as the divine source of that love in ourselves and in others.

I used to get into trouble asking Joyce for sex. This is a highly charged area for most couples, in terms of feeling a need and trying to communicate it. Again, it was fine that I felt this need in my body and feelings. And when I expressed this need for sex without pressuring Joyce to provide this for me, it would usually be fine. It was the communication of my need that carried with it an often subtle pressure that Joyce needed to do something for me, that upset her. Then I was looking for love outside of myself. Again, the healthy position was feeling my need for sex and feeling the true source of my happiness comes from a deeper place within me – a spiritual source. That way, I was not demanding sex from her.

We need to acknowledge and be honest with ourselves about our codependence, our unhealthy ways of relating. Yet our eventual healing and fulfillment lies in accepting our interdependence, the awareness that we are not alone on this planet. We need each other very much. Our survival as a species depends on our interdependence. We can only survive through love and cooperation … and acceptance of our need for one another as well as our need to give to one another.

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