If you can’t always get what you want…

If you can’t always get what you want, can you at least get what you need? Does that question ever cross your mind? If you feel that you are not even getting what you need in your life, then the idea of getting what you want may seem out of the question.

Reality Therapy often starts with some variation of the question, “What do you want?” To build a more satisfying life, it’s important to clarify what a “more satisfying life” looks like. As your picture of the life you want becomes clearer to you, you can work on changing your behaviour and moving toward having that life.

A different but related question to consider is, “What do you need?” Each of us has needs. Dr. William Glasser, M.D., the world-renowned psychiatrist and counselor who developed Reality Therapy, defines five basic needs that he contends are common to every one of us. Those needs are: the need for survival, for love (belonging), for power, for freedom, and for fun.

When you look at that list of needs, you might not recognize yourself. You may think, “I don’t have any need for power!” Or, “I don’t have a need for fun; fun’s a luxury that I don’t have time for.” While different people have different levels of each need, Dr. Glasser’s view is that to live a satisfying life, we have to satisfy each of those basic needs.

Let’s look at the most basic of the basic needs: the need for survival. What impact does it have on our relationships?

There is, of course, a physical aspect to the survival need that’s manifested by our body’s need for air, food, water, warmth, and so on. Related to the survival need is a need for security, or at least a need for the perception of being secure.

As with the other needs, different people have different levels of this survival/security  need. So while one person is happy to take physical risks, such as mountain-climbing, tight-rope walking, or even fast driving, another will choose a sedate life with minimal risk. Folks who have a high need for feeling secure may view choices made by others who don’t share their level of that need as being risky or irresponsible.

What are the practical consequences that result when people have different levels of the need for security? Let’s take a look at Larry and Carrie, who have been arguing about money since they got married.

Carrie’s strong need for survival directs her to make choices such as keeping a well-stocked pantry, with everything thriftily purchased in bulk or on sale. She keeps bottles of drinking water filled in case power is interrupted, and having extra batteries, candles, and even reading material on hand is simply common sense for her.

Larry, who has a high need for fun, belonging, and freedom, but a relatively low need for security, happily grabs lunch at a fast food joint with his buddies, ignoring Carrie’s carefully prepared brown bag lunch. He borrows his buddy’s jacket when he’s misplaced his own, and doesn’t think twice about spending the last few bucks of his paycheck on anything that catches his eye. His philosophy is, “If things are going to happen, they’ll happen,” and he relies on his strong relationships with friends, family, and co-workers to see him through whatever comes up.

These different levels of the need for security display themselves in spending habits. Thrifty Carrie, with her strong survival and security need, saves for rainy days. She’s not comfortable unless her nest egg is large enough to give her a feeling of protection against whatever threats she perceives. But when Larry has enough for the moment, he’s happy to let tomorrow take care of itself.

Now these two people, with their different levels of needs, have joined together in marriage. You can easily see the potential for conflict when the discussion is about money. Is conflict inevitable in this relationship? Not necessarily.

Relationships can work between people who have different levels of needs, providing both are prepared to negotiate and compromise. However, attempting to change each other’s fundamental makeup is likely to be a frustrating exercise in futility. For example, Carrie is unlikely to be successful if she criticizes Larry’s approach to handling money, or if she tries to turn Larry into a rigidly budgeting money-saver. And woe betide Larry if he belittles Carrie’s need to save, or if he thinks that a good way to loosen Carrie up would be to throw out her canned food collection!

Instead of belittling or criticizing your partner’s needs, try concentrating on what it would take for each of you to get your needs met. What might work for Carrie and Larry? Larry could ask Carrie to define what she needs to feel secure, to see that her survival need is being addressed. Carrie could ask Larry to define what he needs to feel spontaneous and unfettered.

One approach to planning for Carrie and Larry might involve setting up separate monies or accounts, respecting the different skills and strengths that each has. Larry might be best at vacation planning, while Carrie is likely the best choice for keeping the bills paid! Larry and Carrie might see that they can’t have all they want, but they’ll be more satisfied in the relationship if each one sees that their needs are understood and have a place in the overall plan.

Needs and wants play a role in the work environment, too. Would you like to see how Reality Therapy can be used to improve workplaces? I’ll be at the Michelin Health & Safety Fair. Come on out, say hello, perhaps see a role play!

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