Last post, I suggested that it can be interesting and helpful to understand your need strength profile. That is, rate how strong each of these five basic needs are for you: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.
What happens when two people get together with the hope of a long-term relationship? Now there are two sets of needs to consider! That combination may hold the ingredients for a deep, loving connection or for a more conflicted, challenging relationship. Which will it be?
According to Dr. Wm. Glasser’s book, “Getting Together and Staying Together,” when there are big differences in need strengths, it’s more challenging to have a satisfying relationship.
Consider Arlene, who has a high level of the survival need, while her partner, Arnold, has a very low level of the survival need. How might that difference in need strength affect the relationship?
With Arlene’s high survival need, she’s diligently saving money to maintain the security of her home. She eats healthily so her body has the best chance of survival, and insists that Arnold do the same. Arlene also avoids what she perceives as unnecessary risks; she drives conservatively and shuns adventure and potential dangers.
Arnold, however, is continuously encouraging Arlene to use that nest egg for a great vacation. His mantra, “You only live once!” He indulges in every tasty food, the sweeter and fattier the better, and teases Arlene about her hummus and greens. In Arnold’s perception, taking risk makes life worth living. “Let’s go skydiving;” “Let’s move across the country!” “Let’s invest in my buddy’s business!”
The prospect of conflict was not apparent to either Arnold or Arlene at the beginning of their relationship. Arlene was attracted to the excitement that Arnold brought to her life; Arnold found comfort in Arlene’s calm and stability. Each was convinced, “When we get settled, my love will change him/her to become more like me.”
Is this relationship forever doomed to be difficult? Not necessarily. While it can be easier for two people who share similar need strengths to build a long-term relationship, but differences don’t make it impossible.
In a relationship of very different need strengths, what can help?
- First, recognize the differences, and…you may as well accept that you will not successfully change the other person. Nor is the other person’s behaviour chosen just to annoy you. In the long-term, Arlene can no more adopt a devil-may-care attitude than Arnold can happily replace skydiving with sudoku.
- Second, negotiate your differences. Discuss them. Arnold’s wish to sky-dive doesn’t mean that Arlene has to sky-dive too. Arlene’s need for a nest egg doesn’t mean that Arnold can’t have any money to “play.”
- Third, replace criticizing and complaining with caring habits. Do Arnold’s complaints about Arlene’s thrift and Arlene’s criticism of Arnold’s food choices help or harm the relationship? Is there a more effective way to express their views?
Do you detect large differences in the strength of needs in your relationship? Or are they very similar?