Intimacy in relationships… How to align your emotional needs
When partners in a relationship have different emotional needs and expectations, one or both can start to feel lonely or dissatisfied. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, relationship therapist Jeanine Souren shares some tips to creating a level of intimacy that serves both partners!
If partners have very different emotional styles, there’s often a feeling of dissatisfaction and a risk of drifting apart. This is especially true if one partner is “high maintenance” and the other “low input”.
By “high maintenance” we mean that more emotional attention is needed than is given, or recognised, by the significant other. In counselling, the high maintenance partner usually expresses a need for a deeper connection in their relationship. They have a higher awareness of their emotional needs and desires, as well as assumptions about how things should be.
The low input partner, however, is frequently not as conscious of these needs – neither in him/herself, nor in their romantic partner.
High maintenance partners are often capable of deep emotional connection, empathy, compassion and appreciation. What may be judged as high maintenance may actually be a level of emotional sensitivity that can be harnessed and directed for deep emotional connections with others. Think of the orchid versus the weed. The weed is low/no maintenance while orchids require a lot of maintenance – yet the payoff is beautiful!
Why do we have different intimacy needs?
This can be explained partly by the attachment styles that develop in early childhood, which affect how you relate to others. Securely attached adults already fulfil their own basic emotional needs. In relationships, this means that this person is not often the high-maintenance partner.
In avoidant or anxious attached adults, less satisfaction in relationships is reported. This can mean that there is a higher appeal for more emotional responses and input from romantic partners. One can say that emotional dependency creates high-maintenance relationships.
The longer you are together, the more patterns recur, and the lonelier it can get. This feeling of isolation inside of your relationship is not solved by having (more) sex, earning more or buying expensive things.
How to align emotional needs in your relationship
#1 To get what you need, you need to say what you need
Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t. It takes a level of comfort and being willing to show your vulnerability to get this right. Once you decide to venture down this path, your journey to a deeper connection has started. Explaining your emotional input-needs and sharing some practical insights with your partner really helps.
#2 For your spouse to hear you, he/she must be somewhat already aligned to your language
Think about how you express your emotional needs. Do you use words? Is your partner supposed to know what you mean by reading other signs? There are different ways of communicating; verbally and non-verbally. How to find the right frequency with your partner is a matter of attunement. That takes effort but it’s worth it!
#3 Define boundaries!
Partners in need, displaying their unmet needs via attention-seeking behavior, should know their limits, and when their demands have become unreasonable. The low-input spouse can learn to read the signs before things get out of hand and has to learn to set boundaries.
#4 Spend meaningful time together
Finding that deeper connection requires attention. Everything grows with attention. All too often, people take their relationships for granted. When low maintenance becomes no maintenance, relationships suffer.
#5 If you are a high-maintenance partner…
… learn to recognise how expectations develop in yourself and how to hold your wants and desires more lightly. This may help soften the disappointment when a spouse does not recognise how important something is to you.
#6 If you are the low-input partner…
… find that deeper place within yourself. This is worth the journey towards a more profound relationship with your partner.
“Be there. Be open. Be honest. Be kind. Be willing to listen, understand, accept, support, and forgive. This is what it means to love.” ~ Lori Deschene
About the author: Jeanine Souren is an expat psychologist and couples therapist who offers intensive couples programmes in English. She intimately understands the high stakes of an international assignment and is familiar with the potential sources of stress facing an expatriate moving beyond his or her borders. If you need support with your relationship, contact her via www.timeforeachother.com.
What stood out for you in this article? Got any tips for building emotional intimacy between partners with two very different styles? We love to hear from you – just leave a comment on the blog.
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4 commentsWrite a comment
It is interesting to learn that relationships could be viewed in the perspective of maintenance and input, and how different intimacy needs are related to attachment types in childhood. I think one really needs to reflect a lot on his/her behaviors in the intimate relationship in the context of relationship with his/her parents, in order to find out how to set boundaries or adjust expectations to his/her partner’s needs!
Thank you for your insights. You got right to the core of the issue: the way that we were attached to our parents may indeed set the tone for our other relationships. However, this is never set in stone, and the first step to creating healthy attachments going forward is to be aware of our past patterns.
All the best,
Something I struggle with a lot during relationships is to know when to compromise and when not to. I am not a very physically affectionate person but I have had partners in the past who very much are. I do not mind it in certain situations, but I am also very uncomfortable with it most of the time, yet I feel bad or am scared of hurting their feelings if I tell them to stop. I know a relationship is very much a give and take situation, but as I said, I am never sure when I should compromise on something or when I should stand my ground.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. There is often a perception that couples must be affectionate, but truly there are MANY ways to be loving in a relationship. When a compromise is intentional and from an act of love, it feels very different to a compromise that makes you feel less true to your self. Often this symbolises the difference. I hope this helps!