We are social creatures and social bonds are important to us. This means our relationships can be both a source of great pleasure but also a source of great pain. Indeed, common relationship issues are one of the main reasons people seek counseling.
No relationship is free of conflict. What distinguishes great relationships from terrible ones is partly the nature of their conflicts (e.g., intensity, frequency) and how well they are managed, but also what is perceived as a conflict in the first place.
For instance, if you have a poor relationship, you are more likely to perceive conflicts in any disagreements between you and your partner (e.g., regarding whose job it is to take out the trash). Furthermore, during the argument that ensues, you may be more likely to frame the issue as a personality deficit (“You are so lazy and irresponsible!”), as opposed to only a problematic behavior (“You did not take out the trash as promised”).
Regardless of the stage of the relationship you are in or the nature of the particular conflict you are trying to manage, the first step to resolving relationship issues is to determine what causes them. Though the cause may be different for different couples, a common source of relationship conflict is unfulfilled emotional needs.
If you are unhappy in your relationship, chances are your emotional needs are not being met. According to Willard Harley, PhD, emotional needs include the following:
- Affection: Being on the receiving end of affectionate behaviors (e.g., hugs, flowers, gifts) that make one feel loved.
- Sexual satisfaction: Having at least some of one’s sexual fantasies fulfilled.
- Intimate conversations: Feeling close enough with your partner to be able to discuss very personal matters that cannot be discussed with others.
- Recreational companionship: Being able to do fun recreational things together (e.g., going to the cinema, going fishing together).
- Openness and honesty: Having at least some knowledge of your partner’s daily activities, thoughts, feelings, etc.
- Admiration: Being admired and complimented (instead of being criticized and attacked).
- Attractiveness: Observing your romantic partner looking sexy and attractive.
- Financial support: Your partner earning enough money to support your lifestyle.
- Domestic support: Trusting that your significant other will help with domestic work (e.g., doing the dishes, vacuuming, doing the laundry).
- Family commitment: Your partner spending quality time with your children, teaching them values that you share, and taking an active role in helping them grow up to be responsible and competent individuals.
The emotional needs listed above are common but not equally important to everybody. If you are a very independent individual, for instance, you might have few expectations regarding your spouse financially supporting you. Another person may have a stronger need, than the average person, to have a relationship built on openness and honesty. And so forth.
As the above discussion of relationship conflicts and emotional needs in relationships may have illustrated, common relationship issues are complicated. Determining why your relationship is not working or has become a source of unhappiness may not be easy to do on your own. Therefore, if you are having relationship issues, you might benefit from individual or couples therapy.
Therapy can give you the tools you need to understand and resolve recurring conflicts, identify the emotional needs that matter to you the most, decide which needs are not being satisfied in your relationship, and determine the most effective way to go about satisfying your needs.