Thursday, December 27, 2012

Meeting Your Partner's Needs Self-Determination Style

All of us have a wide variety of physical and social needs ranging from the need to breathe to the need to belong. Abe Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" is one of the most-disseminated ideas in academia:

Some of these needs are met in our intimate relationships. Self-determination theory, a comprehensive theory of human motivation, gives a slightly different take on our needs. Specifically, our needs encompass three spheres:
  •  The need for relatedness- We have a need to want to care for and help others and feel they care for us and want to help us in return. We want reciprocal relationships.
  • The need for autonomy- We have a need to be the original source for all our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. We want to feel like we're in the driver's seat of our lives.
  • The need for competence- We want to feel like we're capable and effective decision-makers. 
When all three needs are met, good things happen. We feel happy, complete, and secure. When one or more of the needs aren't being met, we suffer.

These needs can be met from a variety of social sources. In fact, many people will get these needs met from different sources. However, the people that help us meet all three needs are the people that we bond with the strongest.

If the person meeting the needs happens to be a romantic partner, even better things happen. Relationships that feature this dynamic have stronger attachment between partners, are more satisfying, and are more secure, all of which are predictors of relationship success.

If a partner doesn't meet one or more of these needs, the relationship may end... unless the person not getting their needs met have a high degree of separation anxiety. In that case, the relationship is likely to continue even if it is unfulfilling. Most current research suggests these individuals feel they are not worthy of a fulfilling relationship... which is another topic for another day.

Anyway, how can you make sure you're fulfilling your partner's needs? Let's take a look at each variable:
  • Relatedness: This one is simple- help your partner and be open to them helping you. This can take pretty much any form from chores to career decisions. Learn the art of altruism.
  • Autonomy: Autonomy is usually about choice. Allow your partner to make decisions without your influence. Learn the art of trust.
  • Competence: Give your partner positive feedback on a regular basis (and avoid negative feedback.) Learn the art of the genuine compliment.
That's it. That's all it takes to meet those needs. Of course, it may be easier said than done, especially if we're controlling, not inclined to be helpful, or like to be critical.

These needs don't have to be met by a partner; they can be met by others (friends, family, etc.) However, having a romantic partner that does meet these needs dramatically enhances our relationships.

My advice- work on it. Your significant other (and relationship health) will prosper!


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