Emotional Needs

Dr. Bill Harley and a few others have identified emotional needs as the primary cause of unfulfilling marriages. When these needs are not met, we will likely feel unsatisfied and frustrated. And we may look to others to have those needs met.

We each have emotional needs. In marriage, and in life in general, these prove to be needs - not just wants or "nice to haves".

Examples of emotional needs are:

  • Admiration - showing respect, encouragement
  • Affection - usually nonsexual, basic "romance"
  • An Attractive Spouse - appearance with "what you have", includes dress, weight, cleanliness, etc.
  • Conversation - chat, meaningful topics, insights to learn about each other
  • Domestic Support - household acts of service
  • Family Commitment - care for family (as opposed to house and yard), family before job
  • Financial Support - provider, options to work part-time or full-time child-rearing
  • Honesty and Openness - no secrets, no negative surprises, history, finances
  • Recreational Companionship - time together, shared interests, win-win activities
  • Sexual Fulfillment - physical satisfaction, oneness, safe place, acceptance
  • Spiritual Intimacy - shared vision, priorities, joint prayer

The emotional needs that are highest priority for you are probably different from your spouse's. We tend to give the things we wish to receive. If your spouse has other need priorities, your good faith efforts may go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Understanding your spouse's emotional needs priorities will help you focus your efforts towards things they will most appreciate.

Giving your spouse loving hints about your emotional needs will help them focus on the needs most critical for you.

When the top emotional needs are met for both spouses, there is satisfaction. Romantic love may grow.

Most teachers on emotional needs mention a love tank, love bank, or some other symbol to fill or accept deposits. As we meet emotional needs, we fill these tanks. Our partner feels "full" and loved. Romantic feelings are possible.

We may also act in ways that subtract from this tank. We may call them "love busters", unkind acts, selfish acts, or use some other term. These lower the level of fulfillment for our spouse. Some of these acts may be overlooked when the tanks are quite full. This is how "love is blind".

When our tanks empty, we notice all of the love busters quite vividly. We do not feel satisfied with our relationship. We may feel discouraged, frustrated, and maybe even be tempted to give up on the relationship. The marriage is in trouble.

Some will react by enduring and "hoping for the best" without any conscious action to change the situation. Others may look to others to have those emotional needs fulfilled. Intimacy is built and an affair becomes likely. Some will just give up and call it quits. They will separate or divorce. They do not see a way to success in the relationship.

In any stage, the couple may begin to fulfill each other's emotional needs. Then, after some time, the tanks will begin to fill enough to trigger a few positive thoughts and feelings. If love busting acts are kept in check, the tanks may continue to fill through loving acts that meet emotional needs. Then the feeling of love and being in love may return.

Unmet emotional needs are one of the top reasons, if not thee top reason, for divorces in America. On the other hand, meeting your spouse's emotional needs is one of the most reliable ways to insure a happy and fulfilling marriage where romantic love lasts year after year.


Resources related to emotional needs are listed in the Marriage Resources page.

Click here to comment