Even after 25 years, there are still days when I blame my husband for not meeting my needs.
These moments catch me off guard. There is usually little warning as I am going along, doing the next thing in my non-stop routine of growing our four children’s lives, along side the fledgling small business. Then somewhere between mailing the day’s orders, violin lessons, hip-hop pick up and paying for the ingredients for dinner something snaps in me.
The unfolded laundry, the incessant homework help, the moody response from my teenage son when asked to clear the table all build into an inner crescendo that overwhelms me. The sight of my husband, sitting in his study, feet up on the desk, reading through a recent New Yorker magazine, seemingly unfettered is all that it takes to send me over the top. Mind you, I haven’t asked for help, I just can’t stand that he hasn’t offered any.
This is a familiar scene in homes across the country where women don’t ask and are angry that they have to and men wonder why they didn’t just ask. I actually am mostly over the idea that if he doesn’t volunteer the help, it is somehow less worthy, but I have many friends who still feel like the love offered in response to a request is less worthy than the same act unbidden. This is a useless, lose–lose. Just because it doesn’t occur to him to get up and grate the cheese for dinner doesn’t make the macaroni and cheese taste worse, except sometimes it does, but usually only for me.
This cycle of unmet needs is not limited to my husband; it creeps into my relationships with my growing children and even sometimes into my friendships, as well. Do I really have to ask for the table to be set or the dishwasher to be emptied every single time? On the unmet needs days, an offense as small as neglecting to put their dishes in the sink feels like parenting failure and a friend’s last minute cancellation for a walk, becomes a measure of my self-worth or lack of it. The little things go from being a blip on the screen of our relationships to defining the entirety of it, and it doesn’t look or feel very good to any of us.
I think I may be actually be a need-aholic, which is to say that by looking at the way I have organized my life, it seems that I am addicted to being continuously in need of responding to the needs of others. This is in direct contrast to my husband, who rarely has needs that he will voice and is even more rarely looking for random needs to be met. Relationships generally hold people with complementary, if not diametrically opposed needs makeup which is one of the aspects of relationships that makes them all unique and interesting.
A friend recently told me, “Your kids don’t even know they have the need before you are already acting on it.” Sadly, this is how astute and over compensating my need-aholic style can be. The mood sensor and stabilizer in me is on constant overdrive which is helpful in fostering healthy dialogue, averting stupid bickering and generally keeping the peace with children, but is exhausting and mostly serves to distract me from myself.
Even after all these years, it is still like a block to the side of the head. I am blindsided when I am struggling and unconscious about my own emotional needs. It seems incredible that my overdrive sensitivity should just be on full only for others, but it isn’t really that unusual. Many a competent and seemingly self contained adult is unaware of their unmet needs that lurk beneath the shiny veneer of getting it all done. It is hard to be needy anyway. There aren’t that many places to take your needs that are politically correct. It isn’t my children’s job to care for my needs although when my oldest daughter recently emailed me a poem that reminded her of me from her newly appointed college digs, I wept for what she saw in me.
It isn’t my husband’s job to meet my emotional needs either, but I wish he would just think of it sometimes. Or notice how many things got done that he never had to think about. It is a running joke in my family about how I “take the credit” for both big results and menial tasks. Constantly meeting needs anonymously and with out notice is a kind of prayer and difficult to sustain, which is why many mothers should be nominated for sainthood. In fact, I realize again, that it is not sustainable to be selfless, and actually I am more for others when I am first for myself.
Unmet needs can wreak havoc on the relationships that hold them and it is easy to point the finger at the offending partner. But actually it is rarely the other person that didn’t meet your needs- first it is you that couldn’t recognize or articulate them, and then it is the agreements built into relationships that need to change and evolve with life. It is easy to keep things going the way they always have and then be forced out of the relationship by the resentment and bitterness that comes from never adjusting and re-balancing. It is more challenging to hold the relationship accountable for meeting a little bit of everyone’s needs and it actually provides alternatives for healing needs that have been long unmet. We are able to renegotiate our relationship when we take the guilt off of the people involved.
Besides all that, figuring out ways to meet the need is sexy, anyway way sexier than not, where statistically, nothing kills a good intimate life and ultimately the relationship itself more frequently than living out years of unmet needs. Best of luck to us all.