What do I want? What do I need?

As with many topics relating to non-monogamous relationships, this one also applies to monogamous ones. It’s just that complicated relationship structures usually involve much more… of everything. More needs, more wants, and more problems arising from unmet or unidentified needs/wants. Everyone should take time to look at what they want and/or need from their relationship(s) and they will find their lives are better for it. But how many of us actually add this to our weekly ‘to do’ lists? How many prioritise analysing their feelings?

There sometimes comes a time when, for whatever reason, we find ourselves alone. Whether it is time spent without a partner in our lives, a time when a partner is away or simply a night in with nothing to do, it’s somehow still quite hard to say “I’m going to use this time to analyse my own relationship needs and wants.” That may be because our mind comes up with a whole bunch of other (more fun) stuff we could be doing instead, because we’re scared to face looking at ourselves a bit more closely, or simply because we don’t know how to analyse our own feelings in that way. Relationship therapist Jeffery Saunders writes about the difficulties on his website:

“We are often embarrassed or ashamed of our needs, and so deny, ignore or avoid expressing them. We are held back by: fear of being judged for having a need; a belief that we only deserve needs to be met once we’ve met the needs of others; a fear of getting stuck in the feeling of the need if we acknowledge its presence; a fear of loss of some sort as payment for getting needs met.”

It is certainly a very tricky thing to do and fear is often a rather large barrier to overcome. However, rather frustratingly, I think I fit into the “just don’t know how” category. How do I know what I truly want? I have absolutely no idea where to begin in order to pinpoint that. I sat down to write this article and found myself at a loss for where to begin, so how could I start to relate the concept to myself? If anyone knows of any useful techniques for analysing needs, desires and emotional responses, I would love to hear from you. I’m a big fan of questionnaires, tests, exercises and box ticking as it makes things a lot easier for my cluttered mind to deal with!

With a list of needs and wants, we create order out of chaos. We already have a relationship dashboard filled with warning lights which will come on to remind us when something needs attention. Thing is, we have to read the manual to understand what it all means.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – ALBJ, An Open Book, More Than Nuclear, One Sub’s Mission, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.

Image via brotherM‘s Flickr photostream.

10 thoughts on “What do I want? What do I need?

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  1. 'With a list of needs and wants, we create order out of chaos.'

    I really like this 🙂

    It's hard! I think sometimes it can be especially hard when you've been in a relationship with someone for a long time – you need to put a bit more effort into disentangling your wants and needs for you from your wants and needs for them. I suppose I just focus in on the things that I know from experience leave me feeling happy and fulfilled, and work from there…

    I like how all our poly posts, fundamentally, end up talking about how to be a better human being. That's what it all comes down to, really. That's what we're really here for 😉

  2. That's such a good point about it being tricky when you've been in a relationship for a while. I could easily create a list of things I want for Topper, but not so much for myself.

    I think I'm going to focus on things that, like you say, leave me happy and fulfilled. Even if they're nothing to do with relationships, it's a good place to start my list 🙂

  3. AHA. Awesome plan 🙂 I still do that, occasionally; make private lists of things that make me happy. Sometimes big things, sometimes silly and small ones (like opening a new jar of Marmite – sticking a knife into that untouched surface is great!). Just looking at a list of happy things makes me happier 😀

  4. Hmmm. Thinking about what you wrote, and what I wrote, is part of the difficulty that what we want from different relationships might be different? There are a lot of things I want from my husband that might even be dealbreakers for me if they were to change, but I don't necessarily need the same things from all my relationships.

  5. That could be part of what makes it so tricky, yes. I definitely wouldn't want or need the same things from someone I don't share living space or money with.

    For any additional relationships… I think I could make a list using what went wrong in past relationships as a starting point!

  6. Here is a tangent. I often wonder why (and I think I've only seen this online, so…) there is this drive from some people to say 'now we are poly, let's find a woman to move in with us immediately!'. It mystifies me, for probably obvious reasons. But I wonder whether a small part of that is for the simplicity of it? Bear with me.

    I agree that wants and needs as they apply to someone you live with, share finances with etc are going to be different from a non-cohabiting relationship. Maybe, by looking immediately at another cohabiting relationship, people feel they can apply wholesale the same list of wants and needs to the new person/relationship, rather than beginning from the ground up and building a whole new relationship that may in important ways not look like their existing relationship.

    Or maybe they are online crazies. Who can say?

  7. Knowing your wants and needs is really important. Growing up one of my insights was that even though I have an idea of what I'd ideally like in a relationship, I'd know that I'd still reflect on other things that I want (since I've studied critiques on utilitarianism which raises related issues). It's important to consider your wants and needs, your sense of fulfillment even if you achieve the objects of your desire.

    Maybe there's a unique element in a poly relationship where there is such an element on communicating your wants. I'm reminded of a friend who said being in his (monogamous) relationship was about compromises about his own interests and that of his partner in order to keep his relationship working. but in the process they had new things that they did together and separately.

    I'm not in a relationship at the moment, but I feel I understand what you mean about how to cope with alone time and reflecting. I think your predicament is rather universal. I remember when in a relationship I still had alone time and tried to still find a sense of self. On reflection I felt that specific relationship didn't let me express myself fully.

    There's nothing better than making a list of things you want to do, and then enacting it. I do this in a controlled way. I set minimum and maximum quotas of activities. I think I should have a dating quota as well, just to push my anxiety and challenge my sense of self confidence, like asking someone out once every month or so.

    I don't know if there's a relationship manual out there, but this blog series on poly relationships certainly makes me think that there will be one with people like you out there writing the notes for it. Very daring and insightful musings on non-monogamy!

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