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5 Tips to Recognize and Honor Your Needs in Relationships

“The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.” ~Sonya Friedman

In what feels like a previous life, I was a serial dater.

I looked for attention, validation, and identification in relationships. Each guy, however wrong for me, seemed like the perfect fit for my empty hand.

Maybe I hated being around his smoking, but I brushed it off and tried to breathe the other way.

Maybe our conversations were dull, but I thought it’d get better. Maybe I cringed at being dragged to another party, but I went, because he wanted to see his friends.

This pattern continued for years. I stayed in relationships that were clearly wrong for me, dated people I didn’t understand and who didn’t understand me—just to be in one.

It wasn’t until an insightful Zen class that I even became aware of the pattern.

As I cozied up in the gently lit room, hot tea in hand, surrounded by kindred spirits, the Zen master began the day’s lesson: needs.

Huh. I sipped the sweet jasmine tea and listened intently, totally blown away by what he was saying. Needs? What are those? Seriously, they weren’t even on my radar.

But they should’ve been. Needs are personal prerequisites to happiness. 

We don’t learn to pay much attention to our needs, beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter. Television advertisements, popular culture, and the desires of others dictate our “needs.”

But I’ll bet that, on a soul level, you don’t need a cooler car, a bigger ring, whiter teeth, or more parties.

What do you need then? Answering this question can be one of the most powerful transformations of your life.

It was for me. After that class, I started paying attention to my needs; and very slowly, I began attending to them.

I needed to embrace my introverted nature instead of ignoring it or boozing it out at parties every weekend. I needed alone time—space to dream, think, and be. I needed peace and quiet. Deep conversation. The freedom to spend a Friday night in without guilt.

At first, recognizing these needs was rough. I hated myself for having them; why couldn’t I be like the other 21 year-olds? Why did bars overwhelm me? Why couldn’t I socialize with his rowdy friends?

It drove me nuts. So for a while, I continued to ignore my needs. I thought I’d just override them with more wrong relationships and parties I hated.

But eventually, I couldn’t ignore them anymore. I came to terms with them. Being aware of my needs was making room for me to actually start taking care of them.

It took years, but I’m finally at the point where I’m comfortable with my needs—and making them known.

I’m with a guy who not only accepts but embraces my introverted nature, so I have time to write, be alone, and spend a Friday night with a book without ridicule. It’s allowed me the space to be more authentically myself, making me happier and more available for all of my relationships.

Maybe you can relate. Do you shove your true needs aside to fit in with what you’re “supposed to” want and do? Or to tend to the needs of others?

When was the last time you asked yourself, “What do I need right now?”

If it’s been a while, or if this is as new to you as it was to me, here’s a brief intro on how to work with your needs:

1. Realize that having needs is not selfish, weak, or dependent. 

For some reason, there’s this idea that having needs makes someone selfish or needy. Please, let that go.

Sometimes we feel this way because we think the needs of others should come first. But how can you be available as your best self for others if you’re not taking care of you? When you’re happy and taken care of, it’s more of a joy than a burden to take care of the needs of others.

It will take some time to get over the negative ideas about having needs, so be gentle and patient with yourself through this process. Just remind yourself that we all have needs, and there’s nothing wrong or greedy about having them.

On the contrary, it’s oh-so-right to take care of them! Recognizing and attending to your needs is part of self-love and care. Be good to yourself—honor your needs.

2. Ask yourself: What are my needs?       

For many of us, our needs aren’t even on the radar. Simply taking a moment to ask yourself what they are can give you answers you never knew were there.

So ask yourself: What are my needs? What are my personal prerequisites for happiness? Not what the commercials or your friends are telling you. What is your soul telling you?

Do you need more creativity, passion, fun? More time in nature? Less stress?

Once you’ve started discovering what your needs are, check in with yourself often. Are your needs being met right now? It not, how can you make that happen?

3. Accept them for what they are. 

It’s tempting to beat yourself up about them, like I did. But you can’t change it. So why fight them?

You might not like what you find at first—that’s okay. You don’t have to like something to accept it. Just remember that everyone’s needs are different. Let go of expectations and embrace whatever comes up for you.

This is really a part of accepting you for who you are. Your needs are highly personal—a reflection of your authentic self.

Being real with your needs means being real with yourself. It means being authentic and honoring you and your whole human experience.

4. Communicate them.

It can be tough to start letting others know what we need. We’re afraid of looking selfish or placing burdens on others.

Let go of this.

By communicating your needs to others, you’re creating a mutually respectful environment, one where they’ll feel free to express their needs too. So really, telling people what you need is pretty selfless! Just be ready to hear and honor theirs as well.

Communicating our needs requires and creates a great deal of respect and authenticity in our relationships. When you’re honoring one another’s needs, you’re creating the opportunity for greater authenticity, respect, accountability, and love.

5. Tend to them.

This, of course, is the most important part—taking care of those needs! This step also takes time.

Start small. If you’re a closet introvert like I was, try saying no to one party invite and enjoy that quiet time—guilt free.

You don’t need a radical overhaul. Baby steps will build you up to the point where your needs become priorities. Before you start feeling selfish, remember: When you’re practicing stellar self-care, you’re becoming more authentic and available for your relationships.

I won’t pretend that these steps are easy. They’re not. It took me a long time to get to the point where I’m aware and taking care of mine, and sometimes I still screw up. It’s always a journey.

But it’s a journey that’s so worth it. They always are, aren’t they?

So embrace the challenge, honor yourself, and attend to your needs for greater authenticity, self-love, and presence on this beautiful journey.

Photo by Damian Gadal

Avatar of Kaylee Rupp

About Kaylee Rupp

Kaylee Rupp's quest is helping others create purposeful, authentic, passionate lives – without the stress. For peaceful strategies (and a bit of whimsy), visit her at ZenCaffeine.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Julien

    Love this piece. Thank you for taking the time to write it for others to learn from your journey. :)

  • Irving Podolsky

    I agree with everything you’ve said here, Kaylee.

    I finally understood what true love was about when I met my soul mate many years ago. I knew she was the ONE, because she allowed me to be ME, which encompassed my needs of course. And I did the same for her as we changed through the years. I still do.

    An interesting thing happens when someone accepts you and supports you for the person you are. You are given permission to love yourself, and with that inner connection, comes a heightened confidence and lightness of being.

    The reverse is also true.

    When romance begins, we fall in love with the NEW FOUND LOVE we feel for ourselves, which later can get shattered by partners who start mentioning our “faults” and criticize us about them. We then feel robbed of self respect, and if we don’t fight against the manipulation, we find ourselves dismantled. And this is cruel because if it happens too many times, we lose trust in the idea of romance and caring relationships.

    True love can only grow within mutual respect where needs are allowed to be expressed. Anything less than that should be avoided at all cost!

    But Kaylee, you basically said that in your article. I just put a different spin on it.

    Irv

  • http://everlutional.com/ David Hamilton | Everlution

    Kaylee – I’m glad you’re addressing needs here. Sometimes the conversation can get lost in “not being needy” vs acknowledging that we have needs as human beings, and beyond the basics, that we crave different things to make us feel fulfilled. Being an introvert myself, and someone who coaches many other introverts, realizing that we need to take care of our introvert needs (and that it’s a strength too) is really important! But I also have a social side that loves connecting with people and going out (introversion is not a death sentence of isolation, as you well know :)

    For me in relationships, I certainly know I need a woman who takes care of herself and her health well, but also to be able to have conversations about self-actualization in some way, because having a deeper meaning to my life is super important to me, otherwise I’d drive her crazy too I’m sure. I also know I need to be living in my masculine more than my feminine energy (which we all have access to both), hope that doesn’t sound too strange – otherwise I just feel like a small repressed version of myself.

  • grateful

    Thank you. I really needed this reading this morning. I need to stop caring what people want from me and start caring about what I need.

  • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

    Kaylee! How terrific to find you here on Tiny Buddha!

    This is a great post, my friend. Thanks so much for being courageous enough to admit that you didn’t even know what your needs were. No offense to the guys, but women are still encouraged to ignore their needs in order to serve others. So it takes awhile – and some chutzpah – to do as you say: acknowledge that we do have needs, say what they are, and honor them.

    Well spoken, Kaylee!

  • KB

    “Maybe I hated being around his smoking—but I brushed it off and tried to breathe the other way.”
    Have done this too…literally and figuratively…more times than I care to count! Your post comes at THE perfect time, as my current self work is all about unearthing my needs and nurturing them and MYSELF as competely valid. Thank you fellow soul-seeker, for sharing what you’ve learned!

  • Michelle

    Good article, I’ve learned this lesson over the years. I just wonder about those people who go to far in the direction of wanting everything their way in a relationship and becoming too picky. I feel as though I fallen into this extreme.

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Hey Bobbi, It’s been a while!
    Thanks for the positive feedback! I’m always so excited to see a comment from you. =) I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
    Hope all is well with you!

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    =) Your comment totally made me smile. Thank you for sharing, I’m so glad this came to you at the right time! Good for you for taking the time to discover and nurture your needs. It’s TOTALLY valid! Best to you on your journey.

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    You’re welcome – I’m glad this came to you at the right time. We can certainly provide for others and help them fulfill their needs, but we can’t forget about our own. I wish you courage on your journey to own and nurture yours! Peace. =)

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Mmhm! I’m so happy to have the chance to share with the TinyBuddha community. Thanks again to Lori for that. =) And thank you for commenting, Julien. I’m so glad you liked it!

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    And I appreciate your spin, Irv! Thanks for sharing..I hadn’t thought about the second part of your comment. Falling in love can allow us the freedom to love ourselves – when you can see the love in someone’s eyes as they look at you, the admiration and support – it’s hard not to do that for yourself. But you’re right, if in the wrong relationship, that person can turn it off and you’re left with doubts and a shaky foundation for self-love.
    By the way…I love how you describe your relationship with your beloved. It’s a magical thing, really, when two people fully support and honor the other. I’m glad you found that.
    Peace and blessings!

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Hey David. That’s exactly why I wrote – the convo does often end with the idea of being needy. Truly, we’re all needy! And that’s okay.
    You coach introverts? How much do you love that? That sounds so fulfilling! It’s one of my dreams to become a coach, actually. =)
    Sounds like you know exactly what you need. I know what you mean about the deep conversation/meaning – I’m right there with you. I feel like I wither away without deep convo. Your comment about masculine/feminine energy doesn’t sound strange at all – I hear you. We do have access to both, and can embrace both too.
    Thanks for commenting, David, and sharing some of your needs. Happy to connect with you here! =)

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    I can see how that could happen, Michelle. If you become too absorbed in your own needs, it’s easy to forget about everyone else’s. I’ve been there, too. There definitely needs to be a balance, but I think being healthy enough to strike that balance starts with being in tune with your own needs first.
    Also, being in tune with your needs doesn’t mean everything has to go your way. I need plenty of alone time, but with 3 roommates that sometimes doesn’t happen, and I have to understand that. Maybe I can’t sit alone in the living room, but I can retreat to a hot bath. Compromise definitely still has to happen. It’s all about balance..though I can see how the scale could get tipped too far.
    Thanks for bringing to light another perspective, Michelle. I hope you can find the right balance for you. =)

  • liz

    What a wonderfully enlightening post! Thank you for sharing! I think I’ve also been living my life externally oriented–meaning, how can I please that person? What can I do to satisfy those around me? But you’ve expanded my thoughts on this matter and helped me realize that it’s important to satisfy my needs as well. I need to look inside a bit more and do the things that truly bring me to life! Yes, “it’s not about me,” but then again it’s all about me first if I can be all about the people and things in my life. Wow!

  • Michelle

    Thank you for the response Kaylee! I definitely prefer to be on this side of the equation after being a serial dater for many years. At this point after years of settling for the wrong guys, I will not settle for anything less than something that feels perfectly right, and if I am single for a while it’s fine with me.

  • Curious

    Dear Irv, thanks a lot for your comment which stuck out to me. Your relationship seems wonderful due to your respect for each other. Would you mind saying a little more about the lessons you learnt; i.e. how you learnt to allow and express the needs you both have? Thanks a lot in advance; I’m still learning so much in this area.. :)

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Good for you! I can totally relate to your story, Michelle. Once you find and respect yourself after years of serial dating, it’s hard to get back into a relationship for fear of losing that. Give yourself enough time single though, and I think it will solidify what you’ve learned.
    I wish I had given myself just a little more time to do just that, as I still struggle sometimes… So I hope you continue to take the time for yourself and wait until it’s absolutely the right thing, just like you said. You sound committed to that, which I really admire. =)
    I’ve enjoyed connecting with you here! If you ever wanna chat, I’d love to hear more about how your journey is going – my e-mail is on my site. Meanwhile..best wishes!

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    =) Thank you, Liz! I’m glad it resonated with you! It’s wonderful that you’re so interested in helping and satisfying others – that doesn’t have to stop. But like you said, your needs are important too. I hope you take some time today to do something that’s important to *you*.

  • http://www.purposepowercoaching.com/ acordaamor

    I like how you say it’s not weak to have needs — in fact, I’ve come to think that telling someone else what I want or need is what takes courage, because I have to risk being refused or not taken seriously — as opposed to pretending that I have everything together in order to avoid that risk.

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Hey Chris, good to see ya here. =) That’s a really good point – it does take courage to speak up and make your needs known. It’s often way easier to just keep your mouth shut and just deal with it. Thanks for sharing that!

  • http://twitter.com/NoClonesBlog Gary Korisko

    Well done, Kaylee!

    Although you had previously shared that you “re-structured” your social circle, this gave me additional insights.

    Loved the post. You may be on the soft-spoken side, but your writing is smart, crisp, and upbeat.

  • friend forever

    Kaylee,
    You’ve written a lovely article! I mean, I always sort of knew that I was attending to my wants and the ‘supposed to’ wants instead of my needs. And even if I came to now of them, I ignored my needs. I shoved them away, locked them up, and didn’t admit that I had them ‘cuz I thought they somehow made me selfish. Conditioning since birth and other influences affected my acceptance of them. I measured them up against all the norms of society, friends, and to the people around me. It has never made me happy for long.
    Now, I am definitely committed to accepting my needs and tending to them.
    P.S. Your site has a lovely name and even more lovelier content.
    Thanks!

  • Elle, motivational blogger

    We get to see our patterns in life which are really just how we see ourselves being revealed and then we get to choose. Is this what I want is the only question to ask, but there are times when we’ve forgotten that we are always at choice.

    Kudos to you for asking that question, for recognizing that you matter too.

    Love Elle
    xoxo

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Thanks, Gary! =) As always, I appreciate your presence and support.

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Thank you for the kind comment! =)
    It’s wonderful to hear that you’re committed to taking care of your needs, especially after ignoring them for so long. I think we all do that at some point – like you said, we’re kind of conditioned that way. Peace and blessings to you on the journey!

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    That’s one of my favorite notions, Elle: that we always have a choice. It’s such an empowering thought.
    Thanks for commenting. =) peace!

  • Vin

    Thanks for sharing an awesome post Kaylee. I’m an introvert myself (INTJ personality type) and I’ve gotta say, living inside your head most of the time is hard. I have the hardest time communicating my needs to people, thinking that maybe I’m just being anal about things and I didn’t want people to view me as an old man with strict expectations. After reading your post, I caught a glimpse of the answer I’ve been searching for, why I’m not happy most of the time. It’s because I don’t attend to my needs and make them known since I, myself think that they are ridiculous :) Thanks again for this great post, and I definitely will start practicing to voice my needs.

  • Bobbie

    Lovely! :)

  • http://everlutional.com/ David Hamilton | Everlution

    Yeah coaching is great, go for it! Love my training school, but there are lots of good ones. Great to connect with you too here. I’m open to connecting more about coaching, blogging and the like, since we seem to be in the same space. Just get in touch with me through my contact page on Everlution if you wanna do that. Cheers.

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Hey Vin, I’m glad this helped! Living inside your head can be hard – that’s something I was actually thinking about this morning. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own thoughts and suffer that snowball effect.
    What’s ridiculous about your needs, I wonder? Whatever they are, I hope you start embracing and tending to them, and create the happiness we all deserve. =) If you need anything, my e-mail is on my site. Peace!

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    Thanks, Bobbie! =)

  • Frank

    I wish i was this insightfull when i was younger…Very wise young woman.

  • Vin

    Yes, I totally agree and that’s why I’m making a conscious effort to always voice my thoughts because sometimes when it is recited too many times in the head, I’d feel like people had already understood me without having to say anything and that’s a very risky assumption. What ridiculous about me is I’m a perfectionist and I don’t want to hold people responsible for the same standard because I’d be too hard to deal with lol

  • Acec

    Thanks for the article, Kaylee. How do you suggest discerning between what is just healthily taking care of your needs, and what is being “needy” to your partner?

  • http://www.zencaffeine.com/ Kaylee

    :) Frank, thank you! You’re very sweet.

  • christine

    How ironic that I’m reading this right now. Just yesterday I was being told that I’m selfish beacuse I have started embracing my needs. I’m being looked after by family at the moment, but in my struggle, I’ve been able to find what makes me happy and the people around me are not happy that I’m happy because apparently it looks like I’m taking advantage of them. How wrong they all are of me. If they took the time to get to know me and ask me questions they’ll find that I’m a cool human being, with needs just like them regardless of the situation. Maybe I’m wrong, but if being wrong makes me happy, then so be it….

  • http://www.careercollegelibrary.wordpress.com ConsiderJennifer

    I needed to read this today. I am just ending a relationship and feel guilty because I wasn’t satisfied with love on his terms. I want to learn more about my needs and I want to honor them. I am afraid that my needs are unrealistic or unhealthy. Can you point me in the direction of where I could go to learn more? To be able to answer the question, are my needs healthy and realistic?

  • Ginger

    So well said. I wish more people could look into themselves and see their authentic self…and act on what they find! And I wish I would happen to meet those people…lol. Good luck with your life journey!

  • Ginger

    Kaylee (or anyone who knows the answer), I never thought of myself as an introvert until I read some of these posts. Now I wonder. Can anyone tell me exactly how to define an introvert?