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Are emotional needs bullshit?

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dbellanon posted 8/13/2013 23:31 PM

A question has been floating around my head for a while.

All this talk about emotional needs… Is it bullshit?

I realize that was provocative, but hopefully it caught your attention. Now let’s get down to what I mean.

When my WW initiated our marital crisis, she began to talk about various emotional needs of hers that she felt were not being met. After I found out about her affair, she began to talk about emotional needs of hers that her affair partner met that I, in her opinion, had not.

To even begin to have this conversation, I had to really reconfigure the way I thought about this subject, because honestly, the phrase “emotional needs” was hardly even in my vocabulary.

That sounds bad, I know, and my WW would have taken it as evidence that I was an emotional dunce, but let me try to explain what I mean.

Now I’m not going to deny that there are such things as emotional needs, things in our relationships that are necessary to our emotional health, but the things that I would have put in this category were so basic that they hardly needed to be said: general things like needing to feel loved and respected.

But for my WW, many of the things that she called emotional needs were things that she felt other people needed to do in order to MAKE her feel loved or respected.

We would talk, and often clash, for example, over the topic of our “love languages,” the pop-psychology term for the different ways that different people express and receive affection. We both agreed that it was important to understand the “language” of the other, though we disagreed whether priority should be given to “understanding” the other person’s love language vs. “speaking it,” if that makes sense (with me leaning more towards the “understand” side, and she towards the “speak” side). At any rate, if I wasn’t speaking her love language to her satisfaction (let’s say, giving her gifts with enough frequency), she would complain that she didn’t feel loved by me. And I would protest that this wasn’t fair since I obviously did love her, and expressed it in a multitude of ways every day. I wasn’t dismissing her desire to see me “cross the bridge” more when it came to communicating my love to her, but I wanted some acknowledgment that she believed and understood my love as it was.

To be honest, I didn’t get the whole idea that she needed certain forms of expression in order to feel loved. Sure, there were expressions in my love languages that I wished she would do more often, but they were just that: a wish, a desire, not a need. One of her love languages was receiving gifts, so she’d be disappointed when she didn’t get gifts from me often enough (It was never exactly clear how often was often enough). One of my love languages was physical touch, so I’d be disappointed when she wouldn’t want to cuddle at night. There were things that we both wished the other would do more of, but on my side, I never would have described those as needs. I never would have said that I needed those things in order to feel loved by her. Of course, a well-timed expression of affection tailored to your partner’s emotional language can brighten his/her day, can inspire a feeling of being loved in the moment, and I guess I can understand how if you find yourself suddenly receiving such expressions from someone other than your spouse, it might make your marriage seem dull by comparison (It would also be incredibly creepy and wrong, and I'd never let anyone do that to me, but that's another story).

Still, at the end of the day, I “felt loved” by my wife because I believed that she loved me. No matter what she did or did not do in any particular moment to express that, I believed that she loved and respected me, and so anything that she did that could possibly be interpreted as an expression of love in any language I accepted as evidence of this, an outward indication of something that I already knew (or believed) was there.

I never for a minute felt unloved by her until she looked me in the eyes a few months ago and declared in no uncertain terms that she actually did not love me (ouch!).

Belief systems stand between any action of another person and any feeling that you feel. It’s a well-known fact that no one can directly MAKE you feel anything. That’s voodoo. That’s impossible. Our beliefs stand as intermediaries between the words and actions of other people and the feelings that arise in us. I would try to convince my wife of this (Don’t try this at home, by the way. Leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals. This was a big error on my part), telling her that she needed to acknowledge the objective fact that I did love her, that she had to have certain beliefs about my own internal state, and reject false beliefs about the same. This, in my mind, had to be the foundation on which all other expressions of our love were based, confidence and security in the commitment we had made to one another to love each other unconditionally.

A lot of this just came down to me wanting to feel appreciated, and feeling as though feeling appreciated for the things that I was doing would make me feel more free to do the things she was asking of me. Giving gifts, for instance, is no fun if you’re only doing it because your wife will call you a bad husband if you don’t. But of course, I also recognize that I could have done a lot of good for my marriage if I had just gotten over this and done it anyway. That’s another story.

Here’s the point. If my wife had asked me at any point what kinds of things she did that I appreciated, or what kinds of things I wanted her to do more of or less of in our relationship, or what kinds of things she could do that would communicate her love to me, I could have given her a number of answers. But if she had asked me what I needed from her in order to feel loved by her, I would have looked at her like she had three heads.

Maybe some of you will have to read that paragraph more than once. Maybe you’re wondering what the distinction is. Maybe it sounds like I’m splitting hairs over language, but to me the difference between those two questions is like night and day.

This was obviously a fundamental difference in the way we thought about our relationship. Now to be fair, a marriage in which you feel like your partner is unreceptive to your wants and desires (as opposed to needs) is no picnic either. The truth is that both of us had sins to answer for in that department, but the reason I think it’s important to clarify this language about needs is that it enabled my WW to make the affair and the divorce seem like it was about survival.

If it had simply been a matter of us learning to communicate our love better to one another, both in terms of transmission and reception, or learning to put aside our respective hang-ups in order to “cross the bridge” for the other person. If it had simply been a matter wanting more out of the relationship than she was getting, then that’s something we could have worked on.

But if it was about “needs” then it was a choice between divorce and detachment or emotional death, suffocating in a loveless marriage (Yes, she used that term).

This is, of course, the story she told herself to justify everything she did, but it’s rooted in a narrative that she held for a long time, and it comes back to this topic of emotional needs.

So am I just crazy? Is the way I thought about this topic just completely off the wall and abnormal? I realize that a lot of what I have written is foggy and some of it may be self-contradictory. I have been stuck half-way between accepting the vocabulary of emotional needs on the one hand (and trying to be more in tune with my own), and trying to deconstruct the idea on the other hand, or at least refine it so it doesn’t get misused.

Could really use some thoughts on all of this.

PhantomLimb posted 8/14/2013 01:16 AM

Here’s the point. If my wife had asked me at any point what kinds of things she did that I appreciated, or what kinds of things I wanted her to do more of or less of in our relationship, or what kinds of things she could do that would communicate her love to me, I could have given her a number of answers. But if she had asked me what I needed from her in order to feel loved by her, I would have looked at her like she had three heads.

Snap response (it's 2am here, so not a very thorough one):

"Need" is akin to the concept of belief. It is changeable, fuzzy, unquantifiable, amorphous. And it suggests a lack of agency.

The other category you describe is akin to action/practice in my mind. And any social scientist would say that only actions are quantifiable. That one doesn't have an *identity* per se but engage in a series of *identifications*. It's performative.

So is a marriage.

An example: she didn't have an emotional need for gifts. She needed you to engage in certain performances/actions/identifications in order to meet some kind of "X".

But that "X" has to represent something deeper. For example, perhaps she felt like she wanted greater recognition from you in general in a register that demonstrated you were maintaining shared interests.

I remember I used to tell my WS that it would mean a lot to me if, when he went to the market, he came home with some flowers. I used to make sure our house had a lot of fresh cut flowers in it, and I thought it would be nice if he remembered to bring some home to save me the trouble (and as a little "gift", I suppose, to show me he was thinking about me).

And he rarely did. And that bothered me a lot.

That probably wasn't because I had an emotional need for surprise flowers. If I pick it apart, it was probably because I did most of the decorating, cleaning, etc etc and he just sort of lived there. I wanted to feel like we were sharing our space as a more equal couple and buying flowers would have been a symbol of that.

So I might try to take some time to think about what she may have really been signaling. Look at the acts she wanted you to perform in order to meet her needs and ask yourself: what kind of identity (/identification) was she asking me to assume? And what does that identification say about what she was trying to tell me (inartfully) was lacking.

Again, it's 2am. Hope I hit on something.


Still, at the end of the day, I “felt loved” by my wife because I believed that she loved me.

I might have walked into a tautology here. Your "feeling love" was a belief. So, based on my model, the challenge to you would be: was it because you had a need to feel loved? And did that *need* contribute to you missing the A?

[This message edited by PhantomLimb at 1:22 AM, August 14th (Wednesday)]

Kiddingmyself posted 8/14/2013 04:44 AM

So, because you don't feel a certain way about emotional needs that automatically means she doesn't/shouldn't/can't?

My husband has that attitude as well. He feels that because he was our sole means of financial support that I shouldn't expect or ask for anything more. He gave me $80 for gas when my mother died. He got very angry when I told him I needed support. He gave me what he thought I needed. That should be enough.

I don't love him anymore. And the fact that he dismissed my emotional needs is a big reason.

imagoodwitch posted 8/14/2013 05:46 AM

He gave me what he thought I needed.

^^^^This, with emphasis on thought.

My WS had no clue what I needed and if I told him, spelled it out, made a graph, a pie chart, rented a billboard he still didn't get it.

We all have things that make us feel loved, and they are all different.

It isn't bullshit, it's real, using it as an excuse to have an A is bullshit.

FoolontheHill posted 8/14/2013 05:50 AM

I near you and I have some similar issues/questions. My WW loves to,tell me I'm emotionally unavailable and that she had needs,I was not meeting therefore she HAD to,go,outside our marriage.

When pressed her explanation is a moving target. 1) you never ask me how my day was. 2) you asked me how my day was bit you did not ask me what I did during the day (which made it easy to not tell me about the lunch or breakfast with AP) 3. You make me feel like a unit(whatever that means). And it goes on.

I think what it comes down to is that people, male or female, who use "unmet needs" as a justification for cheating are full of shit. Grow up. Just because so,etching does not go your way does not mean younger to,take your ball (or vagina or penis) and play on a different field when you are supposed,to,be in a committed relationship.

I think I can posted 8/14/2013 07:09 AM

I have an emotional need not to be cheated on.

StillGoing posted 8/14/2013 07:16 AM

I think emotional needs are bullshit because the way the concept is expressed places the responsibility of meeting those needs on other people.

The only time a human is dependent on another is when they are unable to provide for him or herself. Anything else is always an act of kindness or profession from ones fellows.

The whole emotional needs thing only seems to come up when one person is unable to express themselves, or they want a justification to run off and do shit they aren't supposed to be doing (like fucking other people); so the ability to lay ones unhappiness at the feet of another through the idea of unmet emotional needs becomes an all-access spectrum of excuses where loosely defined feelings and ambiguous reasoning pave the way for an ass backwards approach to what they should have done to begin with: take control of their own happiness. Only in this case it's done without regard to the happiness of others or a modicum of personal responsibility.

I was trying to find something this morning and stumbled across a phrase from Ovid - "Habits become character."

My husband has that attitude as well. He feels that because he was our sole means of financial support that I shouldn't expect or ask for anything more. He gave me $80 for gas when my mother died. He got very angry when I told him I needed support. He gave me what he thought I needed. That should be enough.

I don't love him anymore. And the fact that he dismissed my emotional needs is a big reason.

I don't think your H was dismissing emotional needs so much as he sounds like a consistently full, giant bag of shit. I'm sorry you had to suffer through that, that is fucked.

jjct posted 8/14/2013 07:25 AM

Hearing a WS prate on about having unmet emotional needs is like listening to a rapist describing how the sex he just took was lousy and unsatisfying.

Or a robber, complaining about the lack of quality in the jewels they just stole from you.

Damn right it's a "moving target", because until they become whole people, man up, and "get religion": Remorse,
& doing the work inside to mend all they purposefully shattered,
they are little lost lambs, mewling on the mountaintop for mama.
They're bringing a bandaid to a war zone, and congratulating themselves for being thoughtful.

A remorseful WS brings a medi-kit, an ambulance, and a whole freaking staff of specialists to the scene of their destruction.

Those things are the true, legitimate needs of the BS. Nothing else will do, and sometimes, even that's not enough.

An affair isn't about what the WS wasn't getting; it is about what they weren't giving.

sailorgirl posted 8/14/2013 08:05 AM

But for my WW, many of the things that she called emotional needs were things that she felt other people needed to do in order to MAKE her feel loved or respected.

Could it have been that she needed other people to make her feel worthy of love and respect?
If so, she's probably a bottomless pit of need.

It seems many WS's have low self-worth and rely on outside input to make them feel lovable and proud of themselves. But other people's compliments, ego-kibbles, flirting, etc. get used up so fast, and it's never enough to make the WS secure.

Emotionally healthy people know they are worthy, good human beings. They love and respect themselves. So their self-worth is a renewable resource.

Still, at the end of the day, I “felt loved” by my wife because I believed that she loved me.

Could it partly just be that you felt lovable? You did what you needed to do to feel fulfilled and loving and happy. You knew your worth and assumed she did too. She, on the other hand, tried to get you to take over her responsibility to make her own self proud and happy.

sailorgirl posted 8/14/2013 08:17 AM

I wanted to add that because you respect yourself and know your worth, you could not stay in a marriage with an emotionally unhealthy, delusional dependent.

Luckily for you, your happiness is not contingent on your WW building up your ego. So your long term prospects are very good for being at peace, feeling positive about life, and finding an awesome woman who doesn't "need" you but chooses you freely.

[This message edited by sailorgirl at 8:17 AM, August 14th (Wednesday)]

FoolontheHill posted 8/14/2013 08:17 AM

I think StillGoing hot the nail on the head. It's all about resting your happi ess with someone else.

The grand irony in y case is that WW told me she got tired of being my happiness because I never did anything without her and had no friends (untrue because she would get bent when I went out after work with my friends for. Few beers). The irony is further infuriating because she proclaimed that her 71 yar old "EA" partner did not have an friends and she needed hi. Because he listened to her and wants to do yoga with her and do a power cleanse with her etc etc.

So ultiimatley emotional needs/unavailabilty is a post hoc rationalization for bad behavoir or at least doe getting caught in bad behavior.

heforgotme posted 8/14/2013 08:41 AM

I think the nuances of language become so important when dealing with something as traumatic as this. For example, the way the word "mistake" takes on a whole other connotation around here.

And I totally see your point. "Receiving Gifts" is the perfect example. Nobody NEEDS gifts, they WANT them. And the wording is important because the word need implies a type of life or death situation. Like the way we need food and water and sleep. And then it begins to look like a person would be justified in doing almost anything to have these met. Enter the A.

So although I never thought of it this way before, I think you are exactly right. The distinction is important.

However, while the word "needs" may not be accurate, I think the concept in general is valid. I think the things they mention as "needs" create positive feelings in our spouses and that is good for a marriage. So, both should try to do as much of that as possible. We are applying the love languages/emotional "needs" principles in R and they are helping alot.

As an aside, even without considering the language nuances, the whole "unmet needs" concept always bugged me. you think my "needs" were being met???

So, when push comes to shove, no matter what, it's no excuse.

WoundedOpus posted 8/14/2013 08:59 AM

I knew my father loved me growing up, never once questioned that fact. But because he rarely touched me, or told me he loved me, and because he never seemed totally satisfied with who I was, I grew up with minor daddy issues and low self-esteem. But I knew he loved me the best way he knew how. Am I somehow deficient for needing to feel loved in a way other than the way he was capable of showing me?

My mother abandoned our family when I was 10 for her AP. she had always been an unaffectionate, child like selfish person, her leaving was not out of character. I had never expected anything better or more from her, so her a abandonment didn't affect me like it would have otherwise, I always knew she loved me the only way she knew how...but don't think it didn't affect me at all. Does my need to feel your mothers never ending unconditional love make me a needy person, unable to self sooth?

My husband loves me more than any person he has ever loved. I know this to be fact. He is meeting one out of a million of my emotional needs, I know he loves me the only way he knows how....but I am starving....

** T/J **.

After reading the other posts, I feel I must clarify here... He is not meeting my emotional needs within my marriage. I am a fully functioning emotionally healthy adult. I am fully capable of meeting my own personal needs. If we were to divorce or had never married in the first place, I would still to be a fully functioning healthy adult taking care of my own needs. Either way, I own my own ultimate personal happiness.

When we choose to marry, we are making a commitment to share life's burdens and its joys as partners. He is not responsible for me, but he has a responsibility to me, and I to him. To him I say, "I see your (reasonable) need within this marriage. I love you. I am responsible to my part of our emotional intimacy and health. We are equal, your (reasonable) needs are as important as my own. I have made a commitment to carry my share of the load (taking care of my personal needs), and a commitment to carry my share of our burden (taking care of our needs within a marriage)...and you commit to doing the same!

If a W is overly needy, has no friends, makes no effort to make friends, if she is unfulfilled and makes no effort to find a way to fill herself (hobbies, friends, causes, whatever), and looks to her H to be all those things for her...this is NOT a reasonable emotional need. She is an unhealthy bottomless pit. He is not responsible for her personal emotional needs. He couldn't fill that pit even if he wanted to. She is not carrying her load.

If however, a W has felt unfulfilled in some way, does not look to her husband fill the needs of her personal happiness, makes steps to find fulfilling interests/hobbies, fulfilling friendships, she is carrying her load. He then has a responsibility to her, to listen, to validate her feelings, to support her. He loves her, so he hurts to see her in pain. He does not try to erase the pain by carrying her load, he supports her in the ways she is choosing to do that on her own, he loves her by helping her carry her burden. How did he carry it? He listened which says she is important. He hears her and has empathy, which shows her that the one person who's opinion matters more in the world than her own is validated. Just having that person as your life's partner, doing these very simple loving acts, lessons our burdens in life.

Filling the hole for us? No, that is not their responsibility. The hole is NOT my emotional need. The loving act of sharing my burden was my emotional need. That IS his responsibility, and I have a responsibility to do the same for him. That is MARRIAGE, that is PARTNERSHIP, that is COMMITMENT, that is AUTHENTIC LOVE. And that is just one of a million different examples. If we have zero responsibilities to one another, then relationships and marriage are pointless. And saying people don't or shouldn't have emotional needs is the real bullshit, even a dog needs to feel loved. You wouldn't expect to have a happy dog if you brought him home the most expensive piece of jewelry from Tiffany's when we know he wants a piece of bacon. We aren't pissed at our dog when he turns his nose up at a carrot when we know his favorite treat is peanut butter. We don't think less of our dog for being happier when we throw the ball instead of the stick. We don't think our dog is pathetic and needy because he loves his belly scratched versus a pat on the head before he goes to bed at night. And we certainly don't think it's a dysfunctional thing when it's clear our dog prefers this attention and thought coming from us versus the guy next door. We made a commitment when we brought that dog home, we not only committed to feeding him and getting his shots, we committed to not abandoning him in the back yard, committed to giving him a dry warm bed, hell, we probably give him the best spot at the foot of our bed at night. We also committed to caring about his me two well being, so we play with him, buy him treats, take him for runs, and show him affection in the way a dog needs to feel it. We don't expect him to know he's cared for and loved, but to feel it. It's amazing to me that we can clearly recognize and accept that our dog not only has needs, but he has needs that are different from our own, we don't even think he's loser for it, and yet can't see this in people. We scratch his belly, see his slobbery, loving, lopsided grin, we accept that dog just the way he is, we know we are loved by that dog, and we feel good about it, and love him back.

I will say it again: None of this is a reason to cheat. I should know, since I'm the one married to the emotionally unavailable spouse, and I didn't cheat! Having an A is NEVER an option, but to completely discount its existence, or minimize its importance because you are not on the receiving end of this, is to me, just as much bs as anything else.

** End T/J **

It is not about 'understanding' the love language, it is not yours, you don't need it so will most likely never understand it fully. It is all about 'speaking' it. And it is 'heard' not by the actual action that you take, but in the choice to make the action in the first place. It says I hear you, your emotional needs are validated by me. And although I may not understand this need you have, I love you, I want you to feel my love for you, so I take this proactive step to show you, and you will hear me.

So when your wife asks for flowers (as in PhantomLimbs example), you may think, "Well that's silly, I do x and y and z (your LL things) to tell her I love her". And because they are your LL things x, y and z seem large, and buying flowers seems small." Small things have a way of seeming unimportant, dismissible, petty, and since you don't understand the need for them, they are dismissed. And since the actual act of buying the flowers is small, and actually very easy to do (I mean, you were already at the store, had to walk right passed them in the produce section), but you chose not to buy them anyway way, you end up 'speaking' volumes to your W. she hears, "Your needs are small, petty, dismissible, unimportant; invalid. They are so small to me that I couldn't even bother to spend the extra 2 minutes it would take to pick out a bouquet you would like. And since you've told me you have this need, you don't even have the luxury of pretending maybe I'm just clueless, that I did this unintentionally...that is how small your needs are, that is how small you are to me, that I intentionally chose not to me it."

So you love her, in the way you know how. You see, that's the kind of love a person my know, but knowing, possessing that knowledge, doesn't keep our souls warm at night. It speaks tour heads, but doesn't speak to our hearts.

Does all of this excuse her choice to have an A, make it ok or justifiable? Hell no! But her choosing to have one doesn't invalidate her emotional needs or the pain she felt when they weren't being met.

[Quote]A lot of this just came down to me wanting to feel appreciated, and feeling as though feeling appreciated for the things that I was doing would make me feel more free to do the things she was asking of me. Giving gifts, for instance, is no fun if you’re only doing it because your wife will call you a bad husband if you don’t. But of course, I also recognize that I could have done a lot of good for my marriage if I had just gotten over this and done it anyway. That’s another story.

But that is the story. You needed to feel appreciated for speaking to her in your LL, but the simple fact that is yours and not hers makes that close to impossible for most of us. On a rationally level we know that our partner is trying to proactively speak to/show us their love, but unfortunately, telling our heads that this should be good enough, it's certainly better that them not trying to show us anything at all, is cold comfort after many years. We have talks with ourselves about how we need to come to terms with settling for 'better than nothing'. Tell ourselves that they love us in the only way they know how, and that fact, should be enough to make us feel loved. But facts are cold. Facts are something we have to remind ourselves of every day to remember, feeling loved is the state of contentment/completion we feel first thing in the morning, as our body begins to wake, before our mind even stirs.

Now to be fair, a marriage in which you feel like your partner is unreceptive to your wants and desires (as opposed to needs) is no picnic either.

This illustrates my point, 'no picnic' because it's always raining is for sure better than not eating at all, but why settle for that? Why should someone learn to be happy with a meal sitting in a cold kitchen, when what they want/need, is right outside their door?

Resentment settles in when we can no longer convince ourselves we don't need it, when we can no longer pretend that our spouse sees that door as well and yet chooses not to open it. The resentment eventually has us turning away from wanting our spouse to be the one to open that door, and the never ending ache of the need has us looking for an escape door to get out.

But if it was about “needs” then it was a choice between divorce and detachment or emotional death, suffocating in a loveless marriage (Yes, she used that term).

This how she felt. No amount of anyone else thinking it's wrong to feel that way will change it. Someone can point to a million examples of how they should feel the opposite, but that's just an attempt at rationalizing the invalidation of another's needs.

This is, of course, the story she told herself to justify everything she did, but it’s rooted in a narrative that she held for a long time, and it comes back to this topic of emotional needs.

This is the point where your story takes a painful destructive turn. This is not a story, this is life. This is her life, so insignificant that it's been reduced to a story(Pointing out how she was probably seeing it at the time). So she turns from you, no longer looking to you to open the door; looking for an escape route... Somewhere along the way she forgot that she had the option to open up a door of her own, the door to divorce. She made a terrible decision to let another man open a door for her. Like millions of other W's, at some point she became a messed up, broken person and forgot that at the end of the day, no matter what you need and how resentful you are that the spouse you wanted to fulfill you isn't, looking for and finding it elsewhere is wrong. This is where she should have thought, "He cannot meet my needs, he cannot make me feel loved. It is time that I accept this is the way it is and since I believe it is the way it always will be, I will stop looking for/asking him to do it, and will now look to myself right now to do that instead. And since I, (like every single other person on the planet) want to be connected and feel loved intimately by another human being, it is time to leave my husband, work on me and get healthy so that I will some day be in a place to seek, accept, and return that love with someone else."

She made the wrong choice, and I'm so sorry you had to be the collateral damage to that. As much as I can relate to how it seems your wife felt before she imploded, I have to sympathy towards how she chose to handle it. I am starving. But I thank God that I am healthy enough to realize that settling for 'being loved in the only way they how' is not only not good enough to receive, it's not good enough to give. I'm starving for authentic love, not a cheap imitation. To give into that would be the devaluing of myself, the ultimate invalidation of my emotional needs...there just is no excuse good enough to do that to another person or to myself.

So this is my take on Emotional Needs and Love Languages...everyone has their own of course. I'm reading The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Mathew Kelly, I haven't gotten too far, but I think it can help take a step beyond LL and get to the meat of our one true emotional need; our fundamental need, the need we are searching to fill above all else, to feel deeply and intimately connected and accepted by another human being and offer that in return.

Your wife made a series of terrible, destructive, hurtful choices. Maybe at one point she tried to speak your language and meet your needs while asking for her own to be met. When they weren't, she may have felt that you were telling her your needs were being suficiantly met, but hers still were not, so at some point she stopped wanting to do the 'extras' you needed. Then over time she became resentful, stopped trying to meet your needs at all, starting selfishly looking out for herself and used that as a justification for her A. Or maybe she was always hypocritical, selfishly thinking her Love Tank was more important than yours, and when hers was 'empty', well it must be your fault, and she was therefore entitled to getting it filled somewhere else... I have no idea which is the case, likely somewhere I between the two.

All end at the same unjustifiable, selfish and hurtful conclusion...she chose to have an A. Even if you were in fact always the emotionally stunted husband she is claiming you are, no one deserves that, no one.

So she's telling you now what she feels went wrong. That's a start to the why's. If that's also been the middle and end of her why's, then I just don't see this being much of a productive conversation. I don't know how far out you are from DDay, but if it's even remotely recent, you're probably not in a place yet to really explore and be totally open to this. I base that somewhat on this...

When my WW initiated our marital crisis, she began to talk about various emotional needs of hers that she felt were not being met.

I may be misinerpreting that part, but it reads to me that you're saying she's fabricated the 'emotional needs not being met' story, that it is a complete falsehood, an excuse she came up with that sounded good enough/plausible enough to use to excuse her behavior. And that is completely and entirely possible, please don't take my question the wrong way. W's lie, they rewrite marital history, the can blame shift with the best of them, so it may all just be bs. But if it's not, if it is in fact the start of her why's, and there are many more why's to come, if she is remorseful and willing to do all of the hard work required for R, and if you want to R as well and you both want and are willing to work towards having the best possible marriage, I believe you will have to really reevaluate your thinking on this.

Gently (and i say this in the nicest possible way), I think just about everything you said regarding emotional needs is malarkey. That being said, even I don't think I would have been open to a discussion that seemed to point even the tiniest finger of blame or responsibility in my direction to justify my FWH's choice to betray me and step outside of our marriage for a very long time.

If she is the model remorseful spouse I would suggest that you spend this time to work on yourself, explore the EN's concept on your own...take your WW out of the equation, what would you think about this if you were picturing it with a woman you had no history with, a blank slate? No one's hurt anyone, no one 'owes' the other for past slights, everyone is on equal footing and there are no resentments; what would you want that marriage to look like? Would you want and accept it being a 'no picnic' kind of relationship? If not, and you acknowledge that it was, take some time to figure out the part your beliefs and hers played in that. And then figure out why you were willing to settle for it, expected her to settle for it; did you not think something more was possible?

I hope this didn't come across as harsh, I don't mean for it to at all. Your post just hit me hard in my saddest places. It took me years to really figure out there was a difference between love and authentic love, to really understand that love is a verb, love is an action. it took a lot of growth (and time) to understand that marriage and love is not what I saw in warm and fuzzy romantic comedies. It also isn't what is depicted in long and suffering dramas. Conscious Authentic Love is the consistent commitment to be loving to one another, for our needs to be the needs of the other; then you just keep doing it over and over and over again...that is love.

Good luck on your journey to understand it all. It's a journey that never ends if you're doing it right!

[This message edited by WoundedOpus at 10:33 AM, August 14th (Wednesday)]

dbellanon posted 8/14/2013 09:02 AM

I had a feeling this would turn out to be a complex topic. As I said, I'm still sorting through it.

I'm trying, on the one hand, to sort out my own response to things that my WW genuinely had communicated to me during our marriage. Even if the things she called needs were not needs in the way that I think of them, this does not mean that they weren't important. That's not really the point I'm trying to get at here.

We crossed wires when it came to communication quite a lot, and we didn't really start to sort it out until we got to therapy, too late, I might add. It frustrated me that my WW never quite got her mind around the fact that it was a two-way street, and that she had done little to "cross the bridge" herself. But since she was more emotionally needy than I was, she made it seem like I was neglectful. In short, I feel like I was willing to live with a lot less from her, perhaps because I did have a very different attitude about emotional needs.

Phantom Limb. The issue of the interactions of feelings and beliefs was a bit topic of disagreement between my WW and me. Her approach, to me, seems contradictory.

Let me give an example. Going back to the issue of gift giving. For the record, I wasn't a complete delinquent in this department, but I had a lot of hangups. Part of the problem is that any time it came up, it was a big drama. It was never simply a matter of, "I would appreciate it if..." It was always, "Why can't you do xyz that so-and-so's husband does," or, once again, telling me that she didn't feel loved by me because of it. I never felt like I was being positively encouraged to do something. I always felt like I was being put down for not doing it. And I told her that this, in many ways, soured the idea of gift giving. I wanted to be able to do it for her, but because of the way she brought it up, it didn't feel like a spontaneous expression of love, but rather something I had to do in order to meet her minimum standards for husbandhood. It felt to me like it wouldn't have been an expression of love, just a meeting of demands. It was a deadlock. She was hurt because she didn't feel loved, and I was hurt because I didn't feel appreciated. Perhaps you could say that she needed to feel loved in order to appreciate me. I felt that I needed to be appreciated in order to be able to properly show love. So I would bide my time, waiting for the sour taste to wear off, keeping a list and planning things to get her. But with only a few exceptions, she'd complain again about the same thing before I had a chance to act.

In hindsight, I realize I probably could have broken this deadlock by just sucking it up and doing it anyway. I was wrong to think that the right feelings or motivations had to be behind every act of love. Sometimes the acts have to come first, and the feeling follows, and simply breaking that deadlock could have, probably with the addition of therapy, put us in a better position to start talking about and understanding my perspective. But that's water under the bridge at this point.

Here's the rub. When we finally got into therapy, I began to put a lot of this together, and I told my WW how hurtful it was to me when she said that she didn't feel loved by me, that it was tearing me down as a partner rather than encouraging me to be a better one. She made the distinction that saying "I don't feel loved," was not the same as saying, "You don't love me."

Now initially, I thought this was an important insight. She was trying to say something subjective about her internal state, rather than making an objective judgment about my internal state. And this was, admittedly a bit difference between us that we started to sort out in therapy. She tended to live in her own subjective feelings in such a way that they were, in many respects, her whole reality. This found expression in many ways besides just our relationship. Her whole way of forming beliefs about the world is actually quite foreign and bizarre to me, but that's another story. I, in contrast, liked to try to norm my subjective feelings against my best apprehension of objective reality (to whatever extent that's possible).

So when she said that she didn't feel loved, she wasn't saying that she didn't believe that I loved her, just that she didn't "feel" it in that particular context.

But the more I have thought about this, the less it makes sense. It seems to me that when people make statements like, "I feel happy," or "I feel sad," they are making unambiguous statements about their subjective feelings. But when someone says, "I feel like x is the case," then it gets murkier. Let's take someone who is paranoid, for instance, who says, "I feel like everyone is out to get me." Does he mean that he believes that everyone really is out to get him, or just that he feels the way he imagines he would feel IF everyone really were out to get him? If someone says, "I feel like you're not listening to me," does she mean that she feels the way she imagines she would feel IF you weren't listening to her," or does she mean that she believes she is not being listened to?

A lot of times people use the "I feel" language to deflect force from accusations. It makes it sounds like it's about you, but it's really about the other person. If you make an "I feel" statement about reality, 9 times out of 10, you're making a statement about reality, not just about your feelings.

I feel like this analysis was confirmed to me when she used the phrase "loveless marriage." It wasn't just that she "felt" unloved even if she knew objectively that I did love her. It was more than that.

So back to the comment: I don't draw such a stark contrast between feelings and beliefs. So yeah, I had a need to feel loved, and I never lacked for supply of that because I believed that I was loved. Perhaps this intersects with what some people are talking about regarding being able to meet one's own needs.

Others have suggested that my WW may be, in some respects, a bottomless pit of need, constantly reliant upon others to bolster her ego and sense of self-worth. The affair certainly makes it tempting to think this way. She rejected someone who really genuinely loved and valued her in favor of someone who made her feel good in the moment, but who she should have realized, didn't really care for her at all, who used her and ultimately dismissed her feelings in the same way that she dismissed mine (poetic justice, one might say, but it still hasn't actually sunk in for her).

I suppose that's why, though there are many things I would do differently if I could go back, I still would say that a fundamental security and belief in the unconditional love of your spouse is the absolutely indispensable minimum. Without that, it doesn't matter how many love languages you speak, or how many tokens of affection you disburse. You're building on a shaky foundation.

I suppose for me, my fundamental "need" was one for unconditional love. I see now that I didn't have that from her, which saddens me, because no matter how many times I felt unappreciated, I still, as I said, believed that I was loved. The ironic thing is that I was wrong.

jackfish posted 8/14/2013 09:44 AM

To Original Poster.

I think the needs are a big part of any marriage. As well as parenthood and to a point friendship.

BUT, in some cases, when you are dealing with a partner, child, etc. who has mental illness or diagnosable personality disorders, Jesus himself could come down with a u-haul full of miracles and it wouldn't matter much. Unless one of those miracles was healing the brain.

IMHO, emotional needs aren't necessarily what you're getting or not getting, but the love and satisfaction you get from GIVING those needs.

Ex. You give blood. You feel that positive sense that what you're doing will probably save a life. But imagine the dude that received your blood is furious with the doctors because someone else's blood is inside of him. If I found that out...I'd still donate blood.

wincing_at_light posted 8/14/2013 09:55 AM

The problem with emotional needs isn't necessarily that they are or are not needs.

The problem is generally that the sorts of people who carp on and on about their unmet emotional needs because they can't self-soothe are the sorts of people who have holes in the bottom of their buckets.

No matter how much water you dump in there for them, they're never going to get full, because they're either too lazy to fix the hole or too dense to realize that it's there.

Being a bottomless hole of need isn't a situation where your spouse just needs to try harder/better/differently, it's a fucking personality disorder.

Then again, I'm one of those people who believes that some feelings *are* wrong and shouldn't be validated. People are allowed to feel whatever they feel, but just because they feel it doesn't make it valid for me (or my responsibility to do something about their butt-hurtedness.)

It's also been said that I'm something of a dick, so YMMV.

sailorgirl posted 8/14/2013 12:09 PM

Then again, I'm one of those people who believes that some feelings *are* wrong and shouldn't be validated. People are allowed to feel whatever they feel, but just because they feel it doesn't make it valid for me (or my responsibility to do something about their butt-hurtedness.)

I agree. There was literally nothing I could do to change my fWH's insecurity about my love and commitment. I could have spoken his love language 24/7 and he would have still felt like I didn't really love him. He did honestly feel that emotion, but it wasn't based on reality and it was obviously wrong.

sisoon posted 8/14/2013 12:12 PM

I think your W says 'I don't feel loved' with a sub-text of 'and it's up to you to make me feel loved.' Validation by someone else is a lousy foundation for feeling loved, however - you can't control other people, and everyone can be fickle. As w_a_l indicates, she's a lot better off learning to self-soothe, and to love (which is a lot different than over-indulgence) herself.

Feeling loved is a choice, and each individual chooses whether to feel loved or not.
At the same time, although I choose to feel loved (or not) by my W, my choice is strongly influenced by evidence that she does or does not love me. (I guess feeling loved comes from a sense of self-worth plus real behavior by the other person plus any filters I apply while perceiving the other person and her actions.)

Like you, db, I felt loved by my W - until she had her A. I most definitely didn't feel loved during her A, but I didn't realize it, perhaps because I process feelings slowly, perhaps because it was entirely unprecedented and I had a hard time figuring it out after 42+ years of being loved.

The Love Language stuff is very useful. If you use your W's primary LL, even if that's your least preferred LL, you'll have a easier time being understood. Using her primary LL benefits you, too. (And if she wants to keep the good communications up, she'll reciprocate by using your primary LLs.) Think of it this way - if you speak to me in Russian, I won't understand what you mean. When you speak to me, you presumably want me to understand, so your best bet is to use a language I know.

You transmit - the receiver decides what (s/he thinks) you mean (if you're interested in or question this concept, look up neuro-linguistic programming). It doesn't matter what or how often or how powerfully you say something - the receiver gives meaning to what the transmitter says. If it's about love, the receiver won't feel loved unless she decides to.

For me, the 5 LLs do sum up emotional needs to a great extent. Like w_a_l, however, I mistrust people who simply lament not getting emotional needs met. When lamenting results in asking for something specific, though, that seems like a Good Thing, as long as the request implies that the requester will be satisfied if s/he receives what s/he asks for.

I know this only touches on the subject. I hope it's clear as far as it goes.

[This message edited by sisoon at 12:17 PM, August 14th (Wednesday)]

dbellanon posted 8/14/2013 12:26 PM

Two points:

First, there is a reason that I put a question mark at the end of the title of this topic. If you think I'm way off base, I welcome the feedback.

Second, my WW and I are not in R. She is patently remorseless for her affair and we are in the process of divorce. At the beginning of this crisis, I took my wife's talk about emotional needs seriously, even gravely so. I knew that whatever I thought about the way she "should" respond to me, the fact was that I had to start doing something different or I was going to lose her for good. There were a lot of things that didn't come naturally to me that I started doing for her because I knew they were important to her and that I had legitimately dropped the ball in the past. The question of whether these things were needs or not was irrelevant. They were concrete ways that I could help a marriage that was on the verge of collapse. I absolutely bought into the idea that I was a neglectful husband and that I had singlehandedly landed my marriage in crisis.

Over time and therapy, my perspective began to balance out. I realized that I wasn't an emotional idiot, but that my wife and I did have very different emotional vocabularies. Still, my wife seemed uninterested in understanding the "why" of my own behavior, content to continue to paint me as a villain, when the real enemy was a dynamic that we had created together.

In the end, even if she had been receptive, I don't know if my last-minute reforms would have made a difference because it was still about her until the bitter end, and in many ways I was just feeding a selfish attitude on her part.

Our marriage never would have succeeded unless both of us had been asking ourselves and each other how we could love the other person better on a daily basis. But instead of focusing on what she could do, she focused instead on what I wasn't doing. And as for me, I wasn't being proactive enough either. The negativity was a drain on me, and I had told her as much.

I feel like we had it all backwards.

In a marriage, you need to think less of yourself and more of the other person, but you can't let the other person cut you down in order to build herself up. You need to be willing to change, but you can't be trying to change your partner. I feel like you need to accept the other person and work on yourself. But instead, I demanded acceptance as a prerequisite for working on myself, and she demanded that I work on myself as a prerequisite for acceptance. As for whether she ever thought about working on herself, I have no idea. I would like to say she chose the cowards way out instead, and her continued lack of introspection is what keeps her from experiencing remorse.

So maybe the real issue isn't the vocabulary we use when we talk about emotional needs. Maybe it's the perspective from which we look at them.

[This message edited by dbellanon at 12:28 PM, August 14th (Wednesday)]

silverhopes posted 8/14/2013 12:43 PM

You raise a really good topic, dbellanon.

Emotional needs are real. Love languages might be too. But we are responsible for ourselves, and I think your wife should have looked at you as a whole (not merely whether you were speaking her love language or not) and seen that you do/did love her very much. There's a big difference between: "I feel unhappy because I don't get x amount of gifts", and "my husband doesn't love me". I think that's one of the dangers of couples who rely heavily on the love languages - a lack of speaking a specific love language does not always translate to a lack of love, and it is extremely unfair to a person's partner to assume that of them.

As for emotional needs... Yes, while they're real, there's a balance point that's difficult but extremely important to find. A marriage is a balancing act in so many ways, not least of which is: two individuals functioning as a team. So on the one hand there are still individual things and responsibilities each person has and on the other they're a team with team responsibilities. So emotional needs aren't all one way or the other in a marriage. I'm guessing it's fluid. It's both a team thing and an individual thing.

I think it's very sad that your wife told you that she didn't feel loved by you simply because you weren't buying her tons of gifts. If she looked at the whole picture instead of tunnel vision, I'm guessing she would see actually that you loved her very much. For one thing, she was the only one you wanted to snuggle with. Maybe her love language isn't physical touch, but if she looked at the other love languages including that one, she probably could have seen that clearly.

I had similar issues for a while. My husband and I had talked about love languages. We think his is gifts and mine is physical touch, sort of like you and your wife. But my husband isn't a touchy kind of person. So for a while I was upset because I'd told him, he knew, and when I asked him to snuggle I'd get upset when he rejected me. So for a while I pouted over it and was generally very unpleasant toward him - which I am very ashamed of now. But there was something he'd said during our talk on love languages - he said that gifts were probably his language, but the one he tends to speak the most is acts of service. He cleans our room, he does the laundry, he makes food, he feeds the cats. That's how he tells us, his family, that he loves us. And that's something he's never stopped doing. Plus wanting to play video games with me (his favorite hobby), telling me everything in his life, all his thoughts, being honest, hugging and snuggling with me sometimes (that he tries means a lot, and even more so when I'm having a rough day), saying "I love you", in general being here, and a whole lot more. His very demeanor. Once I opened my eyes to all the things he WAS doing, I was overwhelmed with his love, and very ashamed of my pettiness. I'm now wondering what I can do to love him more and show him that he's precious. He loves us, and I would be petty to say he didn't just because he doesn't snuggle all the time. That doesn't translate to lack of love.

It sounds like your wife might be getting tunnel vision. She can talk with you about her love language, but she needs to take off those goggles and acknowledge you as you are, and to apologize for saying that to you. Having your love invalidated is one of the most painful experiences in the world.

[This message edited by silverhopes at 12:46 PM, August 14th (Wednesday)]

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