One of the most important parts of self-knowledge and right relationship is understanding your emotional and relational nutritional needs — the things you need in a relationship to thrive (not just relationally, but physically as well). While we all know intellectually we have relational needs, working with them in the way we would work with our body’s nutritional needs helps take this out of the conceptual and into real life practice.
I think of it a lot in terms of the way we need certain types of food, as well as vitamins and minerals for our body to function correctly, and how we’re each a little different when it comes to the nutrition that truly supports our body to flourish — some people need (some) animal protein, others require a fully plant-based diet, some people thrive on fat-based diets, other are at their best with lots carbs. Then there are the micronutrients, which tend to be easier to go without for longer periods of time than others, but, ultimately, they are just as important to the health & well-being of our physical being (which is, of course, connected to our emotional & spiritual well-being). Many of us (intentionally or unintentionally, starve ourselves of certain biological nutritional needs & our health suffers. Sometimes this happens very quickly & obviously (if it’s one of the main food groups we need to thrive), and other times it’s a slow & subtle process (if it’s more of a micro-nutrient) – but the end result is the same, in that our health & well-being is compromised if we don’t take the time to learn what our body needs.
It’s the same with our relational nutritional needs.
The way this shows up relationally is that there are emotional nutrients we all need a lot of, but even so, each person’s emotional nutrients are going to be a little different from one another. Maybe you’re an introvert or an extrovert, maybe your love language is quality of time and mine is acts of service — there are many systems out there to get you started. For instance, words of praise are my primary love language, that’s like my vegetables, I need a lot of it or I suffer relationally and emotionally, but many people have touch as their primary love language, and when they aren’t getting the touch they need, they start to feel a craving. Many of us will dismiss that craving as being ‘needy’ or something they should be able to ‘get over’ or ‘do without’ – the damage of this is that failing to satisfy our true relational nutritional needs can be just as devastating to our health & well-being as ignoring our biological nutritional needs.
The Macro & The Micro
We all have emotional macronutrient needs, the things we need a lot of (the proverbial ‘meat & potatoes’ of your unique relational nutritional needs make-up) — touch or a certain kind of attention. With these, we need to figure out exactly what kind of touch and what kind of attention we want, as well as truly accepting that we need a LOT of these nutrients. Now, this doesn’t give us the right to demand that other people meet these needs, but we’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to pretend we don’t need them. Pretending to need less of your ‘meat & potatoes’ needs is a sure-fire way to implode your relationships quickly!
In addition to the ‘meat & potatoes’ macronutrient needs, we all also have micronutrient needs – the things we only need a little bit of & usually not as often. Maybe you really want to call all the shots, be on top & be the dom – but only infrequently. Or maybe you want to BE dominated in bed, but not every time & in other areas you want a more 50/50-style of relating. Maybe you like a LOT of closeness & connection, but have a micronutrient need for completely solo time. Micronutrients can also fall into a realm we’re a little more uncomfortable with, like prancing around in a unicorn outfit and high heels, BDSM, role play, power play, pain, etc…
This is the place things get really weird in a relationship, because we can often go for long stretches of time without getting our micronutrient need met; many of even try to convince ourselves these aren’t really needs because of this. But when we allow ourselves to become depleted in these ways, funny things start to happen.
We might crave something we don’t really want that much just to try to get the energetic need met – and when taken to its extreme, this is the place where people act out with dangerous behavior and/or have affairs.
For instance, if we’re wanting attention from our partner, sometimes we will poke and poke and poke until they get mad, and even though they get mad, we get their full attention and that’s how the need gets met. Or, if we have a micronutrient need for some form of degradation, we will create that in unhealthy ways in our relationships.
We often don’t ask for our micronutrient needs because we either don’t know exactly what they are, we think they’re weird (spoiler: they are….and so are everyone else’s), or we think we don’t really ‘need’ them – but we all need to take responsibility for figuring out what these are & for getting them met. Just because these are micronutrients, doesn’t mean they are not as equally important as macronutrient needs.
People will literally eat dirt when they’re craving a certain nutrient they aren’t getting enough of, and the same thing happens in relationships.
Determining Your Emotional & Relational Nutrients
The first place I see people get tripped up with this is imagining their emotional and relational needs are the same as other people. There’s truth to the idea that there are broad human needs, but the best place to start is noticing how you & your partner are different. Be willing to get specific (without attachment) about what it would it look & feel like if your needs were truly met.
Another place to look is your chronic complaints. Go deeper than the surface complaint: at the deeper level, what are you constantly craving? If you can let go of blaming others for not meeting your need(s), you have the opportunity to truly discover something about your emotional & relational nutrient needs.
It starts with introspection, looking inward and asking what you want and need. It doesn’t mean anybody has to give it to you, but be willing at least to admit to yourself the things you need in order to feel really good in a relationship. The piece about how your needs will get met is secondary.
Then, get playful: explore and experiment! Make it a fun, playful, light-hearted journey. Try different things and see how they feel. Be willing to explore & discover things you maybe didn’t know, and be surprised by yourself and your partner. Be willing to get it wrong – without shame or blame of yourself, or your partner!
The Bottom Line
We all have emotional & relational nutritional needs.
The first step to full emotional & relational health is discovering what they are – and distinguishing between your micronutrient & macronutrient needs.
Learning how to hear what you partner desires without taking it as criticism, or getting immediately defensive is key. This is such a beautiful area to practice generosity in our relationships & offer the people in our lives the love and care they need in order to feel good.
Step one is figuring out the things you need in order to function well emotionally & relationally, then step two is figuring out how to get them into your diet, not only in intimate relationships with but family and friends as well.
If you want to go into more detail (including more suggestions on ways to both discover your relational nutritional needs, as well as how to bring them more into your relational life – watch the full video below, and feel free to leave your questions in the comments section: