The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 2.1: Defining Needs and Desires

Our core values are an integral part of our needs and desires. Core values represent things we live by. They describe our credo, doctrine, or fundamental belief or practice. To a large extent, our core values drive our needs and desires, which comprise vital and necessary things we strive to attain for ourselves and for our relationships.

Beyond our core values, we all have basic needs we must fulfill and basic desires we would like to fulfill. In our romantic relationships, we define needs as our “must haves,” or “deal breakers,” or “things we can’t live without.” Some examples might include the need to share our lives with someone honest and trustworthy; someone who doesn’t drink excessively, doesn’t use drugs or excessive profanity, and shares our core values. In general, our basic relationship needs are static and do not fluctuate very much over time. They define specific criteria a potential romantic partner must satisfy in order for our romantic relationship to flourish. Our needs can be defined as physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Our highest priority needs are nonnegotiable, regardless of how blue his eyes appear in person or how voluptuous she looks in the plunging neckline of her silky black dress.

In contrast to defining our relationship needs, our desires constitute preferences or “nice to haves.” Unlike our needs, our desires can change and often do as we learn more about ourselves, acquire more life experience, and gain a better understanding of what we want in our romantic relationships. Our desires point to attributes we seek from our romantic partner but don’t necessarily have to have for the relationship to work. For example, a gentleman who is tall, dark and handsome or a lady with long hair and a button nose. We might desire these physical qualities, but if the person we meet doesn’t fit them, we make a judgment call and decide if their other virtues outweigh their perceived shortcomings. The same logic applies to emotional, intellectual, and spiritual qualities as well.

What one person defines as a need, another person might define as a desire and vice versa. In general, however, we all have basic needs we must fulfill in order to function in life. The late psychologist, Abraham Maslow, introduced a Hierarchy of Needs model. In Maslow’s book, Motivation and Personality, he describes his Hierarchy of Needs model in detail. To paraphrase the essence of Maslow’s work, we are each motivated by basic human needs. Maslow describes how we are motivated by these needs and how we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the most fundamental—see bottom of Figure 1, which deals with the biological and physiological aspects of our lives. Our subsequent needs build upon our foundation of biological and physiological needs for air, food, water, etc. When these basic human needs are met, we can then look to meeting our higher level needs for safety, belongingness and love, esteem, and lastly, what Maslow labels, self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs not only describes the categories of needs and the general content of these needs but also the order of importance in which our needs should be addressed. To paraphrase Maslow’s work, we must first satisfy our lower order needs—biological and physiological—before we can effectively concern ourselves with our higher order needs of personal development. In layman’s terms, if you’re starving, you’re focused on the need for sustenance and not your need for safety, belongingness and love. Taking this a step further, if you’re not able to satisfy your need for belongingness, and love, you can’t satisfy your higher level need for self-actualization, defined as a person’s constant effort to grow and develop his or her inherent talents and capabilities.

Borrowing from Maslow’s concept, I believe we follow a similar hierarchy with our needs and desires for our romantic relationships in such a way that if our “nice to have” desires are fulfilled but our fundamental needs are not, the pyramid will collapse, metaphorically speaking. And with it, so shall our meaningful and lasting romance. I expand on this concept by way of example.

First consider Figure 2, drawn to represent a hierarchy of relationship needs and desires I had defined for myself several years ago to describe the type of romantic relationship partner I wanted in my life.

Figure 2: My Initial Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

Obviously, Figure 2 looks similar to Maslow’s, as it should, because I assert that our desires should be built upon our relationship needs in a similar manner to Maslow’s model of building higher order needs on top of lower order needs. After much thought over several failed relationships, I came to realize how little free time I have, and how a lack of face time with someone, especially in the early stages of a new relationship, plays a critical role in getting to know someone on a deeper level. Therefore, I deemed the geographic distance between myself and my potential partner to be a higher priority desire than dating someone who fits my ideal physical image.

In my model of needs and desires, we cannot satisfy our desires without first addressing our mandatory needs. Remember, I’m talking about personal and relationship needs and desires, unlike Maslow who focused on basic human needs. I start with the assumption that your basic biological, physiological, and safety needs, as Maslow defines them, are already fulfilled. If they are not, then you should be focused less on striving for a meaningful and lasting romance and more on your basic human needs for food, shelter, security, etc.

Your personal model might only contain two primary steps, one for high priority needs and one for high priority desires. Or your model might have several steps like mine. If you have too many levels of needs, then you might be describing desires more than needs because the higher up you go in my model of needs and desires described in Figure 2, the lower the priority of your needs. Think highest priority need at the bottom with lower priority needs and desires near the top. Conversely, you might have several layers of desires ranging from things you would like to have to things you absolutely must have. In which case, a high priority desire might actually be a need in disguise.

Remember, our needs describe qualities we must fulfill in our romantic relationships—someone kind, funny, intelligent, handsome, etc.—whereas our desires describe our preferences for qualities we would like to fulfill—brown hair, good dancer, sharp dresser, etc. Recognize these are broad brush examples. Your personal needs and desires can encompass physical, emotional, behavioral, intellectual, and spiritual traits. To put it another way, you might desire a ruggedly handsome man, but need someone who listens well or someone with a caring disposition. Or you might decide you need or desire both from your romantic partner.

To some extent, everyone defines their own needs and desires differently. What one person considers a need, another person might label a desire. Furthermore, our needs and desires models are dynamic and subject to change over time as we learn more about ourselves and our relationship partners. While our strongest needs will stay static for the most part, our desires may change. Our priority of desires may change as well. Keep in mind, the picture itself is not important. There doesn’t need to be perfect symmetry between the number of needs and the number of desires on our list. Some of us have simple needs; others, more complex.

Figure 3 is another personal example of a revised needs and desires model.

Figure 3: My Revised Hierarchy of Relationship Needs and Desires

If you compare my initial hierarchy of needs and desires from Figure 2 with my revised hierarchy of need and desires from Figure 3, you will notice my highest priority relationship needs did not change over time. Namely, my need for someone who doesn’t smoke, drink excessively, or use drugs. On the other hand, as I dated more and thought about my needs and desires, I decided to add a high priority need for someone who does not want to start a new family. These needs are deemed most important to me. Of course I’ve omitted other equally, or even more important needs, for the sake of brevity and privacy. My point is, our highest priority needs should form the foundation at the base of our own needs model. For many of us, our highest priority needs are obvious and derive from our own values, beliefs, morals, and personal preferences.

As we move up the ladder, so to speak, our next level of needs might not be as obvious. This is due, in part, to the thin line between our lowest priority needs and our highest priority desires. For example, in Figure 3, I state my partner must not want to have more children. For a period of time, it was my high priority desire to not father more children. I very much love the children I have, and in the right circumstance, I could see myself adoring a stepchild as one of my own; however, at this stage in my life, I don’t feel the need to father a newborn child. Therefore, I have a relationship need for my partner to mirror the same sentiment toward not wanting more children. Over time, my desire for not wanting more children shifted from something I might be willing to reconsider—as desires afford us this latitude—to something I would not be willing to reconsider. I no longer had a preference to not father more children—I had a need to not do so.

Putting theory into practice, I can tell you my low priority desire for common interests in music, movies, etc.—from Figure 3—would be meaningless without satisfying my highest priority relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke or use drugs. In other words, a romantic relationship with a woman who satisfies every single one of my stated desires would fail miserably if she enjoyed smoking crack. Granted, that’s an extreme example. In reality, I would never date a crack addict, and by definition, I would not be able to satisfy my relationship desires without having first satisfied the relationship need for someone who doesn’t smoke and doesn’t use drugs. Unwritten in my model of needs and desires is the notion of needing someone who shares the same core values, as I will never again involve myself with someone I deem untrustworthy or mean spirited.

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