Relationships are hard when we look to them to get our needs met. It is inevitable that our partner is not going to meet our needs in some areas some of the time and in other areas consistently. And it seems that couples pick the perfect partner for not meeting their needs, or perhaps, we react in such a way that it is inevitable that our partner will eventually respond in a way that doesn’t meet our needs.
Rather than relationship work being focused on understanding each other’s needs and increasing expectations that our partner will meet our needs, what about instead, seeing the suffering created by the misunderstanding our partner can meet our needs?
When couples come to Angus and me for our relationship intensives, in our initial meeting we explore what the challenges are. This meeting usually consists of us hearing how their needs are not being met in the way they would like. They are often discouraged because it looks like with the personality their partner has it is very unlikely that their needs will ever get met to their satisfaction. Lack of compatibility is often confirmed and amplified through personality inventories like the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs and even horoscopes. Given the differences, it looks like the only hope for relationship satisfaction will come from each member of the couple learning how to communicate more effectively so their partner can understand how to change so they can show up in the relationship in a new way that effectively meets their partner’s needs.
This seems like an uphill battle. Fortunately, Angus and I don’t look in that direction. We are not architects for getting needs met. Instead, we look at what the source of suffering is.
Suffering comes from the disappointment of expectations not being met.
Freedom from suffering, therefore, is the result of accepting what is and letting expectations go. And the easiest way to let expectations go is to see they are made up. We make up our idea of how things should be. We impose our ideas on another person and then we feel hurt when the other person doesn’t measure up to our ideas of how they should be.
This is like me deciding I need Angus to be different in order for me to be happy. But if I believe I need him to be x so I can feel y, I am setting myself up for disappointment.
The good news is, experience doesn’t work that way. We don’t feel other people and their behavior. Experience comes from within. I am only ever experiencing my thoughts, and my happiness and safety are never going to come from Angus being a certain way. They can only ever be found within me, and they are found within you.
The more clearly this is understood the easier relationships become. When you recognize that wellbeing lies within your being and can’t be taken away from you by another person or circumstance, you relax. You are okay. There is no longer any need to be met by someone else. This takes the pressure off your partner ever being required to meet your needs. And as a result, the relationship will be much easier and more enjoyable.
Just like anything else, when the pressure is off people feel better and naturally behave better.
Waking up to the source of wellbeing being within allows expectations to be let go of.
Rather than this resulting in a horror show, it makes room for you and your partner to be yourselves in the relationship. Your partner will not behave perfectly at all times, and the truth is neither will you.
People often go to worst-case scenarios and present me with hypothetical circumstances that are usually not their life situation, but I will address that here. I see this as helpful even in an abusive relationship. The acceptance of what is allows for healthy decisions to be made. It is usually denial that keeps people in unhealthy situations. Accepting what is does not mean you won’t choose to leave a relationship. Accepting what is does not mean you condone what is. All it does is allow for honesty to penetrate your psyche. And recognizing that wellbeing lies within, helps you to stop focusing on the other person needing to change, and allows you to listen to your wisdom and to connect with your Self. You will then make the best decisions for yourself from there.
When there is room for your partner to just be him or herself in the relationship, this takes the external pressure off. And this is felt. When this happens people tend to show up at their best. We all know what it feels like to be in a flow state when we are just present. We are not caught up in thinking. We are relaxed. We are open and connected. We show up as our best selves. And we all know what it feels like when we feel pressure. We make mistakes. We miss the obvious. We can’t do basic things. In relationships, when people feel pressure the same is true. We are not our best. We tend to be reactive and blame our partner for our reactivity. We respond with judgment. We get defensive in the face of perceived or actual criticism. We resist perceived or actual attempts to be controlled. This behavior does not reflect the most kind, loving expression of ourselves.
For example, I had expectations for Angus to be kind to me and not be irritable or lose his temper. For the most part, this was not a problem. Especially, when I moved to London and was terribly sad. He was kind, loving, and supportive. He did try to cheer me up much to my annoyance, but I knew it was coming from his love. This was the man I married. Then after we married we moved to Los Angeles. With this move, Angus was no longer himself. He felt like a fish out of water and in his discomfort, his low mood showed up as anger and irritability. Unlike the compassion and kindness he showed me in London, he was angry and irritable at times, and I took his behavior personally. My feelings were hurt. I judged him as wrong. I criticized him. I told him he needed to change. He was unacceptable to me. Now, this might have started as just a few instances, but with my concerted focus of criticism and judgment, you can imagine how this turned into a more generalized occurrence in our relationship.
All of this looked very real to me. I had reasonable expectations to be treated a certain way in my marriage. I deserved to have my needs met!
It never occurred to me that my expectations were not only the source of my suffering, but they were also eroding the goodwill and rapport in our relationship. Essentially the way we related to each other was bringing out the worst in each of us.
In the face of my lack of compassion, Angus would justify his behavior. It looked just as true to him that if I were different, he would feel better and then there would be no relationship issues. He didn’t think his needs were being met either. As my upset, resentment and hurt increased, our physical intimacy decreased, and Angus’ resentment and hurt increased.
We were each stuck believing the other person needed to be different in order for us to be happy. We were incompatible because of our personality differences and incapable of changing those differences.
From the perspective of our needs and expectations, we were at a stalemate. My needs were not getting met. His needs were not getting met. And our attempts to get our needs met resulted in worse behavior from each of us. We each had a position and had dug in our heels.
Of course, there were times when we would get along and enjoy each other, but we would also have periods of time when the relationship felt intolerable and it looked like it needed to end because the suffering was too much.
Neither of us understood how we could love each other so much and be so unhappy.
The difference now is that we recognize our wellbeing comes from within, and the only time it looks like our needs not getting met is a problem, is when we are in a low mood. If I am feeling good and comfortable in my own skin, it doesn’t bother me if Angus does not behave perfectly. It only bothers me when I am already not feeling good and then I look to his behavior as the source of me not feeling good. As Angus says, I find a place to hang the cause of my low mood — his behavior.
It might appear to me that Angus’ behavior causes me to feel a certain way, but it is not true. My feelings don’t come from him. There are other times when he might do exactly the same thing and instead of feeling bothered by it I am neutral or feel compassion. So it can’t be his behavior that causes my suffering.
Seeing this was a game-changer in our relationship. When Angus was no longer responsible for how I felt, I only had one place to look — within. When I took him out of the equation, I saw my capacity to identify with, get caught up in, and amplify my own insecure thoughts. And, rather than Angus not meeting my needs being the source of my suffering, I saw it was me getting caught up in insecure thinking and resisting my experience that caused suffering. It was me forgetting who I am. Forgetting where to look for wellbeing. Forgetting that I am greater than my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and thinking that Angus needed to make me feel better by behaving a certain way.
The truth is, Angus is neither the source of my wellbeing and safety nor can he take them away from me. My wellbeing is always going to be found within. SEEING this is key. It is liberating. And so much easier than trying to get him to meet my perceived needs when he didn’t want to or isn’t able to.
And, of course, without requirements, demands, and expectations, the kind, loving, generous Angus shows up much more often. But this is not a strategy or a technique. It has to be genuine.
Explore for yourself what it is like to take the pressure off your partner and to look for your wellbeing within. Feel how freeing it is to be okay within yourself and allow your partner to be him or herself exactly as they are warts and all. See what this does for goodwill and rapport in your relationship. See how allowing room for humanness and imperfections in relationships actually brings out the best in each other.
Any time you feel your partner is not meeting your needs, forget about them and look within to your wellbeing first. Look to your true nature. Open up to your impersonal loving essence. Let the feelings of hurt and frustration be a reminder to take care of yourself by looking to your deeper essence. From there you will resource yourself, and from your resourced state, you will then see what, if anything needs to be done.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In this season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couples' intensives that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilding Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.