Core Emotional Needs

Ryan and I have been going to couples counseling for the last several months. It’s something we’ve been meaning to do for years, even before we got married. And it’s something I’d recommend to any couple, even if you don’t think you have any issues in your relationship. It’s just nice to have an objective person in the room to help guide you.

One of the first things our therapist focused on was helping me and Ryan identify our individual ‘core emotional needs’. As the name suggests, these are the top, most important emotional needs that must be met in a relationship in order to feel trust, connection and fulfillment.

The exercise was illuminating. Not only did it help separate the ‘must-haves’ from the ‘like-to-haves’, it also made it clear that Ryan and I have different core emotional needs. I would think that a lot of couples do. The problem was that we were giving to each other what we needed emotionally, not what our partner needed.

And this is where the exercise was also very validating:

I will admit that I am spoiled by Ryan. Whether he is taking a 2-hour public transit ride to surprise me at rehearsal or letting me get away with doing less than half of the housework, Ryan treats me better than most husbands treat their wives and forgives a lot more than most husbands would. And so I felt crazy and selfish that I wasn’t completely happy in my marriage.

But the thing is: while I was spoiled with a lot of great things from Ryan, some of my core emotional needs weren’t being met. And it wasn’t his fault — he didn’t know my needs; even I wouldn’t have been able to suss out these needs before doing the exercise with our therapist.

And this is a long lead up to say that I think this concept of core emotional needs can translate over to our professional lives, as well. When I reflect on my last few jobs, especially my most recent position at Facebook, I remember constantly beating myself up for feeling unsatisfied. I was being paid a lot, I had amazing benefits, I didn’t have work particularly long hours. What was wrong with me that I was so unhappy???

You know where I’m going with this — my core emotional needs weren’t being met.

I’ve done a lot of career exercises in the past, identifying the parts of my jobs that I like the most. These are the things that energize and inspire me. But now I’m thinking that I have to dig a little deeper. Maybe it’s not enough to itemize the aspects of a career that I enjoy; I must find those things that I need.

And a lot of my core emotional needs in my marriage probably translate into my career: 

  • Empowerment: In my personal relationships, I like to feel like I have an effect on people. Whether that’s motivating someone or giving them butterflies, I get satisfaction from this feeling of power over other people. I can see how I might have this emotional need in the professional sphere, as well — this need to feel like my work is having some type of effect. It’s probably why I started my career in the non-profit sector.
  • Recognition as Special/Unique: This need was two-fold — not only does it entail needing to feel like I fulfill a unique role in my romantic partner’s life, but I also need public recognition from my partner for how special I am to them. I can definitely find parallels in my work life. I had always felt happiest when I have a special skill on my team that others didn’t and always enjoyed shout-outs at work.
  • Safe Danger/Adventure: I like fun surprises, exploration, trying new things … but without too much risk. And I know in my professional life, I definitely need that variety as well, but I get overwhelmed if I’m pushed too far outside of my element.
  • Security/Planning: In my romantic relationships, this need means that I feel like my partner and I are working as a team to plan for the future, and that it’s not just me doing all the long-term planning work.  And I can see this group-planning aspect being a need at work. I always enjoyed brainstorming and working as a team in my past jobs.

I definitely want to do more reflecting on my core emotional needs in the professional sphere and see if more bubble to the surface. With these identified, I might be able to better navigate and focus my future career exploration in the upcoming year.

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