this is a transcript from a workshop on relationships

Let’s talk about communication in general and then how communication works in your relationship. When I was in high school, high school geometry, the teacher started the first day talking about how geometry is based on axioms. She said that there are these core axioms in geometry. She said “I’m not going to prove them. You just have to accept them as fact.” The only one I still remember is that two parallel lines will never intersect. Two lines perfectly parallel will go on for infinity, never crossing. And that was just a core principle. And a lot of geometry is based on that principle. In relationships, I’ve come up with about six axioms .  For now I want to focus on 3.

  • Every behavior springs from a need.
  • Needs are universal.  We all have the same needs.
  • Another person’s behavior is never about me.  It’s about their needs.

Primarily, the fact that every behavior springs from a need. When I say every behavior, I mean literally every action a person might do; scratching your nose, going on a date, getting married, climbing Mount Everest, jumping off a bridge with a bungee, every single behavior that a human being does has underneath it a need.  The idea is that all people are trying to do is be content, be happy in life, and we’re happiest when our needs are met. So it becomes imperative if you want to be happy you have to understand this concept of needs.

Now, the second principle is defining what a need is.  What the defining idea of a need is that needs are universal. We all have the same needs. And that’s helpful in the relationship element because if you understand that everybody has the same needs, you can begin to understand why a person is doing what they’re doing.

I do a couple of high-tech visuals in this group.

Holding up just my index finger I say “I need chocolate.”  If chocolate is not available, I get irritable, I get grumpy. Now, is chocolate a need?

Nope. It doesn’t meet our core definition.  I mean, Need has a very specific definition.

What’s the definition? It’s universal. So is chocolate a need? No.

Why is chocolate not a need? Because there are people that don’t like chocolate. Simple. Now, the good news is we’re working out a medication for these people because we know there’s something wrong with them.  They don’t like chocolate. But in the meantime, here is where it gets interesting. I know that chocolate’s not a need. So I want to know why I crave chocolate.  I trace my desire for chocolate (running my finger down the extended index finger, opening my fist and pointing at my palm) and I discover the need is comfort. I use chocolate to get my need for comfort met. And notice what happens with my hand (the other fingers extend). Instead of one choice, I have many. 

Without chocolate, I’m suffering. But when I discovered that it’s about comfort and chocolate is not available, maybe I can use frozen yogurt or ice cream or popcorn or a long walk or a hot bath.

So one of the beauties of understanding needs is that your choices open up. Does that make sense?  When I was working in the addictions field, I wasn’t interested in the alcoholism or the use of pot or even the use of cigarettes, because that was just the behavior. I wanted to find out is what the need was underneath it, what they were using that substance as a band-aid, as a fix for. Just like I was using chocolate as a fix for comfort.

So this is a kind of a fun thing to begin to understand. What are the underlying needs? Think about this for a little bit. What do you think some needs are that every human being has?  There’s a group of about 40 universal human needs.  To start with, there are five survival needs, including air, clothing, shelter, food, and water.  We all need those. Without those. You’re likely to die. But with any of the other 35 universal needs on the list, you won’t die if you don’t have them. You just won’t be happy.

So what are some other needs you think?  Would you think that Honesty in your relationship is a universal need?  Yes? OK, how about Love?  That’s a need, isn’t it? Every human being wants to feel loved.  What else?

“Compassion.”  Yes, that’s a need.  Respect.   Communication.   I agree.  Now someone mentioned being listened to, and I thought about it and decided that being listened to isn’t as helpful as being Understood.  Being Understood and Understanding the other; those seem like core needs.

By the way, if I list something here and you have never had the desire or the need for it, let me know because that wouldn’t meet the definition. Honesty?   I think so.

And then we’ve got needs like Space, or alone time, right?  Everybody needs space. And then we need Safety. We want to feel safe. The interesting thing about Safety is that it is a complex need. You can have physical Safety. You can have emotional Safety, you can have financial Safety. and you can even have spiritual Safety.

The man who taught me this, Marshall Rosenberg, would go to Israel and he would get an equal number of Palestinians and Israelis in the same room. He was told he was crazy because they were at war and everyone predicted it was going to be chaos. But Marshall believed that if you could identify the common needs, the universal needs, you can start a conversation. And what he found was that they all agreed on physical safety for themselves and their families; and spiritual safety, respect for their religion. They were all in agreement. And then they started a problem-solving conversation that went on for hours talking about how they could create a sense of safety, kind of cool stuff. And that’s the essence of what my writing is about  How do we create connection in our relationships? And we do that by identifying the common needs, by understanding what the needs of each person in the relationship are. So I have a list of 40 core needs, needs that are universal.

So if you remember, I said that going after our needs did what?. What was the reason why we went after needs? Happiness.  Happiness, right!  We want to feel happy.

So to flip that on its head. If you’re not happy, what’s the problem?  There is a need not being met.  Yeah. Beautiful. Now, here’s a kind of fascinating question. Whose job is that?  Whose job is it to get your needs met?  Your own. Yes! Not Your partners or your kids or your parents; not your teachers, nor your boss. It’s not their job to meet your needs. Why is that?  Because each of those people is doing the same thing as you; getting their needs met to be happy.  So the reason is that everybody is focused on their needs.

If your boss, if your partners focused on their needs, it’s not it’s no wonder that they don’t have time and energy to focus on your needs. Everyone’s primary focus is first on their needs.  And that is how it should be. 

Now, there’s an exception to this, and that’s the beauty of needs.  I believe that one of our core human needs is the needs of others. And by that I mean the needs of those people we care about. I love helping my wife get her needs met.  It’s one of my needs to support her and helping my kids get their needs met again. My grandkids even. It feels good. I want, need to be supportive of those people I love and care about.

Heck, I even love helping my dog get her needs met.  I don’t really want to get up at 2 a.m. and let the dog out, but I know that she could be suffering and so I get up. I don’t resent it. I know. But I do it because it feels good to help others.

Published by Jim Hussey

I am a licensed professional counselor, working in a hospital setting. I have been a meditator and teacher for 47 years, a therapist for 28 years and married for 29 years. My secret vice is golf.

One thought on “Relationships

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