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Are You Starving from Emotional Hunger
in Your Relationship?

Emotional Hunger can occur when one or both partners are not getting core emotional needs met. What can make this situation tricky is that there may be competing or opposing needs.

In this case one or both partners decides not to meet a need of their partner, because they feel one of their own key needs is not being met. This causes a stalemate where both partners become increasingly dissatisfied.

This can become a dangerous situation if not addressed over time as it is fertile ground for one or the other partner to begin to seek satisfaction outside the relationship.

The dangers of emotional hunger are just one reason why you want to begin to address this issue directly. It begins with understanding some of the key “opposing needs" that are common between men and women. When one or more of these key needs aren’t being met, the result is emotional hunger which, over time, leads to dissatisfaction with the relationship. It is important to be clear about what need is not being fulfilled.

Unfulfilled needs cause this emotional hunger.

Many couples assume a cause of their tension in the relationship is a difference in sexual desires. Sometimes this is true, but even within that category there may be emotional needs or emotional hunger caused by different needs within the sexual experience.

For example, one person may have a desire for more physical contact leading to orgasm, while the other partner has a desire for more communication or emotional intimacy through the physical connection.

This “mismatch" of needs could result in frustration for one or both partners because the strategy for getting this particular need met may be different for each partner.

We often have couples come into counseling assuming their problem is a difference in desire for sexual encounters. What we find as we look deeper is that there are a variety of emotional needs that aren’t being met, that lead to emotional hunger. Emotional hunger may cause one or both partners to lose interest in sexual connection. That is why this issue must be addressed first before we look at the issue of how much sex is or isn’t going on.

Let’s take a look at three basic potential tensions that can occur when needs are not matched.

1) The need for Autonomy versus Connection

Not everyone has the same need for connection. Some need more, some need less. This doesn’t mean that your partner doesn’t love you as much if he (for example) has less need to spend every moment together. Some people have a greater need for solo time, time with same-gender friends, or time to pursue fitness activities, hobbies, or even work tasks.

It would be a mistake to simply interpret one person’s need for more autonomy, or solo time, as a lack of love. This can be confusing, especially for new partnerships. The answer is to begin to have honest discussions with each other about the truth of your own needs, and your partners, when it comes to the balance of connection vs. autonomy.

People with a strong emotional desire for connection in a relationship like to do many things with their partner, big and small. They prefer to share tasks and make decisions together. Someone with a greater need for autonomy may prefer to just get a simple task done solo, and then come together for more playful purposes.

If you find that you have opposing needs in this area, you need to work on “win-win" solutions that allow both of you to get some of what you need. Agree together on ways you can both support each other’s core needs for autonomy and connection. Avoid compromises where neither party gets their needs met altogether, because this will only be a short-term strategy and will ultimately lead to resentment and/or passive aggressive compliance that later turns into secretive behaviors.

2) The need for Openness and Closedness

Not everyone has the same need for emotional intimacy, and sharing every thought and feeling. Some people need to feel that they and their partner are an open book and every passing thought or emotion is shared. Some people just need more emotional privacy. They don’t want to discuss every passing thought.

If you and your partner are reasonably matched in this area, you should consider yourself very lucky! For many couples, this is a process of adjustment, as each may have different habits, styles and preferences when it comes to the spectrum of sharing vs. keeping to oneself emotionally.

Again, don’t assume if you have a partner who is not as skilled or comfortable as you are in sharing every detail, that they don’t love you with equal intensity. They may just have a different style of preference when it comes to the amount, the duration, or the frequency of emotional sharing. But if you don’t discuss this issue, it can lead to emotional hunger, and a feeling of not really having a partner, even if that person is asleep in the bed next to you.

Again, find a non-argumentative moment to discuss this concept. Avoid making each other wrong for your style of openness vs. closedness. You are both right in the sense that you are both doing what you are comfortable with. But when you don’t understand your partner’s emotional style, it can lead to assuming there is a lack of feeling, and this leads to emotional hunger.

The danger with emotional hunger is that it can lead to acting out through use of other methods to try to get needs met, such as using food or drink to fill the void. Other compulsive behaviors can stem from unmet or misunderstood emotional needs, and in some cases, emotional needs can lead to infidelity,physical or emotional, in a vain effort to satisfy emotional hunger.

3) The need for Novelty vs Predictability

Some people love predictability. They love the feeling that comes from knowing what to expect. They love the sense of being able to rely on the past as an indicator of what is to come. These people love the security and comfort that comes from not having to guess or wonder what their partner will want, feel or react to in new situations. These people love consistency, reliability and dependability in a relationship. Without these needs being met, they may feel emotional hunger. Predictability is comfort for those who have a high need for this experience.

On the other side, there is the desire for novelty. People with a high need for novelty crave originality, freshness, uniqueness. They want to be surprised. They don’t want to know ahead everything that is going to happen. This means they need to experience new things, new ideas, new sensations. Growth and change are really valued here, and the brain is only stimulated with new things to see, taste, hear, touch, smell and experience.

These people don’t want to make love the same way each time, in the same room, in the same positions. When we are first dating, almost everything has the stimulation of novelty, which is a powerful aphrodisiac to the brain. This is one reason why new love is so much fun!

Even long-term couples need to find novelty. This is one reason why people want to travel, to experience novelty. Well, we also need novelty at home, right in our own room. This is one reason why men often want their women to surprise them with sexy lingerie!

You and your partner may have different needs for novelty vs. predictability. Get clear about your own needs for this, because not understanding what true needs are driving the emotional hunger will make it very difficult for you or your partner to meet those needs. It’s like trying to hit a target when you don’t know what it is.

The secret of all of this is to first understand your own emotional hunger. Then you want to begin to understand your partner’s. This can lead to some very productive conversations that are about the real issues that are going on. Otherwise, without this understanding, conversations can turn into push/pull arguments where each is trying to control the other and no one gets satisfied.

We all have emotional hunger. We can just learn how to handle it intelligently and compassionately. Once we understand where exactly is the itch that needs to be scratched, we can begin to truly meet our own needs as well as our partner’s. When both partner’s needs are being reasonably met, the relationship is strong and will withstand all kinds of challenges.

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