love language Posts

Hierarchy of Relationship Needs

Hierarchy of Relationship Needs:

Recently I have been challenged to write down exactly what I do in couple’s therapy and in relationship coaching. It is a daunting task. When you have been counselling couples for more than 20 years, it seems more like an intuitive art. I am continually being educated every year with new research and I am a voracious reader. This adds to the complexity of what I actually do! I decided to use the model of Maslow’s hierarchy of need and make a hierarchy of committed relationship building skills (or needs – haven’t decided on a name yet) . The theory of Maslow’s hierarchy is that you must have the bottom of the hierarchy fulfilled before moving up the hierarchy. The bottom of the hierarchy is about survival needs such as food and shelter and moves up the hierarchy to the top which is self actualization. It is a useful concept and helped me to put down on paper what I actually do intuitively.

Let me give you an example that might help you in your own relationship. When a couple comes to see me, they are often in high conflict and may even be separated (research shows that couples often come to counselling 3 years too late!). They want help with the conflict but they have walls of self protection that are so high there is not a hope they can work together until they go back down the hierarchy. The bottom of the hierarchy is about creating a secure friendship, one that supports trust and a mutual attachment. Often I am sending the couple away with homework that begins this process by simple non threatening acts that speak the other person’s love language every day until we see each other again. The hope that there may be a possibility of feeling other feelings besides a numbness or anger helps to set the stage for the next level in the hierarchy. This first level includes all that we know about friendship in marriage from research, including, creating a culture of appreciation, creating a space in your mind for knowing your partner and staying up to date on their changing feelings, dreams, expectations, beliefs and perceptions about their world, choosing a positive mindset about your partner, creating emotional safety and of course, creating fun and romance together. Some couples dismiss this layer of the hierarchy and let time pressure and other pressing needs take over their lives (so easy to do) to the detriment of their relationship. One of the lines that I hear often when enquiring what this week’s date night might be in a couple who is just barely hanging on to their relationship is, ‘I haven’t really thought about it’. It is not just chance that the research talks about this first level as the foundation of relationships that actually work.

You might be much higher on the hierarchy then this first level, in fact, you may be at the top, where you are creating a legacy as a couple, deciding what you will give back from your life together. You still need to come back to this level when you notice distance occurring in your relationship or you are going through a difficult time. As in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, many today find themselves in financial difficulty, worried about their survival needs. In the same way, you may come back to this place over and over as life challenges you in your couple relationship in a variety of ways. In other words, when you are having difficulty in your relationship, go here first and make some changes at this foundational level. Go forth and be wonderful in your relationship today!

An Opportunity:
I am creating a course called, “Creating Exquisite Moments of Connection in Your Relationship” and need a small group of couples to do a smaller version of the course. This will be no cost and will require you to be available for 4 calls and time to do some activities with your partner. Please connect with me to see if your needs and the study are compatible.