Countless American males are living in committed heterosexual relationships driven by the question: "Am I getting it right yet?" Our culture continues to drive home the message if males are emotionally bankrupt, then they are real men. One expression of emotional bankruptcy is not feeling emotional needs, unable to name them and consequently, unable to give them a voice. Hence, men cannot fully participate in an emotionally committed relationship. They are left striving to meet the emotional needs of their partners. This leaves a relationship emotionally disabled.
We understand and can feel the emotional needs of our partners because of the connection we have to our own. When that is not happening, men are speculating about their partners' emotional needs. They can only comply in some cursory fashion, leaving the female sharing in the emotional bankruptcy. The other unfavorable consequence is that men cannot define their partners as resources for meeting their own emotional needs. Emotional mutuality takes a serious hit. As men regularly feel inadequate about meeting the emotional needs of their partners, they typically become resentful, angry, act-out or withdraw.
The beginning place for men is to start learning about their own emotional needs. That can best be done where men gather for the purpose of exploring their feelings and needs and offering one another emotional support. I do not recommend this kind of learning take place with the significant female in your life. The goal is not to craft our emotional lives to resemble that of the women in our lives. Of course, this will call for a counter-cultural definition of manhood. It can be only too easy to ascribe this process to gay men. Having an emotional life has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Straight men as well as gay men have the right to have rich emotional lives. Since learning about emotional needs entails feeling them, naming and speaking them, the following list should help to name them.
To Be Witnessed and Accepted
It is a fundamental emotional need to be witnessed for who we are. Being witnessed happens as we feel seen and heard, and contributes greatly toward building rapport.
The connection deepens with the other as we feel accepted for who we are. This is especially true when we feel strong feelings of sadness, fear, anger and joy, or when we feel lost and confused.
Receiving acknowledgement happens as our feelings, beliefs and life experience become recognized. Acknowledgement goes a long way toward communicating that the speaker is heard and possibly understood.
The kind of affection desired will vary for all of us. The key is to identify the kind of affection that works for us. Some expressions of affection include: kissing, caressing, hugging, gentle stroking, verbal communication of love and appreciation, warm gazes and cuddling.
Nurturing is the first cousin of affection. We can think of nurturing as mostly practical demonstrations of care such as: being attended to when sick or excessively fatigued, receiving support in the way of someone running errands for us and helping with a variety of tasks, preparing meals, engaging in play, and non-sexual massage.
Encouragement is a key emotional need. It expresses that someone believes in us. It communicates their faith in our abilities, talents, resolve and in our character. Encouragement can be extremely helpful when we can no longer see and appreciate our gifts and strengths.
Appreciation expresses gratitude for our contributions, our thoughtfulness or simply our presence in their lives. It communicates the importance a person gives to us and how much they value their connection to us.
This happens on several levels. We may feel desired sexually. We might feel desired as a companion, as a co-parent, as a collaborator or share a common world-view or spiritual path.
Sex can be a very meaningful emotional need. At the very least, it expresses the desire to have two bodies be a source of pleasure and/or love. On a deeper level, the passion and tenderness can communicate a blessing of the our bodies and gratitude for the joy and warmth of the contact.
Feeling Chosen and Loved
Feeling chosen happens as we experience our uniqueness being cherished. It is obvious that during separation, we are missed and there is at least anticipation and possibly longing for time spent together. We get the message that who we are makes a meaningful contribution to the other's life.
The above emotional needs support the building of rapport and connection to significant others. As men feel, name and speak their emotional needs, they emotionally join their partners, interrupting the compliance mandate of "Am I getting it right yet?" That imperative is replaced by: "I choose to get my emotional needs met with you and I remain receptive to hearing what you need from me."