Why do I do things I don’t want to do?

Tune up Your Relationship by Writing down Your Needs

This February, in honour of the holiday people love to love – and love to hate – we at Shift are inviting your relationship challenges and for you to be needy.

Yes, you read that correctly. Here’s why.

Relationship challenges are a product of dynamics, right? And dynamics come about via the interaction between two people’s needs: lovers, colleagues, family, friends or acquaintances.

In that dynamic, if you don’t know what you need, you can’t advocate for it and set healthy boundaries.

That invites people to tell you everything you should be doing to make them happy. And that’s a one-way ticket to burnout, dissatisfaction and unhealthy relationships.

It’s easy to spend your day sipping on a smoothie of unmet needs (you know, the kind that turns gray because you threw too many ingredients in the blender) and decide you don’t like smoothies. 

Or you can do an inventory of what’s swirling around in that milkshake of discontent.

Spending time reflecting on your needs is how you figure out which ones correspond to your true values, goals and identity – and which are dysfunctional needs that you’d like to ditch with the help of a mental health professional. (We’ve got a protocol for that.)

Relationship Challenges

Plus, spending time assessing your needs gives you a chance to spell out any deal breakers, so that you don’t find yourself months into a relationship that was doomed from the start.

But before you dive in to figure out why you clash with your boss, can’t meet Mx. Right, or whether Mx. Sort-of-Right is right enough, you’ve got to start with you. You can only understand your needs in relationship to your partner’s, bosses’, colleagues’ or friends’ needs if you understand yours. Full stop. That’s when you can work to create healthy relationship boundaries

This activity takes work.

It asks you to dig into your needs around lifestyle, finance, religion/culture, communication, sex and intimacy, commitment, personality type and more.

Some answers may come easy to you, and some may stick to the bottom of your shoe (Hint: Give a little extra attention to whatever pink gunk breaks your stride).

But this healthy dose of self-knowledge pays off in several ways.

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - relationship challenges

First, it can be a road-map for therapy, pointing you towards parts of yourself you want to address and those you want to nurture. You get to choose which needs work for you – and which make you feel icky. It’s not about erasing yourself to get someone else’s approval. And it’s also not about holding onto those icky-feeling needs that might actually relationship because they play into the other person’s dysfunction. The relationship challenges never end!

For example, someone might have a controlling personality which means they’re best partnered with someone agreeable: One person packs the picnic; then both kick off their shoes and enjoy the champagne. Everyone’s happy.

But say the couple has complementary limiting beliefs, so that one person’s need to control stabilizes the other person’s need to feel protected. The picnic might start out the same way but end with tears in the key lime pie – and next weekend, they do it again.

These divergent scenarios illustrate that there’s no right or wrong to our needs. It’s just about developing the self-knowledge to inform and assess the dynamic. But once they are understood, the very thing that once bubbled up into sources of tension can become a fountain of mutual delight.

Take the example of a pair of clients with different love languages: Hers is gifts (specifically flowers), his is physical touch (specifically blow jobs). He doesn’t get why she’s so into zinnias, she doesn’t get why he’s so into fellatio.

Granted. But the common ground is that they both want to delight one another. So it’s in both their interests to meet the other person’s needs. In a way that feels authentic, of course. No one wants a perfunctory bouquet or reluctant head.

ShiftGrit Psychology & Counselling - relationship challenges

Once you have a comprehensive list of your needs, you’ll have three tools for dealing with others:

  • PERSONAL SCREENING CRITERIA: Whether you’re looking for a new partner, a new workplace or a new bestie, you’ll know what boxes they need to check to light you up. (Note: Signs of a healthy relationship include having at least 70% of your needs met – and, of course, no deal breakers.) It’s like creating a job description. If you’re trying to hire a psychologist, you shouldn’t pick a lawyer – even a world-class lawyer – because they won’t meet your needs. Huge time-saver.
  • RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION EVALUATION: If you’re currently in a relationship, use this tool to figure out where you’re in alignment and where you’re out of sync. If you’ve got less than 70% of your needs met, it’s a sign you need to re-evaluate. That doesn’t mean it’s the end – but some therapy, conversations, workshops, and introspection might be in order.
  • COMMUNICATION TOOL: One of the best payoffs of self-knowledge is when you can translate that into better understanding with others. Having an open and honest conversation with your partner about your respective needs can ensure the relationship feels delightful to both of you. Which is why we signed up for this, right?


Click the button below for a downloadable PDF of the activities exercise!