Let’s talk about needs and desires. It’s the subject of a question from one of my readers, a husband who told me about a discussion he had with his wife. He’d expressed what he thought was a sexual need, but she did not see it that way.
His email then came to the crux of the question below:
Ultimately, the bigger issue – I think – that our conversation brought up was the question of what is a need verses what is a desire. They are so close, but yet subtly different; for me fulfillment of needs nurtures me at the core, the other doesn’t effect me emotionally if it does not come to fruition. I personally can think of sexual/intimate activity that I need on a regular basis; and there are other activities that I think are fun, exciting, erotic, and amazing — but I don’t *need* them, but definitely like them. So — how do we determine our needs (even as they change!) verses our desires (even as these change too! — and maybe become needs?) and how do we effectively fill those needs for each other when we don’t see it the same way.
I’m going to say something really unpopular, but here I go anyway: You don’t even need sex.
For a marriage and sex blogger, that seems like a crazy thing to proclaim. I mean, why would I spend so much time trying to convince wives, and couples, to nurture the sexual intimacy in their marriage if they don’t really need it anyway? Am I wasting my time?
By no means! I believe deeply in the significance of sacred and sizzling sex in the marriage bed. I’ve even said it’s inaccurate to call sex “the icing on the cake,” when it’s actually an ingredient — an important one.
However, I remember taking the popular His Needs/Her Needs marriage course, which has been revamped and is now presented as Marriage Helper. While there was a lot of good that came from that experience, I was always bothered by the potential of one spouse looking at the other and declaring about anything they want, “This is my emotional need. Now meet it.” Indeed, that wasn’t the core message of the course, but there was the potential for misuse.
After all, the first definition of need in Merriam-Webster is: “necessary duty.” Ugh, who wants to have a marriage filled with “necessary duty”? Of course we have obligations, but what we really desire is partnership, companionship, intimacy.
However, a couple of definitions down, we get: “a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism.” Okay, that sounds more like it. And I would then agree that sex is a requirement for the well-being of the marriage.Sex is a requirement for the well-being of the marriage. Click To Tweet
But when you talk to your spouse, which definition of need are they hearing: You owe me? or This is good for our marriage? I fear too many spouses hear the former.
And in truth, I don’t think you need any sexual activity in particular or even sex itself. That is, we don’t individually need to have sex. Yes, I know it’s listed on Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs:
But it’s not like food or water or shelter from harsh elements. You can survive without sex. So proclaiming that you have a need for some particular sexual activity can come across as exaggerated, or even melodramatic.
Besides, if you look back at Maslow’s Hierarchy, you’ll see that “sexual intimacy” is listed in the Love/Belonging category. So even if sexual release is a need, in marriage we’re aiming for sexual intimacy. That’s what God wants us to have.
I’m really drawing from my own life and marriage on this one. Years ago, when things were rough in our relationship, I thought I needed a lot of stuff my husband wasn’t giving me. And I wondered: Why isn’t he listening? Doesn’t he care about my needs? Doesn’t he want to meet my needs and show me love?
I look back at that wife and want to say, “Oh, get over yourself.” Had I shifted to expressing my wants, longings, and desires and then taking care to figure out and meet his wants, longings, and desires, I’d have been in a way better place.
The truth is that all my actual needs are met with basic physical care and safety and salvation through Jesus Christ. Everything else resides in Perksville.All my needs are met with basic physical care and safety and salvation through Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet
Thankfully, we have a generous God who wants your marriage bed to be squarely in the neighborhood of Perksville, Population 2. But if you express what you want sexually as a want, as a longing for greater sexual intimacy with your spouse, can you see that you might actually feel more grateful and encouraged and excited when your mate obliges?
I’m not saying that sex isn’t a need for your marriage. It clearly should be a part of your relationship, an important part, and neglecting one another’s desires can negatively impact the well-being of your marriage.
But it’s not a need for you. Or me. Or any individual.
So getting back to the original question of how to determine whether something is a need or a desire … I don’t know that it really matters. At least when you’re trying to ask for or convince your spouse to do something sexually. Using “I need this” language isn’t likely to get the response you want.
A better approach is “I desire you,” followed by what you want and how that makes you feel more connected to your beloved. Some acts will make you feel more connected, and some less so. And that distinction you can also express.
You could even use a How Important Is This to Me/You/Our Marriage? scale. Imagine a 1 being Not At All and a 10 being Makes Me Feel One Flesh. Then you can each rank on that scale how much you want, desire, long for a particular activity. That gets the message across to your spouse.
And if you want to use the word need — and it’s not a bad word at all! — then use it about your marriage. “Our marriage needs more attention to sexual intimacy. Our marriage needs more sexual frequency. Our marriage needs more pleasure.”
Because I agree that your marriage wants and needs sex. But as for you, and me, and everyone else individually? Maybe we should get over ourselves. We can live without, though we are blessed that God wants us to live abundantly — even in the marriage bed.