Freedom to Love

When did "I love you" degenerate into "meet my needs?"

Posted Jan 20, 2021

To be free to do something, you must be free not to do it. We are free to love only to the extent that we aren't forced into it by the interpretation of vulnerable feelings as emotional needs. No matter how seductive "I need you" may sound in popular songs, the partner who needs you cannot freely love you.

The person who needs you is more likely to abuse you than to give freely of love and support. Most painful conflicts in committed relationships begin with one partner making an emotional request — motivated by a perceived "need" — that the other, motivated by a different "need," regards as a demand. Any disagreement can feel like abuse when the perceived "need" of one party crashes headlong into the "need" of the other not to be manipulated.

"If you loved me, you'd do what I want (or see the world the way I do)," one argues.

"If you loved me, you wouldn't try to control me," the other counters.

The problem is not in the language the couples use or even the content of their arguments, which is why communication and problem-solving techniques rarely help over time. As long as they perceive themselves to have emotional needs that their partners must gratify, their desire to love is reduced to "Getting my needs met," which the partner often perceives as, "You have to give up who you are to meet my needs."

The Perception of "Emotional Need"
An emotional need is a preference or desire that you've decided must be gratified to maintain emotional equilibrium. The sensation of need begins with an increase in emotional intensity — you feel more strongly about doing this or having that; as intensity increases, it feels like you need to do or have it.

Once the mind becomes convinced that it needs something, the pursuit of it can easily become obsessive, compulsive, and self-reinforcing. Obsessing about the preference or object of desire increases the emotional intensity and the perception of need — the more I think about what you should do for me, the stronger the perceived need grows.

Perceived emotional needs come with a sense of entitlement:

“I have a right to get you to do what I want, because I need it, and my right is superior to your right not to do what I want.”

They also have an inherent coercive element:

“If you don't meet my need, you'll be punished.” (The punishment is usually withdrawal of affection, but sometimes it’s abuse.)

Relationships driven by perceived emotional needs are likely to produce power struggles over who has to do what to meet those needs. 

Toddlers Have Emotional Needs, Adults Have Desires and Values
In contrast to perceived emotional needs, desires are positively motivated; if what you desire is based on your deeper values, the act of desire makes you a better person. For example, the desire to love makes you more lovable, i.e., more loving and compassionate.

Desire is appreciative, not entitled; if I desire something, I am more likely to feel appreciative of it than if I feel entitled to it. Much of the distress in relationships stems from the deterioration of desire into entitlement, which is what people mean by feeling "taken for granted." In contrast, relationships driven by desire and values engender a sense of meaning and purpose.