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Dating & Relationships

When Needs Go Unmet

You are doing the work. You have made a list of needs and wants. You have clarity on what you are calling in and manifesting for yourself. You know the kind of partnership that will fill you up, and you are ready to look for that. Congrats, you are growing, healing, and showing up for yourself, but unfortunately that doesn’t guarantee that you will get what you want (at least not right away). This article is about what to do with needs and how to tolerate when your needs are not met.

There are two major things you should know how to do with needs; express them and hold space for them.


Expressing a need is the skill of asking for what you need or want explicitly with discernment, clarity, and security. The important delineation here is that expressing has nothing to do with getting needs met. It is not important that you get what you need or what you ask for, it is important that you say your truth regardless. Expressing does not include expectation or manipulation of the outcome. Expression is purely the act and practice of saying what you need. That is where the skill ends.

It may seem simple but we hardly ever do it, so why? There is inherent risk in saying what we need when we are not guaranteed the outcome we want. It feels painful to express a need and then not get it met. It is uncomfortable, scary, vulnerable. We open ourselves up for judgement and other unwanted outcomes like pity, misunderstandings, ect. If the only reason to express a need is to get a need met, and we believe that expressing a need without getting it met is failure, then expression becomes risky.

Does this have to be the only way? No! What I am asking of you here is to separate the two. Separate the act of expression from the outcome of the ask. Believe that no matter the outcome, expressing a need is a necessary and vital part of being in your truth. It is an important action to do for yourself, full stop. with this new truth, the winning is not in how the other person reacts, winning is in the being able to authentically express regardless.

Separating the act of expression from the outcome of the ask is the whole skill. It takes practice and will feel harder or easier depending on the situation. It is much easier to do if you start with this skill from the beginning of a relationship and make that the standard. It is also easier to do when you ARE getting your needs met every time you ask for them. So what about when you are brave enough to ask and have done the work of separating the expression from the outcome, and then the outcome hurts anyways?

Let’s keep this example in mind when thinking through the rest of this article. The need is for an aligned romantic partnership with shared values and goals. The need goes unmet and elicits feelings of frustration, loneliness, hopelessness, or depression. There is no way to meet this need on you own.

Hold Space For Unmet Needs

I wish I could say that every time you stood in your truth, owned your needs, and were brave enough to express them that you would be rewarded with healthy, fulfilled relational responses and met needs, but it is not the case. There are lots of reasons why our needs go unmet and that is why we need to know how to handle the feelings of unmet needs.

Sometimes what we need is not available to us when we need it to be. A common response to this reality for people who have codependent patterning and/or anxious attachment wounds is to feel shame. We judge ourselves harshly for a need that goes unmet because we believe it to be our fault. We immediately regret the expression and we spiral down into a pit of feelings that say I shouldn't need this, my needs are a burden, I am too much. The reality is much more difficult than that. The answer is more complex with less closure; even though your needs are right and true, you wont get them met.

The skill is in holding those two truths together; I am right in needing and I will not get this need met; is in not allowing the feelings of the unmet need to change your position on your need. Admitting that a need is still a need when it goes unmet is such a powerful position to be in. This is what it means to hold space for and tolerate your unmet needs. Give yourself permission to feel what ever emotion comes up from the unmet need without judgement.

The space of tolerating our unmet needs may give us new perspective and teach us how to meet our own needs first. Often times, we can meet our whole need on our own by making a decision or doing an action that brings us into alignment. If that is not the case and you cannot meet this need on your own, here is what to do:

  • Validating statement: Say this to yourself, preferably in the mirror with your hand on your heart. “Your needs are valid and It makes sense that you would feel this way.” “You are worthy of having your needs met, and at the same, it is just not possible right now.” “This is hard, but you are capable of hard things.”
  • Commitment statement: Say this to yourself, preferably in the mirror with your hand on your heart. “It is more important to say with this need and the feeling of this unmet need than it is to change your needs to fit in.” “Expressing a need is important even when we don’t get the need met” “You are worth the time, energy, and effort it will take to get this need met.”
  • Boundary affirmation: When we don’t hold space for unmet needs, we tend to act in ways that are self-abandoning. We lower our standards, compromise our boundaries, and put ourselves in unsafe situations to get our needs met partially while ensuing all sorts of unintended negative consequences. Think of all the possible ways you may be at risk for compromising your boundaries on this unmet need and put an action plan into practice for holding strong. This could include healthy ways to get a partial need met like calling a friend, taking steps to meet new people, getting exercise, or talking to a coach or therapist.

Get More Support

These are hard things to do, and again, congratulations on doing the work and showing up for yourself. We get better at these skills by practicing in a safe container. If you are in need of a safe container to practice relational skills, consider my 1:1 Coaching Package to get started on being more authentic and creating safety in your intimate relationships.