Assessing Anger Part 2: Unmet Needs in a Relationship

Assessing Anger Part 2: Unmet Needs in a Relationship

Assessing anger is a mini blog series examining the meaning of anger, how to manage anger and how it can play out in relationships. If you missed part one, read it here.

Part 2: Anger as an unmet need, desire or expectation

Frequent angry feelings toward your partner may mean that some of your needs have not been met. Our unmet needs, desires and expectations can include:

  1. Important and Reasonable
    Example: You want your partner to love you and respect you.
    This type is justifiable and reasonable.
  1. Reasonable but Unimportant
    Example: You want to eat Chinese food, and she wants Italian food.
    Although reasonable, this need/desire may not really be so important
  1. Impossible or Unreasonable
    Example(s): You want your partner to make you happy; you want him to fix your anxiety; you want her to want what you want.
    Some of these are not realistic or too general, and, therefore, cannot be met.
  1. Unspoken needs/desires
    Example: We expect that our partners will know what we need or want and we get angry when they don’t.

    We are not used to having to do the hard work of articulating our needs to ourselves first, and then, figure out a good time to make the request.

We live under the wrong assumption that it is not our job to train (teach, guide) our partners.

Guessing the needs of an infant is what a nurturing parent is supposed to do. For example, when a baby cries, a good enough parent has to guess the reasons for the baby’s discomfort. In the realm of an adult intimate relationship, this is not a reasonable expectation.

Why do we have unmet needs?

Here are some of the reasons why we may be not very good at anticipating and articulating our own needs:

  • It is easier to comply with the demands of our partners than make requests about our own
  • It is difficult to be vulnerable
  • It is risky to ask for what we want; we may get rejected
  • If we had to learn the hard way to take care of our own needs when we grew up, we either never learned to ask or we managed to bury them
  • We try to avoid making our partners uncomfortable

What can we do?

Try the following experiment:

  1. Make a written or mental list of what makes you angry
  2. Determine what need this anger may be expressing
  3. Determine to which category this need/desire belongs (reasonable, unimportant, impossible or unspoken)
  4. Practice making small requests of the reasonable and unspoken kind, one at a time

The issues underlying your anger and unspoken needs are complex. They cannot be solved by packaged formulas, but recognizing and voicing your desires can help you get on the right track.

Stay tuned or sign up for our newsletter to learn more on this topic. In the meantime, you can also read this post about what question to ask yourself if you struggle with anger.

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