How to know what you need in a relationship

In an attempt to transform my relationship expertise this year (which may or may not be in preparation for a potential reunion with the boy who ruined my life), I’ve been listening to a few podcasts. A recent favourite was an episode by Shan Riley, who hosts Wholehearted. I’ll link the episode here. She talks about the six basic needs we have as humans, and how they affect our relationships. Whether you’re dating or single, it’s important to know what your needs look like and how you may fulfil them. Let me give you a run down.


The first of our needs is certainty. Certainty in your life is anything that provides stability – a routine, a well-paying & steady job, or knowing who you are as a person and what you believe in. In a relationship, it could look like trust and follow-through. It might also be knowing where your lives are headed, planning all outcomes to avoid risk, and preferring things to remain unchanged. It’s familiar feelings of comfort and safety. We all need these feelings to some extent.


Although counterintuitive, our second basic need is uncertainty. While we need certainty, we also need variety. Travel, new experiences, change, conflict, fear – these are all forms of uncertainty. If you can picture a person in your life who hardly strays from routine, I’m sure you can also picture another person who lives in the moment, goes with the flow, and adapts well to change. And this might be because they’re comfortable not knowing. In a way, it can be kinda exciting and thrilling.


Significance, the third need, is a feeling of importance – when we feel seen, wanted or needed by something or someone else. It’s pride, standards, discipline, achievements, rejection. I think this is the one that plays the biggest role in infidelity (though there are so many reasons as to why this could happen). Within a relationship, if your need for significance is not met, you might look elsewhere to fill it. This could be by spending all your time working (your job makes you feel important), or it may be finding another person who pays attention.


Love relates to the need for connection, passion, unity, warmth, and desire. We all need to feel love and connection with other people, whether that’s with your partner, friends, family, colleagues, or community. Like all other needs, the need for love can be satisfied through negative behaviours. People pleasing and codependence are two examples of this, and they’re actually quite common.


Learning new things, challenging yourself, putting yourself in uncomfortable situations to build strength and resilience – this is growth. The pull towards growth can be strong, but there may also be a tendency to withdraw from this. That’s because growing hurts – you have to be brave and move away from what you already know. Sometimes there can also be a fear around growing and leaving someone else behind. Growing as a couple is so important – learning from each other and working together builds a stronger connection.


Contribution is giving to others to support a cause that is bigger than ourselves. This is anything that may provide value – raising children, volunteering, donating to charity, creating videos of dads dancing with their daughters and posting it to the internet so that it makes grown women cry happy tears. You know, the usual. In your relationship, it closely resemble acts of service (if you’ve heard of the 5 love languages). This need also happens to fulfil all other needs in the process – it provides certainty, uncertainty, love, significance, and growth.

How we can fulfil these needs

According to Shan, the top four needs are essential for survival. Growth and contribution, however, are essential for fulfilment. And fulfilment leads to happiness. The best relationships satisfy all six needs. And, every person will value each of the aforementioned needs differently. If you don’t know what yours or your partner’s are, you should do two things: (1) reflect on what you know you value in your life and find your top two needs; (2) communicate with your partner to see what they value the most and what they need from you.

When I initially tried this exercise, I had no idea what my top two needs were. My favourite things to be are unaware and delusional. But upon deep reflection, I realised I did have a top two. I love routines and feeling safe, but I also get bored easily and need variety; I love to travel and have new experiences. Sometimes social situations scare me and having a difficult and honest conversation is something I fight the urge to actively avoid. But, while it terrifies me, I am always looking for opportunities to grow. When I feel like I’ve learnt the most I can at a job or in a place, I feel comfortable to move on. I love learning and the feeling of getting better at something. I also freaking love people. So, mine are growth and love. I hope this helps you to find yours.


Kait x

Cover photo by Anna Shvets