“I don’t know, he talks excessively about him, he doesn’t hear me!”  “He started to discuss his ex-wife, well they are technically in a separation and I felt uncomfortable!” “I told him I believe I found Jesus, and he asked me – where did you find him, I felt this was a red flag”

The above are actual quotes from women who I coach, regarding the men in their lives.  The women are all mid-forties, in recovery from alcoholism and addiction.  All are newly single, and dating.  They are dating while going through a new phase of their being – a sober, spiritual being.  Between them, they have years of wreckage of past relationships, and marriages.  So, I ask them – Did you make your needs list yet? And they reply – “My what? – oh that, no not yet”.  My point exactly.

What is a needs list?  Well, let me back up.  Many of us bring our wreckage from a past relationship into the new relationship, and I don’t believe we do it intentionally.  It’s more less an unconscious effort.  It’s all we know to do.  I know for me I met my first husband when I was 21, we courted over coronas at the nearby hotel lobby happy hour.  We jumped into bed, then into living together, and then into marriage and kids.  I never stopped and asked myself – what are my needs in a relationship? I would have never thought like this at that age.  Most people probably don’t.  However, after a divorce of 11 years and 3 kids later, I had to get honest with myself about what I wanted in the next relationship, what worked for me.  This wasn’t intended to be a self-consuming question, as much as a good way to avoid taking a hostage into a relationship because I unknowingly settled again for things which didn’t contribute to my happiness.

How does one get to the bottom of what their needs are in a relationship?  The first instruction is review the past failed relationships.  Look at the bad and the good in the relationships.  A relationship only continues because of good feelings in the beginning, the relationship had attributes which organically enticed us to keep coming back, things which we enjoyed. Likewise, the relationship ended, which means there were things we didn’t like, and these eventually outweighed the things we did like. Reflect on all relationships, the good and bad in all of them.

Instruction number two: create two columns on a piece of paper.  The heading on the first column is the “I liked stuff”, the heading of the other column is “the stuff I didn’t like so much”.  Then begin filling in each column.  Seems simple.  The key is to be completely honest with yourself.  Don’t allow justification of how you think you should feel stop you from being completely honest in these columns.  If it makes you feel better, no one else will read this, only you.  Let me get a little detailed here.  For me, I had a belief when I was younger that looks didn’t matter, it’s what is on the inside that matters (ever hear this?).  Now, I would love to say this is true for me, however it’s not.  I need my partner to be attractive to me.  This means, he needs to take care of himself physically -yes I am only discussing outside appearances here.  The reason I am being forthcoming on this is because this one issue could be assumed to be shallow to discuss or admit – BUT if it’s not admitted, I could end up in a relationship where I am physically not attracted – then what is the sex going to be like?  Sex is a big deal – we all have sex issues – we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t.  So, I need someone who isn’t overweight and a slob.  Simple, but a very important need of mine.  Might be shallow to some people, but I’m not looking to have a relationship with “some people” only someone who is frickin’ hot to me!

Now, how did I discover this need?  Well, I reviewed past relationships and had to admit what I didn’t like in my partners, and one of them tended to battle weight problems, there was no muscular definition, and no real desire to focus on this for whatever reason.  And, we lacked a lot of passion and sex.  I would like to have both of those things in my relationship.

One more example, for me I am a recovered alcoholic and addict.  I am very active in my emotional, spiritual, and physical growth.  I work a sobriety program in the rooms of AA.  This is who I am.  I needed a man who also was sober and in the rooms, and worked a sobriety program.  For me, it makes me feel emotionally safer with someone who knows the crazy I could experience between my ears, for someone to understand it’s temporary because I am willing to work on it.  Therefore, I need someone who works hard at emotional, spiritual and physical sobriety.  Now, here is the detail – I mean WORK a program – that means service to others, none of this lip service where he shows up at meetings, and never helps anyone, only takes from the meetings and never gives back.  Not the guy who believes one 4th step is enough for his entire sobriety, and then never calls a sponsor or mentor for feedback because he is in step 10.  My need is very specific and I’m o.k. with that.  Where did I get it?  My first husband was sober and dry.  It was difficult working on a marriage which felt like I was working by myself.  I need a partner who is willing to stay connected to their growth.  This perhaps is the top deal breaker for me.  There is always hope when both partners are willing to look inward and bounce things off others for a different perspective.

It might feel like most of your needs will come from the “didn’t like so much” column, but there were a lot of good in my past relationships.  My first husband has a great sense of humor.  We laughed a lot together – this is a need of mine.  The point being, take your time and reflect.

Instruction number three:  when engaging in a new date, a new relationship review your list and ask yourself if the needs are being met, have they changed, or are you compromising.

The ladies I mentioned at the beginning of the blog came back with the following once we discussed their dilemmas.  1. “he doesn’t listen to me” – need – she needs someone who listens to her, and can emotionally engage – they are in counseling together and individually to help with their issues – this issue is now on the agenda.  2. “ex-spouse – really separated, it bugs me” – we discussed acceptance with the relationship she chose, she knew going in his circumstances, to cut him off when he wants to discuss it isn’t a nice or kind thing to do, we discussed her being watchful of taking a hostage in case she discovers she jumped in too soon before knowing her need around dating someone going through a divorce with kids – work in progress.  3. “I found jesus – he asked where, red flag” I discussed with her the importance of him being on the same religious page as her – why was it important? Is it because she wants him to go to church with her?  Is it because she wants to have theological conversation with him and feels he needs to have the same opinions to do so?  Would him having a faith in a god of some sort suffice if he was willing to go to church?  She admitted she doesn’t even go to church every week, she realized she had never thought about it, she just knows she believes in Jesus.  More to come on that one as she dives into this need of hers.

If you are someone in a relationship and it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps it is time to look at you, and what you have brought to the party.  I would start there vs. starting on where your partner doesn’t meet your standards.  This is where I began with my relationship journey.  (No, you might not end up with a husband #1 like me!) You might not know your standards; you might be blinded by the day in and day out of living together.  A counselor or mentor could be of great assistance – or you can reach out to me and one of my programs to provide guidance.  I encourage you to keep an open mind, there is always hope.

For the rest of you, a flourishing relationship always requires two willing parties, but if you have avoided attracting what you want and need, it could be because you never stopped and asked yourself these questions.  Your future partner might end up failing you, simply because you didn’t realize your picker was broken.   A little introspective work will go a long way.  This work can be applied to all relationships in your life – work, health, kids, etc.  More to come on that later.

Have a nice day, and enjoy the journey! You only have one!


Susan Denee

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