A Way to Show Love to Your Spouse–and Meet their Emotional Needs

by | Jun 19, 2019 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

An Easy Exercise to Meet Each Other's Emotional Needs

How do you show love to your husband? How does your wife want to be loved?

Our monthly theme for Wednesdays this month is about small, practical things you can put in place that can seriously help your marriage and help you to feel really close. Like, what are the small things that give the most bang for the buck, so to speak? We started off by showing how the “Five Whys” exercise can help you uncover the root of a lot of your problems, so that you don’t assume that it’s just that your spouse is doing something wrong or is a bad person (or that your relationship is in trouble!).

Today I want to talk about helping your spouse feel loved.

Many of you are probably familiar with the five love languages idea–that idea that says that all of us have certain “love languages” by which we most experience love, and we tend to try to show love in those same languages. The problem is that your spouse may not speak the same love language, and if you’re trying to show love in your love language, they may not actually feel loved despite all your best efforts.

It’s based on Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, and it posits that most of us experience love best in one of these five ways (though another way could be a close second):

  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Physical Touch
  • Gifts

I want to take us beyond the five love languages today with an exercise that is easy, relatively quick, and can change the whole dynamic in your marriage. And thank you to FamilyLife Canada for the ideas behind this exercise!

We don’t just have love languages; we also all have deep emotional needs, or ways that we most feel complete and satisfied in a relationship.

I won’t list them all, but here are just a few that may resonate with you:

  • Security: I need to feel safe and secure, like I’m your only object of affection
  • Affirmation and Encouragement: I need to feel like you believe in me, and that you think I can take on the world
  • Conversation and Communication: I need to feel as if you are opening up to me and sharing things with me.
  • Affection and Touch: I need your touch to feel connected to you.
  • Priority: I need to feel as if I am the most important thing in your life.
  • Partnership: I need to feel like we’re a team; that we raise kids together; that we do housework together; that we have shared goals; that we plan and vision together.
  • Shared Activities: I need you to do things with me. Without you, I just don’t enjoy activities. You’re my best friend.
  • Spiritual Health and Well-Being; I need to feel as if we can go to God together, and that we’re growing spiritually together.
  • Physical Health and Well-Being: I need to feel as if we’re being good stewards of our bodies and we’re being healthy. Fitness and health are important values to me.
  • Sexual Satisfaction: I need to feel as if you desire me. Being sexually connected with you is one of the big ways that I feel close.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and the truth is that ALL of us need all of these things to a certain extent. But ask yourself: “When I’m upset with my spouse, what is usually the root cause? What am I feeling like I’m not getting?” Chances are that’s an unmet emotional need. And feel free to add a need if you think there’s something that’s more “you” but it isn’t there.

Now, for the exercise that I’m going to suggest, we’re going to take sexual satisfaction off of the list. It’s not that it’s not important; it’s just that it’s in its own category, in many ways, and I’ve got more posts coming up and all over this blog (along with challenges like 31 Days to Great Sex or my 24 Sexy Dares) that deal with these!

Do you find it hard to talk about SEX?

Want to try new things–but don’t know how to start?

No more wondering how to talk about what feels good or what you’d like to try. This fun challenge will get you talking and trying new things without the awkward.

So here’s what I want you to do: Get together with your spouse and read through that list and think of the two emotional needs that are most important to you. Then think of your love language as well (it could very well be that your love language and your emotional needs overlap!).

For instance, my deepest emotional need is for Security. Likely because my dad left when I was so young, I yearn to feel like Keith is taking care of me, that he has my back, that he’s always going to be there. The problem is that I also have a strong justice side, where I get incensed when people are misusing others, and I want to fix it. So I’m forever marching into battle, and then I’m yelling at my husband, “Hey! I need you to be here and make sure I’m safe!” It’s not exactly a great combination.

Keith, on the other hand, really needs affirmation and encouragement. He needs to feel as if I really respect and love and admire him.

I’ve also got a secondary need for Partnership; he’s got a secondary need for Shared Activities. So we’re not on the same page for many of these things at all!

But when you don’t share the same emotional needs, it’s quite likely that you each will feel as if your emotional well can run dry in marriage.

Even when we share the same need, we may get so busy and preoccupied that we forget to show our spouse! So let’s figure out a way to do that.

I first did this exercise a few years ago, in my post on 25 ways to show your husband love, and I want to revive it again, because it’s an important one.

So with your emotional needs in mind, each of you write down 15-25 quick things that your spouse could do to make you feel loved. There are just a few rules:

  • They have to be free–or at least extremely cheap (say under $3)
  • They have to take less than 10 minutes (ideally 1-3 minutes)
  • They have to have nothing to do with sex

(I know some of you may really want the sex part, but trust me: Sex works better when you each feel loved and emotionally connected! And when sex isn’t great, sometimes if we start by rebuilding the relationship, sex can grow).

Here, for example, are some that help me with my need for security:

  • Read my blog posts and take note if there are any nasty comments to talk to me about
  • If I’m upset about something, express righteous anger on my behalf when appropriate
  • Tell me that you love me frequently
  • Hug me hard before you leave the house

For Keith, here are some that are important to him:

  • Greet me when I walk in the door and give me a kiss
  • Tell me that you’re proud of me, especially when other people can hear
  • Come with me on bird watching hikes (okay, that one takes longer than 3 minutes, but it’s fun anyway!)
  • Ask about my hobbies and listen as I share stories of what has recently happened

You get the picture. And you can likely come up with more of your own!

Show Your Spouse Love! Make lists to exchange, and then do them! To encourage the non-sexual side of marriage--which feeds the sexual one! :)

And if you want a printable worksheet that can help you work through this challenge, I encourage you to check out the free resource below:

Then exchange lists. You can even just take a photo of it and store it in your phone for easy reference.

And now commit to doing 2 things a day on that list, no matter what.

Keith and I started this “show your spouse love” exercise when we were grieving our son

We’d been going through a tough time after Christopher died, and a counsellor suggested this exercise. It helped us get out of our own heads and focus on the other person, which helped change the dynamic of the relationship. We felt like the other person did care, and was reaching out. And that made a big difference.

Can you try it? Just make up the lists tonight after dinner. And then see how it impacts your marriage!

An Easy Exercise to Meet Each Other's Emotional Needs

What’s your biggest emotional need? Is there one that I missed? Have you ever tried an exercise like this? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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17 Comments

  1. Chris

    I would say mine is priority. So glad that one was on the list! The highest i can ever get in my wife’s priority list is somewhere between spots 25 to 30. It can be really frustrating.

    Reply
  2. Natalie

    Wow, I’ve never seen any sort of marriage counseling/strengthening material out there that actually lists separately “Physical Health and Well-Being” as a need or a pillar of a solid marriage! But in my experience, it TOTALLY is and should definitely be listed as such more often! Literally every single argument or fight my husband and I have ever gotten into in our almost 5 year marriage has been about his weight & how he treats his body. All our problems go back to that issue of ours (& also how his weight effects me as well as him mentally and emotionally).

    Right now in my marriage, I’d say that’s my #1 need from my husband: I need to see serious changes and improvements on his part concerning his diet and exercise/lifestyle choices so I know he not only values me/our family & our future together and wants to do everything in his earthly power to be with us as long as possible (which you could say also tie into Security, Priority and Partnership), but also so I know he feels like I’m still important enough to him that he needs to woo and pursue me on a daily (or at least a weekly) basis, which speaks to my need for Quality Time and also Sexual Satisfaction). I feel like he just let himself go once we got married (which he agrees he did, as many people do) & now I get the rotten leftovers my husband has to offer… like I’m not worth the time and effort it takes to do the things needed to flirt and “date” me now that we’re married (& there is definitely a physical/sexual component to that as well!). Not to mention that him being closer to the same level of physical fitness as me would also open up A LOT of new options for Shared Activities, since right now we basically have none except for caring for our two small children when we’re both at home (otherwise taking them out & doing activities outside of the house falls pretty exclusively on my shoulders) and going out to a fine dining restaurant once every one or two months (something we’ve both always enjoyed doing… we’re foodies, though I don’t let food rule my life like he does).

    Thanks for the great post, Sheila! Hubby and I are definitely going to review the worksheet and discuss tonight! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Natalie

    Also, you know how the 5 Love Languages has an actual online quiz you can take to see how your love languages break down? Is there something comparable online for this, like an Emotional Needs quiz?

    Reply
  4. Phil

    My wife and kids have been traveling while I stay home and go to work. They go for 2 weeks every year and I am home alone. Each year I learn new things about me and my marriage. Whats my number one emotional need? When my wife is away I like to talk to my wife for a long period of time even up to an hour. I want to feel like we are a team and we are building our marriage and our family together. So regardless if she is home or away I want to talk. One time along time ago my wife and I were fighting while we where on vacation at the beach as a family. My wife saw a man she knew from work and went over and talked to him for quite a long time. I wasn’t jealous. It wasn’t like that. You know what I noticed? I just like how my wife talks to me and that day many years ago I saw one of the features that attracts me to her. She knows how to talk to a man. Thats my number oner 👍🏻

    Reply
    • CS from NY

      I think this would be good for helping me learn more about my wife’s needs. She says she has no idea what her love languages are, so I’m always left stumped on how to make her feel loved. She doesn’t seem to respond when I try to emphasize each particular one.

      I’m hesitant to go through this list with her though because I don’t feel right talking about my needs. I’ve always been taught that a husband’s purpose is to take care of his wife’s needs, treat her better than you treat yourself, but not to ask for or expect anything in return because I should go to God for my needs. Her needs are just more important and matter more than mine. Besides, I’m supposed to sacrifice for her, even to the point of death, and that includes any needs I might have. Talking about my needs seems wrong. If my needs aren’t getting met, that’s my problem, not hers.

      So I’ve done my best to take my needs to God, or just ignore or kill any needs I have, because I don’t want to be selfish and impose on my wife. And thinking or talking about it usually makes me feel uncomfortably over emotional and I don’t want to put that on her and look like I’m trying to be selfish or manipulative by getting teary.

      Reply
      • CS from NY

        That should have been a general comment, not a reply to Phil. I don’t do well on mobile devices. 😀

        Reply
  5. Nathan

    CS from NY, I kind of came from a similar place. Nobody ever sat me down and specifically told me that stuff, or gave me a list, but from what I saw around me, I grew up thinking that the purpose of the husband/father is to do for and sacrifice for his wife and kids, to put their needs first always, and that nobody will ever sacrifice or do for you. You, as the husband/father, must orient your entire existence around serving others while others never need to return the favor.

    The one exception (I was taught) is that in exchange for this, your wife will have sex with you whenever you want.

    I no longer believe either of these things, but it’s hard to overcome a lifetime of that.

    Reply
    • CS from NY

      Yeah, and add to that, I’m ultimately responsible for anything bad in the relationship; men just don’t do relationships as well as women, so any issues are my fault. I guess men are just more sinful when it comes to relationships.

      This isn’t based on anything she says, just the way I was raised and counsel the general messages I heard in church about relationships.

      But no, I know she doesn’t owe me sex. I’m just awful at wooing her. After 20 years I still have no idea how to get her to desire me, but I can’t be selfish about it.

      That’s what I like about this website; it helps me to learn more about how to serve my wife, meet her needs, and bring her pleasure. I just struggle to not do it the wrong reasons, because I want to capture her attention, and instead do it just to love on her.

      Reply
      • Natalie

        CS from NY and Nathan:

        It makes me so sad to hear from the male perspective all the false teachings and ideas that have taken root in our minds and that manifest themselves in our marriages. 😔 There are just so many! I too am so very thankful for this blog and how it does so much to set the record straight.

        Something our marriage and sex therapist/counsellor has told my husband and I that really resonated with us (well, me in particular) was that you can’t take care of or change or make better anything or anyone except yourself. As evidenced in my comment above, I tried for years to change my husband’s lifestyle choices. Heck, he’s even said that my healthy lifestyle and how I tried to enforce it on him was one of the things he liked about me and why he wanted me to be his wife: he thought that o could change him so he wouldn’t have to work so hard to change himself!

        We can seek to understand our spouses and show them more love and understanding and kindness. But ultimately, they need to figure themselves out first and work on themselves while we do the same; we can’t figure out their love languages for them and try to improve our marriage on our own. It takes two, and those two need to work on themselves before (or during) the marriage will improve and blossom. Mutuality is key in marriage as a whole, not only in the marriage bed concerning pleasure.

        Reply
        • By grace alone, a child of the King

          Natalie you sum things up very well. If I may add that a healthy emotional connection in a marriage relationship is key to having all other interactions fall in place with much less effort.
          I can truly relate to CS from NY and Nathan with never knowing why and the inability to formulate it in my mind or in words like these guys have. Being raised in Christian homes why my wife and I had so much conflict in our relationship baffled me for years.
          Of recent I learned of attachment theory; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjOowWxOXCg&feature=share. Finally after the 40 years I’ve been in relationship with my wife I’m learning why I keep unintentionally doing the destructive things I do in my relationship that keep hurting the very people I love so dearly. I truly resonated with the above video because I lost my dear mother when I was 17 after a 11 year battle with sinus cancer in the late 60’s early 70’s (at the time she was told she had 6 months to live). I lived with the uncertainty amongst other things of never knowing if my Mom would be alive when I came home from school, a very emotionally destructive anxiety for a very young child to deal with, and if no one helps you to appropriately seek comfort in relationships you will find coping mechanisms in “things or activity’s” and make your own assumptions and world views that are unhealthy that can be very distructive. My Father was busy dealing with his terminally ill wife and never knew how setting his children aside would profoundly effect them for life. I learned very early that feelings and emotions hurt a lot and to cope and numb the pain I stuffed them deep in side and became task oriented, “lots of work to do on the farm”. When my wife who also came from a Christian home where things were difficult married, we did what we could with our childhood wounds to cope and raise our family of 9. Things were very busy, she at home with the children alone a lot because I thought I was doing the right thing working hard “still numbing the pain hidden deep inside which I never knew was there” to provide so she could stay home and raised the children. And of course sex shouldn’t be questioned it’s the only kind of connection I knew that wasn’t painful. Completely unintentionally missing the feelings and emotions of my wife and children that should be first and for most in any interaction/relationship with anybody🤦🏻‍♂️🤦🏻‍♂️. By the grace of God alone or children for the most part have done quite well with wounded Christian parents bringing them up with unhealthy imprints from our past. God is good!!!
          Everyone has a story, many story’s are good, also many many sad sad story’s. I truly believe Angela post below who works in a prison could write books and books of some of the saddest story’s ever heard of people who were never given the proper tools and skills at a young age to navigate emotions and feelings in a healthy way. Many end up medicating all the emotional pain and hurt feelings with substance or activity abuse that generally never ends well.

          Reply
  6. Angela

    Hi Sheila,
    Thanks for your blog. Your articles have encouraged me many times, and I have shared your site with several friends. I’m a big fan!
    I teach Anger Management at our state’s maximum securtity prison for women, and talking about emotional needs is one of the most helpful tools I have found. The lists I found are different from the ones you include. There seems to be quite a bit of variety even among researchers and ‘professional experts’ such as authors who may or may not be physicians or psychiatrists.
    The simplest I have seen is from the Noah Project in Detroit: 1)Sense of Belonging (need can be met by family; social group; school or work relationships; self)
    2)Sense of Power (met by achieving; accomplishing; recognition; self-worth.)
    3)Freedom (met by ability to make choices and to take responsibility)
    4)Fun (met by exploration of challenge; laughter; experience, variety, excitement, enjoyment, adventure.)

    I have seen lists of 3, 7, 9, and 10 ‘basic human emotional needs!’ I would be interested in where your list came from.

    Can you share your source(s)? Thanks again for your refreshing, spiritually uplifting and VITAL ministry, Sheila. You rock!!
    Angela

    Reply
  7. A

    I came off birth control recently and find myself thinking a lot more about sex. But I also realized that my husband and I were not spending enough time together. He would come off from work and play video games while I put our daughter to sleep. He says that Playing video games with his coworkers helped him de stress because they understand the pressure they have at work and they all can relate. He does this every night. Am I being unreasonable for wanting to spend time with him every day and also for wanting more sex? We usually have sex once a month, is that normal? And I’m usually the one who initiates.

    Reply
    • Gomez

      As a man who plays some video games (although not with coworkers), I can relate to your husband. Work provides a common structure, so everyone there is kind of on the same page. It is externally enforced. This framework makes it easy to understand, which stands in contrast to home life. Here, I need to “make up the policy all by myself”, which is confusing.
      Wait, did I say “by myself”? In reality, I need to work with my wife to figure out everything. That takes work, involves risk (what if she disagrees about something), and has no guarantees about how my wife, or kids, will react to a decision I make. Or try to make.
      In short, video games, and coworkers, have well defined boundaries and expectations, which makes them an easy retreat from real life. The quick dopamine fix I get from a game can be addictive.
      If I (or your husband) want to make positive steps, we have to intentionally step away from the game and engage with our families. I think the quizzes and list building exercises Sheila suggests can be a good structure to start, since they have a defined set of steps it doesn’t seem as shapeless as we might fear.

      I wish you well.

      Reply
  8. A

    I also have to say that I do a lot for my husband: feet massage, serve his food, drink and make sure he is comfortable… every day I ask him if there is anything else I can do for him to make him feel good, but he says he is pleased… I do have to admit that he takes care of me first when we have sex.. I’m pleased with the quality of our sex life but I think we should be spending more time together and have more frequent sex. I buy sexy lingerie and try to cuddle with him every night. I don’t feel rejected but I tend to feel unnoticed.

    Reply
  9. Jay

    That sounds honorable but marriage is a partnership both of your needs are important. Might not be healthy to keep it to yourself could get bottled up negatively and everyone needs something from their spouse . You received something pre marriage which is why you got married.. it’s hard for some people to identify love languages but by sharing your needs and language with her it might pull her in the direction of knowing tht it’s a two way street that you do need to be loved just as much as she does and might help her fund hers.. I was the same way I thought my needs dont matter happy wife happy life .. my wife told me she felt closer to me because I did tell her my needs like. I trusted her with them and no one else women are natural nurturers good friends sharing emotions , life, needs ,languages etc I believe will connect you more ultimately getting to know your spouse more. Hope that made sense..

    Reply
  10. Annie

    What are shared activities that only take 1-3 minutes? I’m coming up dry!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You’re right! That’s a little bit of a different one! Maybe you do some long ones, but more things that involve your daily life, like taking a walk, or even going grocery shopping together!

      Reply

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