The Shifting “Relationship Needs”

This article tries to explore how the “motivation” behind getting into a committed relationship has changed over the years. This change also brings in different set of expectations in a relationship. Associating Maslows need theory to the need for a relationship gives insights into changing patterns in society and changing needs in relationships.


Have you for once wondered – why couples deeply in love and committed for years grow out of it after a point of time? Was the relationship equation in older generation very different from ours? Do we demand too much and give too little in a relationship? What’s with the new generation – are we totally confused? How does one find the right partner – arranged vs. love? Did I say “right” – who knows what’s right ?

It’s interesting and insightful to associate Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory to “relationship needs” – and one could also find probable answers to the above questions. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. This theory is often portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental/basic levels of needs at the bottom and the ultimate need for self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. The most basic level of needs must be met before the individual can have strong desire for higher level needs. The 5 levels of needs from basic to higher are – Physiological, Safety, Love, Esteem and Self Actualization.

Now, let’s delve into the motivation for getting into a committed relationship. In an era where women were economically dependent and men didn’t do house hold chores, the motivation for marriage was at the basic level – for safety, security and settling down. (Many relationships still are at this level.) The expectations were to meet the basic needs. The expectations were low and hence the satisfaction was high. Couples were dependent at the basic levels. When women became economically independent and household chores became automated or outsourced – the motivation for marriage moved beyond fulfilling the basic safety, security and settling down needs.

The next level of need is love, affection and sense of belonging. Individuals at this level want “love/liking” to be a criteria for their committment. Expectations are obviously higher than  the earlier type and hence efforts have to be taken by partners to have the emotional connectedness in tact as they move along.

Let’s move a step further and that’s where this generation is headed, and that’s where growing relationships should also head – from love to fulfilling self actualization needs. The need is to find a partner who truly “partners” in his/her  journey of self actualization. A partnership that helps each partner become the best version of themselves.

This certainly is the highest level of need, and having such a relationship is highly rewarding. The  expectations from relationships  are higher than ever before.  Even though such partners seem to look very independent – as they are quite independent fulfilling their basic needs, but they still need to relate to each other at emotional, intellectual and spiritual level to fulfill each other’s self actualization needs.

With this co-relation, it becomes pretty clear why some couples who were deeply in love grew out of it over time. The couples were at the “love” need when they committed, and years later when one moves up to self actualization need, the other may not be ready or they just do not relate to each other’s higher needs.

One size doesn’t fit all – arranged marriage could work for some, love marriage for others.  What’s important is – the clarity on your need to get into a committed relationship. What “need level” are you trying to fulfill? – This helps you figure out what you need to look for.

If your need for a relationship is at the self actualization level – it is very important that beyond  emotional connectedness, you have insights into each other’s real self. It’s not just emotional  compatibility  but intellectual as well as spiritual (spiritual is not religious) compatibility that is important for “self actualization couples”.

Reproduced from