Wants versus Needs

Want or Need? © Aydindurdu | Dreamstime.com

For years, I have heard and read people saying, “That’s not a need, it’s a want.” Often this comes up about sex, with the one who desires less sex, or less sexual variety, telling their spouse who wants more that what s/he claims to need is really a want. The wants versus needs issue comes up in other areas as well. It is usually used to devalue what the other wants, making the person who calls it a want feel justified in refusing or limiting what is “wanted, not needed.”

There are two separate issues here, both rather important, so I will give each one a separate post. First, how we define wants and needs.

In the strictest sense, we could say needs are those things required to live: air, food, water, shelter. The list is actually very small, and the vast majority of what we spend our money on either has nothing to do with what we “need” or it’s a vast exaggeration of what we need. If we are talking needs, forget about coffee, more than one pair of shoes, more than a few items of clothing, a home bigger than a couple hundred square feet, and anything but the simplest food.

The big problem with the above definition of need is that it is based on survival of the body, and nothing more. If you gave your children only what they need to survive physically, they would not be emotionally or mentally healthy, and child protective services would take them from you as soon as someone reported you. Why then would we use such a definition in our marriages?

Let me suggest a few other ways we can look at “need”:

  • I need this to feel safe.
  • I need this to feel loved.
  • I need this to feel mentally balanced.
  • I need this to feel emotionally healthy.
  • I need this to feel like you care about me.

Get the point? See the validity in what I am saying?

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8 Comments on “Wants versus Needs

  1. Love the ways the Lord works….

    Just had this conversation with pastor, to clarify this very point. He had the same opinion — equating “need” with “bare necessity for survival” is a narrow, stingy definition! Our emotional and psychological needs, including the need for sexual fulfillment with our God-given spouse, are genuine needs. God created such needs in us when he created us in his image as body-soul creatures.

    Thanks for addressing this issue!

  2. At what point does a spouse confront a spouse, and how? My wife does not starve me for the act of sex, but unless we are having sex, her stated position is that sex on my schedule is a duty. I am a solid husband. My wife says I spoil her. I seek time with her. I attempt to meet her needs and yet she can go days without kissing me, and has told me that she doesn’t like to kiss me outside the bedroom because it might lead to the bathroom. I love my wife, but she has successfully killed my being “in love” with her.

  3. Dr Harley calls these emotional needs. So while you may survive without them, your romantic love will not.

    Think of it this way, if God just wanted you to survive physically, did He need to create the wonderful varieties of food? He could have created one generic “food” that provided nourishment. No need for different spices, or flavors. Just food.

    The other example to someone who suggests it’s not a need is to look at the example of clothes, or shoes, or cars or whatever fits for that person.

    If it’s OK for them to suggest that what you want is not really a need, then suggest they live that out in their life by cutting out everything but the simplest and least amount needed to merely survive.

    So maybe 10 outfits, a couple of pairs of shoes, a car with a small engine, stick shift, manual crank windows, etc.

    Give all the extras in the closet to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Trade in the SUV or Minivan for a 10 year old economy car with few if any options.

    Perhaps those examples would induce something different thinking in this arena.

    • Agreed, Tony. Those are great examples.

      I really don’t get why people would dismiss or minimize such relational needs. Truly life is more than survival?!

      Maybe one additional dimension to consider is that needs, while genuine, are not therefore entitlements — important distinction. We can’t demand them of another.

  4. The problem is the over focus on sex. Husbands are always ready/willing for sex; not always ready/willing for other things that are equally their responsibility (kids, chores, cleaning, errands, taking an interest in her hobbies instead of just yours, etc.). It’s exhausting and like having another kid. Point blank, too many want to be ‘the man’ but NOT the responsibility of leading your homes which is why we do. No wonder marriages are in the state they are.

  5. @Jan – What you say is valid IF the couple is having regular sex, or was at one time and now there is less for nor reason other than behaviour such as you mention.

    That said, many wives who say this also say no to sex the majority of the time.

    If the guy changes, his wife may – or he may do much better and still hear no as often. If she says yes more often he may or may not change, but I’ve heard from plenty of women who say having more sex resulted in significant changes in hubbie. If he’s not changing, maybe you should.

    All that aside, some guys are just selfish jerks. Such men do exist, but they are not as common as the media tells us.

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