Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, often represented as a pyramid or triangle, is organized in a specific order based on his theory of human motivation. The reason Maslow’s hierarchy is stacked as it is, is because he believed that lower-level needs must be satisfied before one can move on to meet higher-level needs for ourselves and others.
This can usefully be applied to thinking about our relationships. Often, we go into couples therapy because we are searching for our Love and Belonging, or Esteem Needs (level 4 of the triangle) to be reinforced, or better met by our partner. We might feel neglected or overlooked by them in some way, but without taking into account more foundational needs which we ourselves (or perhaps both members of the team, you and your partner) haven’t been paying enough attention to.
Before starting couples therapy, it might be useful to start thinking about the very foundations of your relationship, so that in time, we can work our way up to the less basic, but more relational, feel-good needs at the top of the triangle.
Before our first session, could you then have a think about your ability at the moment to meet your partner’s needs (and vice-versa) in these five areas of your shared life together.
Physical Needs (Self-Reflection Questions)
1. Do you feel that you are carrying out your responsibilities around the house (like chores and cleaning) in a way that seems fair to both you and your partner?
2. If you live together, are you contributing financially? If not, how are you contributing to your partnership in a way that offsets your partner being the main breadwinner?
3. How do you navigate situations when one partner cannot contribute as much, either due to illness, job stress, or other reasons?
4. If one of you is less satisfied with the division of labour at home, how do you address this issue?
5. Do you feel comfortable discussing your financial goals and worries with each other?
6. How do you handle important decision-making related to childcare, finances, and housework?
7. Is the division of emotional labour (supporting each other, managing relationships with extended family, etc.) fair?
8. Are you looking after yourself (exercise, diet, therapy or other forms of psycho-spiritual self-care) so as to be as healthy as possible in body and mind in order to sustain and contribute to the relationship.
9. Do you spend quality time together, participating in activities you both enjoy?
10. Are you both satisfied with the level of physical affection in the relationship?
1. Are you able to put your private needs to one side for the overall health of the team?
2. Do you make sure your partner feels emotionally and physically safe with you? How?
3. Do you feel that you have your partner’s best interests at heart?
4. Do you contribute to making your relationship feel secure and stable? How?
5. Do you create an environment where your partner can express their fears and insecurities without judgement?
6. Do you and your partner have an understanding as to what fidelity (or non-fidelity) means in the relationship and is this followed by both of you?
7. Do you provide your partner with a sense of security and support?
8. How do you contribute to resolving disagreements and conflicts in a safe and respectful manner?
9. Do you respect your partner’s personal boundaries?
10. How much do you contribute to creating a secure and comfortable home environment?
Belonging and Love Needs
1. Do you make sure your partner feels loved and cherished by you? How?
2. Do you actively cultivate a strong sense of companionship with your partner?
3. Do you demonstrate that you value your relationship as much as your partner does?
4. How often do you express your love and appreciation to your partner?
5. How frequently do you share significant personal experiences with your partner?
6. How much effort do you put into spending quality time together, just enjoying your partner’s company?
7. Do you take steps to create an emotionally close and connected relationship with your partner?
8. How open and comfortable are you when it comes to sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings with your partner?
9. Do you help to make sure your partner feels a sense of belonging when they’re with you?
10. How much do you involve yourself in shared interests and activities that bring you closer to your partner?
1. How do you ensure your partner feels respected by you?
2. How actively do you respect your partner and their achievements?
3. Do you appreciate and express gratitude for your partner’s contributions to the relationship?
4. How often do you celebrate your partner’s accomplishments?
5. Do you make consistent efforts to make your partner feel valued and important?
6. Do you provide a supportive environment for your partner to pursue their individual interests without judgment?
7. How often do you encourage your partner to take on new challenges and opportunities?
8. Do you value and respect your partner’s opinions and ideas?
9. How actively do you support your partner’s goals and dreams?
10. How well do you fulfil your role and place in the relationship to ensure it’s a safe and confident space for your partner?
1. Do you ensure that your relationship helps both you and your partner grow as people?
2. How do you inspire each other to become the best versions of yourselves?
3. Do you actively engage in setting and working towards shared goals as a couple?
4. Does your approach to the relationship provide both of you with opportunities for personal growth and development?
5. Do you take steps to ensure your partner feels fulfilled and content in the relationship? In what way?
6. How supportive are you in helping your partner pursue their individual dreams and ambitions?
7. Do you facilitate a relationship environment that helps your partner better understand themselves?
8. Do you recognize and appreciate the unique qualities that your partner brings to the relationship? How often do you communicate these to them?
9. Do you create an atmosphere where your partner feels they can express their true self in the relationship? How do you do this?
10. Do you help each other to realise your individual and shared potential in the context of your relationship?