Preferences, Demands, & Emotional Security

When you're living with your partner, little preferences can turn into demands. One part of you thinks it's silly, but another part of you goes on insisting that they do it your way.

Preferences could be defined as particular ways (regardless of how effective they actually are) to meet needs; that are preferred simply out of habit or because they're familiar and comfortable.  Insistence on small preferences typically arises from a place insecurity. When you insist that your partner do something in just the way you do it, it's a cue to check in with your thoughts, feelings, and needs.  You might be thinking, consciously or unconsciously, that they don't care about you or that your needs are not important to them.

This is a conflation of needs and strategies.  From a state of insecurity your thinking becomes confused. You imagine that the only way you will know your partner cares about you is if they do things your way. This is a form of enmeshment and is toxic for your relationship. When your partner offers to do something your way out of the autonomous generosity of their heart it is a contribution, and hopefully is received with gratitude rather than the idea that they are fulfilling a duty.

Insecurity typically revolves around one or two "tender" needs.* Intentional and conscious attention to those needs will help you release and relax your insistence upon particular preferences. From a place of security you can become flexible and responsive to the situation at hand. You can let go of little bits of misattunement with your partner, because you trust that caring is present even when there is an occasional lapse of attention or difference in preferences.

But when attunement and consideration are lacking more often than they are present, the emotional bond with your partner weakens and you naturally feel insecure about it.  Without mindfulness, old patterns of reactivity (like making demands) take over in an attempt to manage insecurity.

Ideally, with mindfulness of your experience and genuine care for your partner, you address this feeling of insecurity directly by checking in about what's happening and what needs are up for both of you.

This kind of check-in might be avoided because you don't want to consider the possibility that your partner is leaving the relationship.  Knowing that you can tolerate the end of a relationship allows you to choose to be fully in it. One aspect of being fully in a relationship is the skill and willingness to attend to a sense of emotional security through direct communication and consistent behavior.

Emotional security doesn't grow in a relationship because there is agreement about preferences.  Emotional security grows with consistent emotional responsiveness: an ability to express warmth and caring, offer empathy, embrace differences, offer mutual support, engage in shared vulnerability, and exchange affection.

As your practice evolves, insisting on little preferences and making demands hopefully become important cues for you to check in with your feelings and needs and a sense of emotional security.  From this place of self connection you can take direct action to take care of your needs in harmony with the needs of your partner.


This week watch for a moment of grumpiness, complaining, or demands about things not being your way.  When you notice it, check in with your need for caring. Ask yourself if you are needing reassurance that you are cared about? Or, perhaps, simply recall and put your attention on all the ways others are caring about you.

*Tender Needs:  When a universal need arises and is met with painful or neglectful responses from others more often than with supportive responses, that need begins to be associated with pain.  As a need becomes associated with pain, you develop adaptive strategies to protect against future pain related to that need. These adaptive strategies take a variety of forms such as becoming secretive, tough, endearing, industrious, or simply shutting down around needs and becoming numb.  When the painful context in which these adaptive strategies were born changes, and you find yourself in a supportive context, yet the strategies persist, we call that reactivity. These formerly adaptive strategies of protection now block your ability to receive nourishment around that need.  This is called a nourishment barrier.

When particular needs are linked to reactivity and nourishment barriers, I call these "tender needs" as a shorthand, but, of course, the need itself is a universal energy and doesn't shift from person to person.  It's the relationship to the need that is tender. In addition, because of these tender relationships to needs, it seems like a person has more or less of a particular need. We all have the same needs that rise and fall according to the flow of aliveness.  It is simply our relationship to the need that has it show up differently with each person. The most common "tender needs" include: safety, belonging, support, intimacy, authenticity, autonomy, acceptance, to be seen/heard, and inclusion.