[Text Version] – What Your Spouse Really Needs

This is the text version. For the audio version, please scroll down and see the recent post.

A’udhu billahi Al-Samiu Al-Aleem, min al-shaytani al-rajeem. Bismillahi al-Rahmani al-Raheem. Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barkatuh.

This is The Spirit of Marriage, Episode 5. We will look at another thing one must know about one’s spouse if one is to BUILD TRUE FRIENDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIP in marriage. The must-know to be focused on today is the core human needs as classified by Anthony Robbins who was building upon the needs identified by Abraham Maslow, a famous the psychologist.

Remember in Surah Al Rum and Surah al Nisaa, Allah says we were all created from the same essence or soul. Men and women are therefore similar in many ways such as the fact that, like the five love languages, we all have these core human needs.

The needs are not just things we like. They are deep impulses which drive our choices and behaviour, and can override our values, promises and goals.

We all have two or three top needs. We all differ with regard to how we rank each of the six needs, i.e. the degree of intensity with which we try to meet one need compared to another.

We are drawn towards places, people or situations where our needs will be met. When our needs are not met in the marital relationship or our spouse doesn’t support our efforts to meet those needs, we will be drawn to seek the fulfilment of our needs through other relationships – friends, colleagues, extended family, children and the internet.

As Allah describes in surah al Taubah, Muslim women and men are protecting friends or guardians of one another. In line with this ayah, we should act in the best interest of our spouses by doing what we can to provide a place of comfort within the marriage where their needs can be met in a healthy way and where they will have our support to seek the fulfilment of their needs in a healthy way.

When I first learnt about these human needs and their implications, many things made sense to me. I also became more willing to see my husband’s point of view, and to stand in his shoes and be more supportive. I extended this to others as well. I believe this is really important.

In this episode, you will hear how the 6 needs can be met. You will also get a link to a website where you and your spouse can take a test to identify your top needs.

1. Certainty

The need for safety, comfort, consistency and order in various aspects of life.

Some people’s need for certainty is met when they have a steady job, a thriving business or a fat bank account; or when they are in control of their daily activities; or eating familiar meals or following a menu; or living in the same house or neighbourhood year after year.

Meeting this need is taken to extremes e.g. when a person fails to try something new because he is certain that if he doesn’t try, whereas if he tries, success is uncertain.

Another extreme is sticking with a job or any other situation that is actually damaging your fitrah or knocking you off your path to Allah – just because you think ‘the devil I know is better than the angel I don’t know’. A devil is a devil – knowledge has nothing to do with it. Or you say, ‘half bread is better than none.’ What if change will bring you no bread but a plate of three different kinds of food? Some of us have been in marriages which were wrong for us spiritually, emotionally and even physically; attempts to improve the marriage had failed but we stayed on – the idea of changing was too stressful for us to actually take a step. So when you are in one of these situations, you have to ask, ‘Am I sticking with it because I am afraid of change and of the unknown or is it because I still see something good in this situation?’

You or your spouse can meet this need in a balanced way by any of the following:

  • Be patient when your spouse is doing what you consider ‘over-planning’ or ‘over-asking’. Join or support your spouse in planning. Answer questions patiently.
  • Be aware but not afraid of the likelihood of failure or the dangers of the unknown. Fear and anxiety cloud judgment. Use your intelligence as far it can take you, then rely on Allah. If mistakes and failure occur, learn from them. So plan well, then make du’a e.g. ‘Allahumma inni a’udhu bika minal hammi wal huzni…’
  • Try something new from time to time in a low-risk and low-tension situation; create or indulge in novel experiences. If either you or spouse has a high need for predictability, this will keep boredom at bay because too much certainty does create boredom. Certainty should be balanced with the next need i.e. variety or uncertainty. The actions that would provide this balance are mentioned under the next need.

2. Variety or uncertainty

This is the need to have novelty, variety, change, excitement, diversity and the joy derived from unexpected pleasure. Someone with a high need for variety is comfortable with change and uncertainty, and seeks it out e.g. change jobs or careers, move to a new neighbourhood or city, go into a new business, invest in a new venture, etc.

A high need for variety could lead to losing interest quickly thereby resulting in unfinished tasks and projects, broken promises, failed commitments, neglected responsibilities and risky behaviour.

How you or your spouse can meet this need in a balanced way:

  • Try new things in low-risk and low-stake situations. Re-arrange the furniture, learn something new, visit new places, make new friends and, very important, change the position, location and setting of ‘bedroom gymnastics’.
  • In order to complete tasks and projects, and keep promises, have someone else handle execution.
  • Make really short-term goals. Plan to complete projects/tasks and meet commitments in a series of really short steps so that before boredom sets in, one step ends quickly and a new beginning arrives.
  • Obtain some objective analysis of risks and prospects when making investments or going into a business or even taking up a new job.
  • Mitigate risks. Some risks must be taken in life but always mitigate risks by taking risks in one area then ensure you have security in another. As writer and thinker Adam Grant pointed out in his book Originals, studies have shown that even great entrepreneurs don’t just risk it all. Bill Gates, for example sold his first computer program a year before leaving school; and he didn’t just drop out but took an approved leave of absence that was formally approved by the school then his parents bankrolled him. Many others maintain their day jobs for a year or as long as seven years before quitting to pursue their jobs full time. In marriage some people separate for a while before either re-establishing their marriage on fresh agreements or before deciding to get a divorce.
  • Be willing to let your spouse try new things. Be his/her partner in this, as far as you are able. Turn ‘touch with benefits’ into an adventure in novelty, show enthusiasm when your spouse is discussing new business plans.
  • Remind and help your spouse mitigate risks when he/she is planning to do something new in high-risk situations. If you are the one with a high need for novelty, give weight to your spouse’s advice in this aspect.

3. Significance

To feel that you matter, to accomplish something that’s recognised and appreciated, to stand out, to be unique, to attain high standards, to become really good at something i.e. to gain mastery.

How you or your spouse can meet this need in a balanced way:

  • Be guided by principles rather than what people will think or how you will be seen- use the question ‘What am I to do as a Muslim and as a human being?’ Let principles decide for you rather than what others are doing. Fight the urge to measure your marriage and your children against your neighbour’s, siblings or friends’ marriage and children.
  • Spend time reflecting on your worthiness – Allah deemed you worthy of existence, therefore you are already a worthwhile human being; sincere actions increase your significance to Allah.
  • Let your humanness and your submission to Allah be the cornerstones of your personal identity.
  • Learn to say ‘No’, kindly and respectfully, from time to time. This will not reduce your self-worth. The need for significance sometimes leads us to be unable to say, ‘No’ because we want to keep doing things that others will appreciate.
  • When you do something for others, consider what they would like, what would be good for them rather than whether it will make you important to them – the concept of giving without waiting for/expecting any thanks – do some good deeds anonymously.
  • Show appreciation of your spouse’s achievements; make your spouse feel honoured and respected in how you speak to them, how you respond to their ideas, requests and needs. Before taking important decisions, ensure that you involve each other; give each other the opportunity to make the marriage and the home succeed. To do otherwise is to give the impression that your spouse doesn’t matter, that he/she cannot play his/her role well.
  • Do things really well and to a high standard. Learn (being an excellent spouse, emulating the prophet in this regard; being the best at your job).


4. Love and connection

The need to belong, to love and be loved, to feel a connection with others, to build strong emotional and social bonds.

In extreme cases of trying to meet this need, people develop excessively strong attachment to friends or even family which supersede principles; or they try to buy love through gifts and favours.

How you or your spouse can meet this need in a balanced way:

  • Seek connection with Allah through acts of ibaadah (both structured acts such as nafilah, qiyamulayl and also through unstructured means such as being generous, kind and helpful). Do it all ‘feesabilillah’, this gives you a connection that is more fulfilling than any other you might have.
  • Love yourself first reflect on what is good about you as a person, appreciate it and be thankful to Allah for it. To love and appreciate yourself makes you more confident and less dependent on the love of others.
  • Crying, complaining, feigning weakness and the like might gain you attention in the short run but cannot get you true and lasting love.
  • Love others and form strong bonds with them but do not lose yourself (Listen to your conversation/your spouse’s – how often is someone else quoted, or used as a reference point? ‘My mother said’, ‘My father thinks…’, ‘My friends said…’, ‘So-and-so thinks…’
  • Create time for family, friends and neighbours. Value your relationship with people and be loyal to them.
  • Take interest in others – their lives, challenges, ambitions, etc. Support and help them as much as you can without seeking ‘thanks’ or reward from them.
  • When you engage people in conversation, spend more time listening to them than talking about yourself.
  • Let go of connections which are harmful for you. Put your spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological well-being ahead of ‘being loved’ or ‘accepted’ by others.
  • Address contentious issues. If because you want to preserve love and connection, you side-step crucial conversations, the relationship you are trying to protect eventually suffers. Relationships are like water storage tanks. From time to time, the tanks have to be cleaned out in order for the water to remain clean. For a crucial conversation to be successful, purify your intention, pick a time when you are both in the best of moods, explain your intention carefully, give the other person a chance to express his/her opinion, avoid using insults or nasty words, do your best to make your meaning clear, and last but not the least, make du’a for guidance.
  • Be careful when asking your spouse to give up something in order to make you happy or for the sake of the marriage – your spouse might agree for the sake of the marriage but it might affect his/her self-esteem and could lead to resentment and loss of overall motivation. Food for thought! Which of your needs or your spouse’s needs have been pushed aside for the sake of ‘peace’ or to ‘make the other happy’ – was it necessary? If it is a top need, pushing it aside is definitely not a good thing.

Significance and the need for love and connection balance each other. You will be able to love and be loved without losing your sense of self, your self-esteem.

5. Growth

The need for constant development and improvement of the self emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and physically.

We meet the need for growth by learning new skills, keeping fit, seeking knowledge, seeking spiritual growth, expanding our mind and capabilities through learning – reading, listening, experiencing

Challenges with meeting this need

  • Always seeking the next stage in growth so never applying it to anything because of focus on/awareness of the gaps in our knowledge which will always be there
  • Attainment of mastery in knowledge and skills could make us arrogant

How you or your spouse can meet this need in a balanced way:

  • Balance this need with the need to contribute. That way you will apply your learning for the benefit of others, for something beyond yourself. To use a simple example, if you are learning to recite the Qur’an, put it to some use by teaching someone else, as the prophet advised.
  • Growing is not a race, slow down sometimes, and take time to put the improvement to some use.
  • Learn new things and attain mastery in them. Give your spouse the space and opportunity to do the same. Growth sometimes leads to change and a person might be uncomfortable with the change in his/her spouse. We should not hold back our spouses from growing if this is a need. Yes, it might mean that our spouse will spend some time away from home, or have less time for activities we share, or form new connections with fellow learners, but if this is something that makes your spouse feel satisfied, then support his/her growth. Better still, get involved or at the very least, interested in whatever your spouse is learning.
  • Permit yourself to grow. We hold ourselves back with excuses sometimes – ‘I am a woman with young children’, ‘I am a very busy professional’. You can grow in the area that is currently keeping you preoccupied. E.g. grow in your knowledge and skills of managing young children, learn what professional teachers and psychologists know – there are many resources available online. Grow by learning things which will add value to your work as a professional – an engineer who gains supervisory knowledge and skills, an accountant who learns mediation strategies which he/she applies in the office environment, an educator who improves his/her emotional and social skills then applies these to the classroom setting and when interacting with learners and parents.

He whose two days are equal in achievement is a sure loser (Daylami)


The need to give value to others, to care for and help others. Not everyone will count this as a prime need but it is part of everyone’s need profiles and everyone definitely needs it.

How you or your spouse can meet this need in a balanced way:

  • Learn about what others really need so that your contributions matter and are truly valuable to them (think about the Love Languages). Contribute in order to solve their problem, not just to satisfy your need to contribute. An NGO once went about providing clean water for rural areas in order to improve their health. By asking specific questions later on, the NGO discovered that what the villagers really wanted was for their children break the cycle of poverty by getting an education. Clean water meant that they had fewer sick days so stayed in school longer. The NGO found this out only after caring to ask whether their work was valuable to the beneficiaries. This will ensure that the need being met is contribution rather than significance, as required in Surah Al Baqarah. This also applies to paid work. Recently, while listening to an architect speak about her work, she mentioned that when working on projects, she considers what her clients want and she goes with that, provided it is ethical.
  • Take time to feed and develop yourself; attain mastery so that when you do contribute value, you do it in the best manner (the need for growth).
  • Recognise the fact that you cannot meet all needs or solve all problems. Don’t become so paralysed by the magnitude of a problem that you end up doing nothing.
  • Be careful to still give your immediate family and dependants their rightful attention even when you are contributing to the needs of others. (Rasul – coming home to put himself at the service of his family; your body and your spouse have rights over you). This is a challenge for philanthropists, volunteer workers, etc. Such people have to learn to shield their family time strictly.
  • If this is a top need for your spouse, find ways to support their contribution to others. Let your spouse know what he/she can do to make you feel less neglected. (I ask to be put in the picture of any act of contribution that would take my spouse away from home; we block time when there will be no outwards contribution; when we are facilitating a program or he is busy facilitating one, during tea-break we sit together for a minute or two or simply ask each other ‘How are you?’, a brief interaction that says ‘I am busy with others but I am still here, I see you and I care’).

That is the last of the six needs we will be discussing.

If you and your spouse have the same top needs you are less likely to have conflicts related to the fulfilment of needs and you will connect with each other more easily because your hearts and spirits are driven by the same things. If your top four needs are the same, that is even better. If you have only one top need in common, you will need to work harder at establishing closeness than if the two top needs were the same. If no top needs are the same, your marriage will still work as a great partnership and friendship, you just have to put in more conscious effort to understand and support each other. You will require greater empathy and some more individual space.

Something for you and your spouse to do: Below is a link to a Human Needs Questionnaire where you can assess your personal ranking of the needs and identify your top needs then compare them with your spouse’s.

Identify areas of differences – these are potential trouble spots. Consider some of the actions I suggested in the talk and apply any you find useful. If you can add more, it would be great if you can share these in your comments and tags.

Talk about how to help and support each other in meeting your top needs in healthy ways.

May Allah continue to bless us, our marriages and families.

Wa salamun alaykum wa rahmatullah.