Partner of an Addict? Identifying Your Unmet Needs – By Vicki Tidwell Palmer


When you are unhappy, depressed, anxious, etc., it’s usually because you’re not getting your needs met. This is especially true when your partner or a loved one is in active addiction. Addicts focus on meeting their own needs and the needs of their addiction, and give little to others. That doesn’t mean they don’t love and care about other people, it just means their addiction has taken over.

There are two steps to take in getting your needs met when you’re in a relationship with someone struggling with addiction. The first is identifying your unmet needs. The second is finding ways to get your unmet needs met in healthy ways. The first step is discussed in this post. The second will be covered in my next post.

In the 1940s, psychologist Abraham Maslow created a theory of human dependency called the hierarchy of needs. According to Maslow, the most basic human needs are physiological—food, water, air, shelter, sleep, etc. The highest human needs are for self-actualization—the realization of our highest potential as human beings. In between physiological and self-actualization needs, we have needs for safety, love and belonging, and esteem.

Once our basic physiological needs are met, we begin focusing on other, higher-order needs, such as:

  • Safety
  • Connection
  • Honesty
  • Play
  • Peace
  • Autonomy/Freedom
  • Meaning

As you read this list, ask yourself which of those needs are currently being met in your life. Then ask which of those needs have been neglected because of your loved one’s addiction. If the addict is your partner, you may find that your needs for connection, honesty, and peace are in serious jeopardy, with safety, play, autonomy, and meaning in steep decline.

If this is true for you, don’t beat yourself up about it. This is normal when you’re in a relationship with an addict. And until the addict establishes sobriety and begins the process of recovery, these relationship needs are likely to either go unmet or partially met. This leads to stress, anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, and shame—even though you’re not the cause of these shortcomings in your relationship.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Almost every person who has an addicted loved one experiences these kinds of “needs deficiencies” to some degree. It’s not your fault. To begin the process of remedying this deficiency, begin by making a list of any relationship needs you have now that are not currently being met in your relationship. In my next post, I’ll discuss how you can find other ways to get your needs met when your partner or spouse is struggling with addiction.


Vicki Tidwell

About Vicki Tidwell

Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT, is the author of Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Houston, Texas. She specializes in working with betrayed partners, and helping people heal from childhood trauma.Vicki hosts an international online community for betrayed partners, offers several online courses for partners and therapists, and holds 4-day Reclaiming Wholeness Intensives for healing childhood wounds. She has presented at national conferences, for The Meadows Lecture Series, 12-step communities, as well as professional, healthcare, and faith-based organizations on a variety of topics including boundaries, relational trauma, and mindfulness.
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  1. Pingback: I Love Recovery CafePartner of an Addict? How to Get Your Unmet Needs Met Part II – By Vicki Tidwell Palmer

  2. I’ve had a good sob, thank you! I’ve freed myself but am still sad for my family of origin who are mute to any kind of communication or honesty…I wear my heart on my sleeve and am ready to make amends but may have to leave them out????

  3. I believe that is the purpose of Naranon and Alanon to help family and friends of the Alcoholic or Addict.

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