Being Needed vs. Being Loved

By Paul Dunion | September 26, 2022


Whether there simply wasn’t enough love available during childhood, or you witnessed one parent needing the other, or you didn’t believe you deserved love, many intimate relationships reveal one person settling for being needed. I’m not sure if it happens with some awareness or is a completely unconscious dynamic. It may be that there is some inherent confusion about the difference between being needed and being loved. They certainly are not mutually exclusive. That is, someone could be both needed and loved. However, my professional experience is reveals being needed as becoming a predominant pattern, actually replacing being loved.

Let’s look more closely as some of the salient distinctions contrasting these two ways of relating. Our exploration will focus on the person in the role of being needed or loved and not on the person doing the needing or loving.

  • Being Needed – When we are needed there is an implication that we must prove and demonstrate that we are a worthy resource. This can be riddled with anxiety as we worry if we have all the right stuff.
  • Being Loved – When we are authentically loved there should be no need for demonstration that we have the right stuff. Rather, there should be a feeling of acceptance and a warm regard with nothing to prove.


  • Being Needed – We can easily slip into an investment in the one who needs us to be dependent rather than championing their inner authority and independence.
  • Being Loved – There’s less likelihood that we are invested in the one who loves us being disempowered. Their inner authority easily translates into a deepening of their love for us with more meaning becoming available for creating genuine emotional intimacy.


  • Being Needed – When being needed is a dominant pattern in the relationship, we are more likely to fall prey to the delusion that we can save someone.
  • Being Loved – We are not as easily seduced into thinking we can save others. With a minimum amount of emotional intelligence, we live in the truth that we can only save ourselves.


  • Being Needed – Places us in a non-mutual relationship which means there is not something approaching an equal flow of support, compassion, warmth, and attention. We run a higher risk of feeling resentful, empty, and burned out.
  • Being Loved – Runs the likelihood that we are experiencing mutuality where we are familiar with both giving and receiving. We view the relationship as a place to make offerings and to meet our own needs. The relationship is easily viewed as a place for shelter and renewal.


  • Being Needed – It can be relatively natural for being needed to morph into being dependent upon being depended upon. The process typically includes moving the locus of our personal worth from ourselves to the one depending upon us. There is an attractive illusion that because our deliveries are needed, we have more control over keeping someone connected to us. Their dependency reminds us that we must possess some worth.
  • Being Loved – A maturing love of the self holds an understanding that no one can love us the way we can love ourselves. We can remain grateful for the love given to us by the other, courageously holding the knowing that we cannot control being loved.


  • Being Needed – Our identity can easily be translated into being a delivery system. It can have us literally forgetting who we are beyond our deliveries, as well as those who depend upon us forgetting who we are. There can be a profound loss of being known.
  • Being Loved – Our identity can be expressed and lived as reflections of our longing, our loves, our sorrows, our needs, and our gifts. There is an opportunity to rejoice in being known.


  • Being Needed – It’s only much too easy to see ourselves as having no needs as we meet the needs of others. This constitutes a breach of our humanity. As we distance from the core of our humanity, we settle into mediocrity, emptiness and often cynicism.
  • Being Loved – We allow ourselves to be entitled to have needs, especially emotional needs, such as being seen, heard, encouraged, loved, chosen, remembered, held, and appreciated. We can live in the warm embrace of our humanity.


  • Being Needed – Because of the lack of mutuality, emotional intimacy is not possible. Typically, the loss of emotional intimacy leaves folks feeling deeply wanting. Such a wanting often morphs into having an affair in the hope of finding that missing something.
  • Being Loved – Love sets the stage for mutual support regarding emotional needs. That together with the expression of truth accompanied by compassion easily allow for the deepening of emotional intimacy. Truth can be understood as the genuine expression of emotion and desire, guided by kindness.




Jill is a 42-year-old heterosexual spouse and the mother of two children – a fifteen- year-old son and a twelve-year-old daughter. In our work, she began to be curious about the implication of being needed by her husband.

“I’ve been teaching Kindergarten most of my adult life and have two children of my own and know a little about being needed. The way Bruce depends upon me is leaving me feeling like I have three children,” Jill pointed out with more than a hint of resentment in her tone.

“You and I have spoken about the difference between being needed and being loved. Do you feel loved by Bruce?” I asked, wondering if she had been willing to explore the question.

“Well, I think in some obtuse way he does love me. However, I don’t think he really knows me, which is kind of sad after twenty years together. You know, things like my favorite food and color. He inevitably will bring me a cup of coffee in anything other than my favorite mug. I’m sure he doesn’t know what kind of music I prefer,” she added, demonstrating the small ways she wanted her husband to tune into her.

“Do you want Bruce to really know you better? I mean it will likely involve him knowing what you need, fear, and feel vulnerable about,” I asked, wondering how invested she was in being known by her husband.

“I think I do. But, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone being known in a meaningful way. I don’t think my father knew my mother. And as crazy as that sounds, I don’t think he knows me, even today,” Jill uttered, with her eyes moistening.

“It touches you to acknowledge not being known by your father,” I offered, as she nodded in the affirmative.

“You know, I don’t really know him either. I did see how much he depended upon my mother. Maybe, that’s the map of marriage I’m carrying. My father went to work, cut the lawn, fell asleep after dinner, and allowed my mom to run the household and take care of three children,” she divulged, as if releasing an old secret.

“Jill, I get the idea that you really know where you come from. What do you want to do with the legacy of being excessively needed, not really feeling loved or known?” I asked, feeling an energy rise in her that appeared ready to act.

“I certainly don’t want to pass it to my children. I want Bruce to be clear about the kind of movies and music I like. And come on, he can start ironing his own clothes and making his own lunch,” Jill asserted, coming to the edge of her chair.

Jill chose what she believed was the right moment and spoke to Bruce about her desire to feel loved and known by him. He immediately expressed remorse and let her know that her feeling loved was a very high priority for him. Jill went on to be clear that she had been colluding with Bruce’s dependency, settling for being needed as if it were the only option. She reported that Bruce acknowledged feeling grateful for all she did for him, and he did not want another mother. Jill felt more loved and known, and Bruce took pride in how much she felt chosen by him.

Like any other couple taking on the task of moving a relationship from need to love, they learned more about one another. Although Bruce occasionally complained about ironing his clothes, Jill discovered that he was more than capable in several different areas. Jill gradually interrupted her perception of Bruce’s alleged inadequacy. They found a more fitting place for need to live. Such as any time one of them was feeling ill, feeling pressed by some demand of schedule, when one of them was feeling defeated and lost or when the needs of the children seemed to escalate. Increasingly, love found its rightful place in their relationship.

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  1. Jody Grose on March 9, 2023 at 5:22 pm

    I resonated with my pattern / role as being needed, while I grow, seeking being in a relationship where being loved is mutually held.
    Thanks for this distinction.

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