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What are relationships for? This is what I wonder when I hear someone say, “This relationship isn’t meeting my needs!” —which is a not-uncommon cry to hear.

I also wonder whether I should be wondering this in public, as a woman of a certain age, that age known as crone. By asking “What exactly are relationships for?” am I revealing myself to be a little underbaked emotionally? And is the purpose of relationships in fact to “meet my needs” whether romantic or friendly? And what are those needs we’re talking about, anyway?

I think about the purpose of relationships much the way I think about life purpose: the scope of the answer depends on how we ask the question. But if relationships do have a “purpose” at all, I don’t think the answer is “They are there to meet our needs.”

Love is the point

I like this better: Relationships are for fun and delight. They help us try new things. They let us experience our glittering world of phenomena through the eyes of another. Relationships draw us into ways of being that we couldn’t come up with on our own. They are why we try soursop ice cream and stay up late to look for comets and see Afrofuturist movies about aliens. It’s … love!  Love is the point.

That’s more than enough, of course, although we all like to have help with the rent. Which is the type of need—i.e., utilitarian—that I personally think is better addressed collectively. (A discussion for another day, perhaps.)

Because as often as we hear the plaint “This relationship just isn’t meeting my needs!” we hear the declaration “No one person can meet all our needs.” And that’s true! Since, again, it’s not even the purpose of relationship. 

However, three things:

  1. There are some needs that can only be met by others. Babies perish if they’re fed but not cuddled, for example. Touch! It ain’t the same when you try to hug yourself.
  2. There are some relationships that not only don’t meet your needs, they create destructive storms of unmet needs you didn’t even have before.  Yeah, these are relationships that don’t meet basic needs like stability.
  3. Finally, there is maybe one person whose job it is to meet many of our needs and you will know who that is, since it is self-care day here at Modern Daily Knitting Ranch: yes, it you.

Love is the purpose. Also, delight.

The 5 A’s

My guru for meeting our own needs while also being in relationship is David Richo, author of the truly helpful self-help book How to Be an Adult in Relationships. His idea—and I’m paraphrasing here, as I do below—is that like babies, we have essential needs and no matter what those bootstrap-loving people say, we don’t grow out of them. They are lifetime love requirements, and they number five:

  1. Attention. In other words, who we are is someone worth focusing on and prioritizing.
  2. Acceptance: Who we are is fundamentally okay. Approved!
  3. Appreciation: In fact, we’re better than okay! Hey, we’re kind of a prize.
  4. Affection: Who we are is a delight, and we know it because they show it, with kindness and thoughtfulness and physical and emotional gestures.
  5. Allowing: Who we are requires no squishing or hiding. All the parts of us are welcome.

Richo writes that if we didn’t get these five expressions of love as children, from our caregivers, it will be a harder task to seek, find, give, and receive them as adults. But in his view, this is the task of adulthood, if we want truly loving relationships.

Of course, few people receive these five expressions of love perfectly and at all times. But there is an enough. It is possible to meet these essential needs—not in a perfect way but in a perfectly good enough way, and we can and must do it for ourselves. As must our beloveds! And everyone else.

So this month I am wondering: What do you think of these 5 A’s? Is there one that’s especially tough for you? Are there ones that you give freely to others but could stand to give more of to yourself? What kind of effects would that have on your relationships? And what are the aspects of love where you really, really shine and show up for yourself? Put your thoughts in the comments below.


How to Be an Adult in Relationship: the Five Keys to Mindful Loving, David Richo 

Self-Care: Discovering Your Life Purpose

image CREDIT:  Peasant Couple Dancing, Albrecht Dürer, 1514, Cleveland Museum of Art (Gift of Charlotte Trenkamp in memory of Henry Trenkamp, Jr.) Public domain.

MDK receives a commission on books purchased through the link in this article.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Thank you for this. I’m struggling with a relationship now and this gave me good perspective — and hope that we can make it through. It also inspired a “golden shovel” poem that I’ll share.

    Frustrated and stymied, I look at us, at this —
    This thing we have built over the years, this relationship
    And while I’m not sure what it is, I know what it isn’t
    It isn’t a give and take, a balanced discussion, a place where minds are meeting
    It has become a place where each is focused on “I” “me” “my”
    And any love we had is drowned in needs.

    • I’m also struggling in my primary relationship–with myself–and also with my partner. I have always struggled with my partners because I struggle in my relationship with myself. I’m 63 and it just goes on. I have more hope than I have had because I’m beginning to understand HOW to ‘do the work’.

      The poem is lovely, and speaks to so many things that are true right now in my relationship. And I deeply appreciate BarbaraLC’s replacing ‘drowned’ with the hopeful “drowning”.

      • Yes… Resonating and appreciating this comment’s insights.

        Thank you Max Daniels:
        Allowing … There’s so much in this component: freedom; patience; breadth (and breath)..
        Leads me back to Pema Chodron’s (Buddhist) notion of the gap … pause. Setting aside desperation.

        Much thanks and blessings today…

    • You are doing “the work” to sort your relationship out. And so beautifully. I wish you both good luck and clarity. Perhaps changing “drowned” to “drowning” offers hope.

  • ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ Thank you for such a well-spoken, truthful article. I will share this with some of my friends struggling with relationships.

  • Oh, Max, my brain is exploding! I will have to think about this a lot … thank you so much.

  • After 50 years of marriage, I find our relationship very challenging. I thought it would get easier with time but health issues offer their own challenges as we age. Thank you for these words!

  • Amazing thoughts! I am also agree with this 5 A’s of relationship. From my point of view, the last one Allowing is very difficult to achieve in a relationship. And, this is really tough for me from my childhood. Anyhow, I have found my feet in this life.
    Thanks for sharing wonderful information.

  • I was thinking recently about how my view on relationships now, in my mid-50s, compared to my younger beliefs. What I’ve come to realize is that you need to be able to TRULY take care of yourself and love yourself; then inviting another person in can be for shared delighted. When your own worth is based on whether or not someone else values you (‘if they leave me I am a failure, I will be unworthy’), then it becomes really hard to have true delight together. That kind of anxiety feeding the time you spend together will mar the joy. I wish I understood this three decades ago.

  • Ooooohhh…food for thought…a buffet, actually. Soup’s on, so to speak. Say grace. Dig in. Thank you.

  • Having just made significant relationships decisions your article is exactly what I need to keep moving forward. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • It may be Ok as a good self message, but not for relationships. As a developmental psychologist, I assure you that part of parent’s job is to teach humans that all parts of themselves are neither allowed or welcome. See: temper tantrums. “I always love you but you can NOT hit me.”

    • I also am a (retired) developmental clinical psychologist and would like to add a slightly different perspective on the above concepts of Acceptance and Allow. Taking your example of the temper tantrum: it’s entirely possible to view tantrums and hitting as unacceptable behaviors, while at the same time 1) Accepting and Allowing frustration/anger/emotional reactivity as ok parts of a child and 2) teaching them more appropriate ways to manage/express those tendencies or feelings. The point, I think, is for a child (or adult for that matter) to feel acceptable at their core so they can treat both themselves and others well in relationships. For me it helps to separate our behavioral choices from who we are at the core.

  • I got divorced in 1992 and have stayed single more often than not since then. I’ve been in several relationships but at this point my inclination to actively seek a romantic relationship is pretty low – I’m comfortable with myself and not much in the mood to manage the intricacies and demands of making a romantic relationship work. I wouldn’t turn one down if it popped up but that seems pretty unlikely. That’s partly because of our cultural negative view of older women and so when I read the sentence “I also wonder whether I should be wondering this in public, as a woman of a certain age, that age known as crone. ” I cringed. CRONE what a nasty word; one that is used specifically to denigrate women. Oh – you’re older and no longer deferential to men; not a shrinking violet? What a crone! ugh.

    I truly believe that step 1 in achieving self love is getting out from under terms like ‘crone’ and just never using them. You are not a crone – you are a strong woman who has a strong enough self image question relationships and determine if any given one (and this goes for all relationships) is good for you or not ,and that’s to be celebrated, not denigrated. Yay for liberation!

    • Crones. . . from their ancient word origin …are the bearers of wisdom, deep cultural power, and wildly independent.
      We are fierce (in a Beyoncé meets Anne Hutchinson way).
      ‘Tis a good word my dear.

    • Find a copy of The Crone, by Barbara Walker (yes, she of the knitting pattern books). It dives into the original sense of a crone, and how it was warped when the patriarchal system took over. Fascinating book. I’ve been calling myself a crone ever since I read it.

      • Feminist Fairy Tales by Barbara Walker

      • Wow! Thanks for that information.

      • Holy mackerel! Barbara Walker of the stitches fame also wrote about crone hood!

        • Yes, she studied and wrote about mysticism and feminism a great deal. She also has a book, the name escapes me right now, that is a retelling of many European fairy tales from a feminist perspective. It’s great too!

    • I googled the definition for the word crone and found words like witch, hag, old woman and felt really bad. However, like most times when I Google something I scroll down and I keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. I knew there had to be something more, something positive because so many women have embraced the word over the last 20 years that I have been aware of hearing it. What I found are the positive origins of the word and a lot of the information was from writings of he doctor Jean Shinoda Bolen. What I’m going to report below is from what I just read, not my own words.
      ” The crone stage of life is a time of giving back to society the cumulative wisdom of the years. The crone goddess represents the archetype of the older woman. Crone comes from crown, indicating wisdom emanating from the head; hag comes from hagio meaning holy; and which comes from wit meaning wise. The meanings of these 3 words however were distorted and eventually reversed during 300 years of the Inquisition. The crone began re-emerging into our consciousness in the early 1980s and today many older women are embracing this connection. ”

      There is a lot more to be read and to report we go out in the history of the crone and I urge people who are intrested to keep on researching.

      • I’m glad you kept searching the word crone. Thanks for sharing.

    • I feel like crone, like most old words, changes its tone depending on its context. I embrace the word crone, and the phrase old woman, especially when used by a woman to refer to herself with affection.

      • Agree, Kay, that Crone in most contexts means a strong, respected, older woman who has gifts and abilities it has taken a lifetime to learn and achieve. I, too, embrace my Crone-hood.

      • Point taken but for me Crone conjures images of the witch in Snow White. I’m good with the B word, though. It means Boys, I’m Taking Charge Here

      • Me too! I have aspired to Crone-hood (crone-ism?) for many years. It implies wisdom, experience, and compassion.

    • Bravo. Well said.

  • Thanks!

  • Marriages based on love are less likely to succeed than arranged marriages. How does that fit in with the 5 As, I wonder?

    • I think this is somewhat of a misconception, as arranged marriages happen in societies where divorce is frowned upon. Consequently, people may remain in unhappy marriages.

      Having said this, I think a lot of arranged marriages do work because they are designed to work. The parents and relatives find two people from similar backgrounds and families, similar status in society, with similar values, and encourage them to marry. Obviously personality and temperament are the wild cards.

      I think the marriages that work are where the people “evolve” together, rather than entering into marriage with a set of high expectations and then getting vexed when things deteriorate even slightly. And let’s not forget the infatuation Vegas weddings, I can’t say I’m shocked if those fail.

    • If that’s true I suspect it has a lot to do with cultural context and also expectations and definitions of “succeed.”

  • Wow. Well said. This goes to my BFF, especially the part about the relationship with one’s self. So many years of therapy and she still puts herself last and stifles her true feelings. Thank you, Max, for clarity!

  • I see “crone” as a badge of honor — it’s not an age thing as much as a wisdom thing. It’s interesting to me how we can react so differently to certain words.
    Thanks, Max for another great article. Taking responsibility for myself and my needs is an ongoing challenge. Maybe because I was raised not to have any needs/wants — kinda makes it difficult later in life to know what they are . . . it’s a treasure hunt. But oh so fun when a piece of treasure is found!!!!

  • I love the Durer. My friends used it for their wedding invitations more than 40 years ago. I remember it whenever I see this image.

    • But isn’t she reaching for a knife?

      • A knife and a key. Hmm.

      • I prefer to think that she’s just keeping it out of the way of her dancing! LOL

      • Haha good eye! Is she a cutpurse?

    • Julia, I was just telling Max that I LOVE her art selections!

  • I have always had a hard time understanding self care. I mean I go to doctor appointments, try to; exercise, cook healthy meals, and keep my self doubts at bay. We now know that human touch and interactions help us become decent people. We know to be caring, emphatic, to understand alternative points of views help us become better human beings. Here is my rub some of us have either one parent mentally ill or both parents. Parents who did not understand the importance of touch, of playing with their children, who don’t praise their children, parents who self medicate with alcohol, or drugs, financially irresponsible, are absent emotionally, psychologically, their reality is completely different than yours, and they are your parents.You love them in a way, but it is truly hard to be with them. The responsibility of maintaining, engaging, and keeping the relationship thriving falls not on the parent but on the child. There is no meeting in the middle. You as the child are tasked with the hard work of keeping the relationship alive. Relationships can be hard, difficult, and heartbreaking. They can also be rewarding, helpful, and fulfilling, but it takes two people to make a relationship. It isn’t always 50/50. If the parent view themselves on a pedestal, unreachable, untouchable, their view is only the correct view, then the problems start as the very basic points of one’s life. How do I feel good about myself if my parents thought so little of me? The five A’s are as far away from me as I am to Mars.

    • I’ve been pretty much where you are, and I can report that I’m not there anymore. First step was to find a good therapist; I hope you are able to do that. It has taken work, but I’m learning that the fact that my parents couldn’t love me does not make me unlovable. You can learn to be kind to yourself.

    • It’s a very hard road, no lie. I realized in reading the 5 A’s that I did feel appreciated by my parents, and that appreciation seems to be the A i’m the best at: I’m excellent at appreciating people’s gifts, achievements, talents, regardless of the medium. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m an excellent audience. However, all the other A’s have eluded me and I’m still striving for them.

    • I can relate to this but I also see that my road to the 5 A’s has been on me and it’s been a long, difficult road with twists and turns – some rewards and many challenges. It’s not easy to set boundaries for the parents who didn’t show a good enough example of the five A’s.

  • It seems to me that you have touched quite a nerve, Max. If we think of ourselves as fundamentally individual (the norm since at least Reagan/Thatcher), we are naturally going to think of our own “needs” first, maybe only. If we see ourselves as fundamentally social, that is, as dependent on and connected to others—in a world where we all must share with others and give to others, who also share with and give to us—we will have a different view of our “needs.” To say “This relationship does not meet my needs” is a perfect expression of a transactional view of relationships. Most people want something more. Relationships beyond the transactional experience sacrifice, pain, disappointment, anger, loss, and also joy, wonder, contentment, acceptance, tenderness. As you say, the answer is Love. What does love require of us? I think that is the essential question.

  • To me relationships are more than joy and delight. A true, close relationship should also include being there in the really tough times, supporting each other when one is weak, bearing each other’s burdens.

  • There is a lot here. The benefits of having loving grandparents – look at Simone Biles – and what to do if you didn’t (I was lucky, don’t know the answer for the opposite). The various interpretations of Crones. None of them particularly sexy. And so on. But what got me sidetracked at the beginning was “a woman of a certain age.” Why don’t they ever say “a man of a certain age”? And yet men have certain ages, too. The ages of Childhood, Vigor, Decline with various permutations in-between. I remember reading a plea from the mother of boys for women to stop demonizing men because she saw her sons go through so much on their way to adulthood. And there was an article about Joseph Campbell somewhere on the Internet, it’s been a long while) who said no matter how much men posture about the pros and cons of women at all stages, all men find all women mysterious (his word) and awesome (mine, because I don’t remember his whole quote). I thought that was kind of comforting and mention it here because it might help us as women to love ourselves better and, hence, do better in our relationships. Which in today’s society is certainly a challenge.

  • Wow, this is a great article. You always knock it out of the park. As a kid I didn’t get attention and allowance from my parents. I feel lucky that they taught me the other three, as it was the 70’s. They were busy. Thinking of things in terms of the 5 As is helpful for me to see where I need some work. Also, it makes me think of Fonzie “aaayyyy” lol.

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