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Why it is Important to Realize the Difference Between Wants, Needs and Values

Visitors at Van Gogh exhibitionA central part of experiencing harmony and peace in relationships is understanding core values, knowing what yours are, and seeing that there are matches within your intimate relationships. It is also important to understand the connection between wants, needs and values.

We wrote about these three less than two months ago (link), but we would like to say more. It’s important because when two people differ on their wants, needs or values, they often clash over them.

We see wants, needs and values as being on a continuum of increasing importance.


Wants change rapidly in a short period of time, and as a result, are the easiest to work with when looking for mutual solutions. One day you want ice cream, and the next, a Maxblast 2100J windshield defroster. They often come and go, and you are the least invested in them compared to needs and values. Because they are so ephemeral, they are easy to alter.

When you examine what lies behind that want, and what is driving that in turn, you can get to what it is that you actually want from any given situation or decision. Through this process you can find ways to satisfy your true wants and more easily match them up with another person’s.

Many of the decisions that you make and the solutions that you seek in your partnerships and friendships fall within this area and can be resolved with good will and a desire to find paths that work for both parties.


In between wants and values are your needs, though the boundaries between all three may be unclear. Is owning a dog something you want or something you need? Is having art in your life a need or a value? But you can say for sure that a need is something without which your life feels incomplete.

Needs, beyond the very basic ones we all share, are also potentially malleable. They may be about the material world, but may also be emotional in nature, and they might be so deeply entrenched from childhood or society that they seem to be wired in. For example:

  • you need to feel taken care of in a relationship
  • you need an aspect of BDSM in your life
  • you need a physically active lifestyle
  • you live for extreme sports

Sometimes needs like this can fit well in a relationship, and sometimes they are completely incompatible, like whether or not to have children. Sometimes they appear at odds, like whether to relocate for a job or to study, and it is a challenge to balance those needs against a relationship. Phil has read a number of advice columns agonizing over whether to move away to college or stay with the boy or girl friend.

When difficulties occur within relationships over differing needs, it takes a true dedication to finding mutuality, a deep respect for each other and a strong understanding that both parties are on the same side. Whether for personal progress or harmony in your relationship, you must look at what your strongest needs are and evaluate whether you want to maintain, support and uphold them. Sometimes needs can get in the way of living a harmonious life. Examine whether they are limiting you in your growth or the growth of your relationship.

Depending on this analysis, you will be able to gauge the potential for harmony in any given relationship and what your further course of action should be. As needs are able to change with time, it is still possible to find resolutions that can work, even if those potential changes are in the future. Change is always challenging and it also brings forth great benefits.


Lastly we come to values and recognizing what yours are. The very word “value” can be used in different ways. It can be an ethical value like the golden rule. Or it can mean what you value, not in a material sense, but characteristics like loyalty, praise, or freedom. Values change slowly, if at all. Wants and needs often have underlying values, and those values are at the very center of your choices and actions. They are ethical, moral and spiritual. When your core values match, it is almost always possible to find mutual solutions, if you follow a process of acceptance and honor the individuality of the other person. Therein lies the secret of what differentiates an argumentative, estranged way of being with someone from a harmonious peaceful one.

In the area of recognizing and managing your wants, needs and values, as with so many things, it requires working on yourself, getting to know yourself and then applying what you learn to your interactions with others. This can be quite a journey and we are all on it. Have fun with it. Treat it as an adventure!

Photo credit: Phil Mayes
Photo note: “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” at San Jose McEnery Convention Center. (Do you see art as a need or a value?)

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Books on shelfThis week, we wrote about why it is important to realize the difference between wants, needs and values. There are many differing definitions that people have for wants, needs and values. Here are some writings to the subject.

Valuing Our Needs, Wants and Desires “Sometimes we become so embroiled in what is wrong with us that we forget to appreciate and cherish all that is great. We abandon our own values and value and allow ourselves to be validated by the views of others. Loving ourselves as imperfect people and honouring who we are and what we value is the key to creating and manifesting all that is great within us.”

How to Identify Your Needs and Values “Our core values define what's most meaningful and essential to us. One of my coaches, mentors, and author, Martha Lasley, believes that when we align our values, our mission and life's vision becomes more evident and definable. "Values hold the essence of your experience and form the building blocks of your personal foundation."

Understanding the difference between a Need & a Value “Great relationships are built on interdependence – where the individual maintains their own responsibility for meeting their own needs and working together to create a vision for the future and planning how that vision will come into being by implementing shared values and meeting in the middle when values are in polarity. So understanding what our intrinsic needs are very important – as we must learn to meet them ourselves – freeing up our relationships for greater intimacy, positive communication, mutual understanding, respect and growth.”

Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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