The Difference Between Need and Needy

Much of what I have to say about relationships encourages individuals to look to God as their source, recognize their own capacity to receive from Him all they need and then approach relationships from a place of strength and power, to give rather than to get. On the other hand, I often find myself encouraging people towards honesty and vulnerability within relationships, especially in communicating to others what you need from them in the relationship.

So which is it? Am I allowed to have needs in the relationship or not?

There’s a difference between need and being needy.

Needy sounds like this:

  • I can’t be happy without you.
  • Your love for me proves my worth.
  • Your love for me proves my beauty.
  • Your love for me proves my strength.
  • Who I am is dependent upon how you relate to me.
  • You are my source.

Honestly and vulnerably communicating the above “needs” won’t help it all. It will either drive that person away or create a very unhealthy connection. In a healthy relationship, each individual has a sense of identity sourced in God where their own sense of self finds its source, strength, stability and security in God alone. A healthy person would come to a relationship with this attitude:

  • My happiness is fully contingent upon how I respond to God as my source.
  • I’m bringing my worth to this relationship, not looking to this relationship to find it.
  • I’m bringing my beauty to this relationship, not looking to this relationship to find it.
  • I’m bringing my strength to this relationship, not looking to this relationship to find it.
  • The way you relate to me cannot change my sense of identity.
  • You are not my source, God is.

A person who brings this attitude to a relationship is NOT needy. But can this person feel and express need within the relationship?


Neediness is about needing you in order for me to be okay. Powerful people come to a relationship with an awareness that they can be okay with or without the other person. But when two powerful people choose to link their lives together in relationship, a new entity comes into existence. No longer is there just me and you. Now there is also an us. I exist as an individual. You exist as an individual. And now our relationship exists as well. Relationships are either healthy or not depending on what each individual brings or fails to bring to the relationship. There’s you; there’s me; there’s the rope we’re hanging on to. I need you to hang on to your end of the rope. You need me to hang on to mine.

For our relationship to be healthy, I need you to…

For our relationship to be healthy, I need you to stop…

When you do ______, it increases anxiety for me in our relationship.

When you don’t ________, it increases anxiety for me in our relationship.

This kind of need is real and healthy. Expressing this kind of need with vulnerability and honesty within a relationship is essential for relational health. Powerful people are able to express need in this way without judgment or any need to control how the other person will respond. Powerful people recognize that when they express what they need in a relationship. the other person may prove unwilling to bring to the relationship what’s needed for health. Powerful people will then redraw boundaries to rightly define the the relationship as it’s proven to be in actuality. Powerful people know that they will be okay regardless of how the other person responds, but the health of the relationship itself, and therefore the nature of that relationship, will be contingent upon the willingness of both parties to do their part.

When a powerful person knows deep down in their knower that they will be okay regardless of how the other person responds to their need, this doesn’t in any way mean that they are impervious to hurt. Not at all. Not in any way. A powerful person risks hurt knowing they have an eternal source they can go to with pain, rejection or abandonment. They have a Comforter who will walk with them through the grief of loss. A powerful person knows they can be healed.

How are you living within the key relationships in your life? Are you needy? Or are you honestly and vulnerably expressing what you need?


About the Author:

Alan Smith is the Senior Leader of Catch the Fire DFW, an incredible community in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that launched Spring 2014. Alan and Nancy married in 1994 and have three brilliant and beautiful children. Alan formerly served as Pastor of Freedom Ministry at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. He enjoys the Dallas Cowboys, good books, writing, speaking, jazz, live music, traveling, coffee, and time with close friends. Not necessarily in that order.