Basic Needs and Feelings - The Theory

Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom - William Glasser M.D. 1998

Basic Needs and Feelings
The Theory

BECAUSE OUR PARENTS, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and teachers—grandparents are often an exception—are all dedicated to trying to make us do things their way, we quickly learn to practice external control psychology. What we do not learn is the underlying motivation for all our behavior, for example, why long-term relationships are so much more important to us than to most other living creatures and why they are so hard to achieve. As I explain our motivation, which I believe is built into our genes, I will also explain that there are genetic reasons why we choose so many controlling behaviors.

When we are born, about all we can do is cry, fuss, suck, and thrash our arms and legs. This crying and fussing, an early expression of anger, is our way of trying to force our mothers to care for us, and most mothers choose to respond to these demands. Without this care, we would quickly die. This early crying, which is our attempt to satisfy a genetic need to survive, introduces us to what will be a lifelong practice of trying to control others. But this is only an introduction; we are not so strongly driven by our genes that we cannot learn to take care of ourselves.

The following story shows not only that the child’s struggle for control is not genetic but that we can care for people we are not related to and don’t even know. On a plane from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, a child, who looked to be around sixteen months old, screamed for the whole three-hour trip. The mother was at her wits’ end. All of us felt for her and what she was trying to deal with. Some even tried to help, but the child was implacable. Fifteen minutes before landing, the mother shrieked, loudly enough to be heard all over the plane: “This has been a flight from hell!” The child was in pain; perhaps his ears were not adjusting to the change in pressure. His brain was programmed to interpret the pain as life threatening, and driven by his need to survive, he did what he could: He screamed. He knew what he was doing—he was trying to force his mother to help him. At that age, he knew no other choice.

But when these controlling behaviors stop working, as they will as the child grows older, the child can easily learn to take care of himself. Suppose the same child, ten years from now, still has some trouble with changing air pressure. On the same flight with his mother, he won’t scream for three hours. He will understand that his mother can do nothing, that he is not in danger of dying, and that screaming does no good. He may even be concerned that, if he screams, she may get angry and give him even less comfort. He will pay no attention to his genes and will bear his pain as best he can.

But something else was going on during that plane ride. Almost all the passengers felt warmly toward the mother, and we would have put ourselves out to help her if we could. This is only one small example of the obvious fact that most of us care for people we don’t know. We are also willing to pay taxes and donate to charity to care for strangers. This caring for those who are not related to us is a uniquely human behavior.

Since the long-term care of our children and lifelong concern for members of our species takes a lot of time, energy, and resources that could be devoted to our own and our children’s survival, I believe that humans have additional genetic instructions, as strong as survival, that drive us to be closely involved with each other all our lives. In an affluent country such as the United States, where literal survival is not a major concern for most people, the vast majority of the misery we suffer or the happiness we enjoy is related to our ability to satisfy these nonsurvival instructions. To explain what I mean, I have to briefly discuss genetics.

When a sperm fertilizes an egg, each has contributed fifty thousand genes to this first cell. These hundred thousand genes carry the instructions for what each of us is to become. As the first cell divides and subdivides the billions of times it takes to create a person, a copy of these initial genes is duplicated in almost all the cells of the growing fetus. Every cell that carries a copy of these genes is instructed by one or more genes to become what is needed—skin, muscle, bone, bone marrow, heart, lungs, and brain.

Geneticists have discovered that these hundred thousand genes contain the total program that, when followed, causes each of us to become anatomically and physiologically what he or she is. If I have brown eyes and black hair, it is my genes that have provided these anatomical characteristics. If I have good digestion or musical talent, it is due to the physiology of my stomach, intestines, or brain, all derived from my genes. If I have cystic fibrosis, it is because some of the genes that deal with my lungs are not working anatomically or physiologically as they should.

Geneticists are continuing to try to discover the exact purpose of all hundred thousand genes—the human genome—but much is still unknown. They agree that thousands fewer than the hundred thousand genes are needed to produce a baby with a normal anatomy and physiology. This leaves a huge number of genes whose function is yet to be discovered. I believe that some of these unknown genes provide a basis for our psychology—how we behave and what we choose to do with our lives.

Therefore, besides survival, which depends a lot on our physiology, I believe we are genetically programmed to try to satisfy four psychological needs: love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. All our behavior is always our best choice, at the time we make the choice, to satisfy one or more of these needs. All living organisms, plant and animal, have survival, including the ability to reproduce, programmed into their genes. Higher-order animals share some of our other needs. For example, dogs can love and can even be jealous, but they do not love with the intensity, complexity, and variety of human beings.

More than those of any other higher-order animals, our genes motivate us far beyond survival. Our need for love and belonging drives us not only to care for others to the point of caring for others we do not know, but also to seek satisfying relationships with special people, such as mates, family members, and friends all our lives. Other genes drive us to strive for power, freedom, and fun. Some large-brained animals, such as whales, porpoises, and primates, seem to have similar needs, but not enough is known to compare their needs with ours. My guess is that there are many similarities. Even though we do not know what these needs are and may never know them to the extent I explain in this chapter, we start to struggle to satisfy them as soon as we draw our first breath. We continue this struggle all our lives.

Our ability to start to satisfy our needs before we know what we are doing or why we are doing it is one of nature’s strokes of genius. Evolution has provided humans and higher-order animals with genes that grant us the ability to feel. On the basis of this ability, the first thing we know and more than anything we will ever know is how we feel. Because we have the most diverse and complex needs of all living creatures, we have the widest range of feelings. But no matter how complex our feelings are, whether we feel good or bad, we also remember what we were doing when we felt very good or very bad. On the basis of these memories, we struggle to feel as good as we can and, as much as we are able, try to avoid feeling bad. Therefore, the tangible motivation for all our behaviors is to feel as good as possible as often as possible.

But as we grow from infancy to childhood and then to adulthood, we discover that feeling good becomes more and more difficult because our relationships with people grow much more complex. To the toddler on the airplane, things were simple: If it hurts, scream and try to get mother to solve the problem. To the twelve-year-old, things were more complicated: Bear the pain and don’t try to get mother to do what she can’t do; if I scream, I may endanger my relationship with her. So as much as we want to feel good and avoid pain, our relationships with the people we learn we need have a significant effect on what we choose to do.

To achieve a good relationship, most of us are willing to suffer pain, even a lot of pain, because the relationship is more important to us than the suffering. To gain, keep, and improve relationships, we are willing to engage in long-term unpleasant activities because we believe that in the end, we will feel better and get closer to the people we need. Even without the promise of a better relationship, most of us are willing to delay pleasure or suffer pain in the hope that we will feel better or suffer less later.

But even when we are unhappy, our genes do not limit our ability to feel good to a pleasurable relationship. To expand on what I began at the end of the last chapter, there are things we can do for pleasure that don’t depend on anyone except ourselves. Beginning early in life, most people masturbate for pleasure. We may fantasize others while we do so, but the pleasure does not depend on them. We also get pleasure from hurting people—putting them down is a frequent way we do so—which may satisfy our need for power even though it frustrates our need for love and belonging in the process. We can satisfy our survival genes by engaging in nonloving sex, just using another person’s body for pleasure. We can fool our brains with addictive drugs that provide feelings that are similar to how we feel when any need is satisfied.

Our society functions as well as it does because most of us never give up the search for happiness, never give up on the idea that even though people may not be easy to get along with, we need them. We struggle together to survive. It is easier, more efficient, and usually feels better than if we struggle by ourselves. Of course, we need others to satisfy our need for love and belonging. We discover that it feels good to use some of our power to help others and that we may gain more power in the process. When we seek freedom, we do so with the hope that someone will always welcome us back when we want to come back. We prefer learning and having fun with others. This is the ideal way to satisfy our basic needs—trying to get close and stay close to each other.

People who have no close relationships are almost always lonely and feel bad. They have no confidence that they will feel good tomorrow because tomorrow will be as lonely as today. Unlike happy people, they concentrate on short-term pleasure. The alcoholic lives for the immediate feeling provided by alcohol; that he may wrap his car around a tree does not cross his mind. Where pleasure is concerned, unhappy people may be totally irrational when they are seeking instant gratification.

Although the actual feelings that accompany pleasure without relationships may be similar to how we feel when we are enjoying relationships, the activities that lead to these similar feelings are different. Beware of getting involved with people who seem to be able to feel good but have no close friends. They may be witty and fun to be around, but their humor is all put-downs and hostility. If you marry such a person, you will soon be the recipient of that hostile humor and may regret it for the rest of your marriage. Look for someone who has good friends whom he or she treats well and whom you enjoy being with, too. Someone who does not have good friends does not know how to love.

Assuming that we feel good much of the time and keep close to others who feel the same, how we feel tells us with great accuracy how well we are satisfying our need for love and belonging (and how well the other needs are satisfied if we satisfy them with people we care about). Each of us has a unique level of need satisfaction that tells us that this or that need is satisfied and additional effort is not worthwhile. I explain this idea further in chapter 5 when I discuss the strength of individual needs.

If you get up in the morning and feel miserable, you can be sure that one or more of the five basic needs is not satisfied to the extent you would like to satisfy that need or needs. For example, if you wake up with the flu, the pain tells you that your need to survive is being threatened by an infection. If you awaken lonely because your last child has just left for college, your need for love and belonging is acutely unsatisfied. If you are up for a promotion at work and you will get the news today, your edginess is your way of dealing with this possible loss of power. If you get the promotion, you will feel good; if not, you will feel worse than you feel right now. If you have been counting on being free to go on a family vacation and discover that the dog is missing, you are angry because you are not at liberty to leave until you find him. If you are scheduled to have fun playing tennis, but it’s starting to rain, you don’t have to wonder if your need for fun is frustrated; your disappointment tells you immediately that it is.

Once you learn about the needs, you can usually recognize which are frustrated when you feel bad and which are satisfied when you feel good. It may not be as obvious as in these clear-cut examples, but you can usually figure it out if you take the time.


All living creatures are genetically programmed to struggle to survive. The Spanish word ganas describes the strong desire to engage in this struggle better than any word I know. It means the desire to work hard, carry on, do whatever it takes to ensure survival, and go beyond survival to security. Ganas is a highly valuable trait; if you want a job done, hire someone with a lot of it. If you are looking for a mate you can count on to help build a family and a life with you, find one with ganas and treat him or her well. Try not to criticize this motivated mate; you don’t want the ganas turned against you.

The other aspect of survival, the survival of the species, is based on sexual pleasure and, from a genetic standpoint, has been highly successful. There are few places where there is a shortage of people. Sex is, of course, involved with our other needs beyond survival; sex for pleasure is very often on the minds of many people. Whether or not love is combined with sex, birth control is an easy way to increase this pleasure, perhaps one of the best ways that human beings have figured out to eat their cake and have it, too.

One of the differences between human survival and the survival of animals is that early in life, humans become aware of the need to survive, both now and in the future. We make an effort to live our lives in ways that lead to longevity. Many people exercise, diet, and even buy bottled water in the hope of living healthier and longer lives. Unfortunately, fat, which is readily available but is harmful to survival, tastes good because our distant ancestors survived by eating it. Some of us give up our lives for cheeseburgers, but usually not until our children are well launched. So the genetic pleasure associated with eating fat is still with us and has to be overridden if we want to be healthy. But since we are conscious of the future, many of us are not comfortable eating fat, and this discomfort helps some of us avoid it.

I recognize that there are millions of people who suffer continually from hunger and disease because they do not have enough food or medical care. These people are not choosing to go hungry or without medical care. The pain of hunger is automatic, built into our need to survive, but this book does not deal directly with this kind of involuntary deprivation. I do, however, cover voluntary deprivation in some detail when I explain why so many teenage girls choose to starve themselves, a few even to death. Their doing so is an example of the ability to override one need, survival, for another, power. If survival was still the single basic need, there could be no anorexia and, of course, no suicide.

Choice theory can be applied to all human activities, including survival, but this book focuses on social activity: how giving up external control can help us to get along better with each other. However, it is interesting to note that in our violent society, getting along better with each other may have a lot to do with survival. For young men, gunshot wounds, not disease or accidents, are the leading cause of death. That many more would survive if they could get along better with each other is obvious. In our prehistoric past, survival was the single basic need, as it is with almost all animals today. But gradually, those who loved gained a survival advantage and, as this advantage continued, love began to separate from survival and became a basic need on its own. The same happened with power. As time went on, those who succeeded in achieving power had a much better chance of surviving than did those with little power, so the need for power also became a separate need.

To escape from the domination of others so we could more easily survive, we needed freedom; thus, it, too, became a separate need and served as a buffer against power. Fun, which is the genetic reward for learning, also became a separate need as we began to learn many things that were unrelated to survival but closely related to how to gain more love, power, and freedom. It is these additional lifelong needs beyond survival that make our lives so complicated, so different from those of animals. Next, I begin to take a closer look at the four new, beyond survival, needs, beginning with love and belonging, so you can better understand these complications. More will be explained about these psychological needs as I go further into the intricacies of choice theory, but what follows is a necessary beginning.


Almost every great book, play, or opera tells the story of people who, seeking sexual love, often start out well but fail miserably later on as criticizing, blaming, complaining, and jealousy take their toll on the relationship. The beginning isn’t so difficult. But our love and belonging genes demand that we keep love going for our whole lives, a demand that is hard to satisfy in an external control world. In time, many of what seemed in the beginning to be good relationships start to deteriorate. It is this deterioration that makes the trials and tribulations of love so interesting in literature. If the love continued strong, there would be no story. Infidelity, murder, suicide, and mental illness are the common miseries associated with deteriorating love. The feelings of jealousy, abandonment, revenge, and despair often dominate the lovers’ behavior.

But whether they kill, die, or suffer lesser degrees of misery, all people who are unhappy in love are involved in the first three variations of external control described in chapter I, all variations of You make me miserable, and I want you to change. The books and plays, while often extreme in their portrayal of this misery, are accurate. Failure at love may top the list of human misery.

Love, as all of us know, is hard to define. But however we define it, all of us believe we know the difference between being in love, which feels ecstatic, and not being in love when we want to be, which feels miserable. Later in this book, using a choice theory concept that I will explain, I offer a definition of love that has worked for many people. But for now, use whatever definition of love you are comfortable with. For what I am going to explain here, we need not have the same definition.

Although we are driven to find both love and belonging, we rarely have difficulty with belonging or friendship. We make and keep friends easily. It is love, mainly sexual love, that is the most frustrating part of this need. Because infidelity is almost universally fantasized when sexual love is not satisfying, there is no evidence that we are genetically driven to find sexual love with the same person for our entire lives. Our genes want someone; they don’t care whom. This truth is evident in the high divorce rate and the almost equally high remarriage rate, but, as I stated earlier, divorce is hardly the only indicator of an unhappy marriage. There are probably more unhappily married people who never divorce than those who do.

In most of our minds, satisfying sex and satisfying love go together. But when we get married and make a commitment to each other for life, we have no idea how difficult it will be to keep both sex and love going for anywhere near a lifetime. As the relationship continues and the coercion with which too many of us try to control each other starts to take its toll, the association between sex and love becomes tenuous to nonexistent. It is hard, if not impossible, to love someone who wants to control and change you or someone you want to control and change. Sex usually continues in the marriage, but it now becomes controlling. One or both partners practice external control and no longer finds love in the marriage. And each blames the other for how lonely they both now feel.

My guess is that the vast majority of people who engage in sex are not in love with each other, or one may be in love but the other is not. But many were once in love, and most would like to be in love if it were possible. To get sex, which can provide pleasure without love, many people are willing to act as if they are in love when they are not. But many don’t even bother to act. Driven by survival hormones that care nothing about love, they have sex for pleasure with people they don’t even like, much less love. The sex feels good for one or both, and that becomes sufficient reason to have it.

Sex is also very much involved with power, but that need not preclude love or friendship. This could be described as loving, or friendly, power sex. Henry Kissinger said that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Women are attracted to powerful men (men they wouldn’t consider if they weren’t powerful) for a host of obvious reasons, and vice-versa. Powerful men and women throughout history have indulged in the pleasures of sex with partners who want to fantasize they are sharing some of the power. In some cases, the fantasy becomes a reality, as it did for Wallis Warfield Simpson when Edward VIII gave up the British crown for her. Sex is also a way to share friendship and have fun. For one or both friendly partners, recreational sex, without the tensions of love and all its expectations, is enjoyable. It may be a pleasant way to learn about a new person.

Literature focuses on the beginning and end of love because that’s when exciting things are happening. The more prosaic middle ground, the creative struggle to keep love going for the life of the relationship, which may be of great interest to those who read books, is missing. It is hard for a writer to make this part of a relationship dramatic. Yet lasting love is of vital interest to almost everyone.

To keep any love, sexual or not, going, we need to go back to the friendship discussed in the first chapter. Unlike lovers or even many family members, good friends can keep their friendship going for a lifetime because they do not indulge in the fantasies of ownership. To begin with, they do not become good friends if they have little or nothing in common. I discuss compatibility in detail later, but here, to test if your love is likely to last, ask yourself, How much do I have in common with the person I think I’m falling in love with and even beginning a sexual relationship with? Especially ask yourself, If I were not hormonally attracted to this person, would he or she be someone I would enjoy as a friend? If the answer is no, there is little chance for that love to succeed. Hormones get us together; they do not keep us together.

For a loving and sexual relationship to last, most of us also need a life of our own—not a sexual life but a social or recreational life separate from the relationship. Husbands and wives need to have their own interests, hobbies, and friends that each pursues separately. Can you indulge those interests without fear of criticism or complaint? We do so easily and naturally with good friends and among members of a caring family. Most of us need to learn to do so as easily in marriage. To try to stop a partner from enjoying these respites is destructive to the relationship. Depending on your mate for everything is asking more than what most relationships can provide.

When we think of love, we tend to think more of getting it than giving it. Do you love me? is the question we often ask the other when we are dissatisfied. Can love last when one partner gives a lot more than the other partner? Of course, anything can happen; you may find a giving person who asks little of you. But you can’t depend on getting as much love as you want for very long without giving some back. Both love and friendship are two-way streets. Accepting love is also an art. To learn to receive it graciously is of great help to any relationship.

Difficulties also occur in nonsexual love. Members of families, especially children and parents, often want more than the other is willing to give. When they do, and one or both parties use external control, the family is often torn apart. There is no way to prevent this rupture as long as all parties involved try to control the others. Unfortunately, these are the behaviors that most family members use when they start to disagree. There is nothing I can suggest to solve family or any other difficulties that have to do with giving and getting love except giving up external control and starting to practice choice theory.


If there is a distinctive human need, it is power. As part of their need to survive, some higher-order animals want love; most want freedom; and, at least when they are young, most play and seem to be learning and having fun. But power in the sense that people want it—power for the sake of power—is unique to our species. Animals become aggressive when they are threatened, want sex, want food for themselves, or food for their young, but this behavior is for survival, not for power. When animals have enough food and are not driven by hormones or young to feed, they are not aggressive. We are the only power-driven species. It is this need for power that very early displaces survival and governs the lives most of us choose to live.

Many humans admit that they have enough of everything a person could possibly want but still want the pleasure associated with getting more even though getting more often means others get less. Even long-term friendships are vulnerable when one friend wants and tries to get much more power than the other. It’s hard to stay friends with someone who is consumed with greed and status. For many people, the quest for this feeling is almost insatiable. We want to win; to run things; to have it our way; and to tell others what to do, see them do it, and have them do it the way we know is best. In the pursuit of power, many people have no qualms about doing whatever they believe is necessary to get it, even if it means sacrificing a marriage or a relationship with a child or parent or destroying a business competitor. Even murder is not beyond the pale for people obsessed by power.

In the external control society we live in, the powerful often define reality, even though this definition may be harmful to others. For example, teachers who believe it is right to fail students are common in all schools. Failing children, an abusive practice based on power, is a strong reason for the flat line of human progress graphed in the first chapter. By itself, power is neither good nor bad. It is how it is defined, acquired, and used that makes the difference.

As infants, once we get a taste of power through seeing our parents or others jump to attention to give us what we want, our need for more power starts to take over. By the time we are teenagers, power pushes us far beyond what we would do if our only motivation was to survive and get loving attention. Driven by power, we have created a pecking order in almost everything we do; social position, neighborhoods, dwellings, clothing, grades, winning, wealth, beauty, race, strength, physique, the size of our breasts or biceps, cars, food, furniture, television ratings, and almost anything else you can think of has been turned into a power struggle. Trying to get ahead even to the point of pushing others down is a way of life for some people in our society.

Of course, many people gain power working for the common good. We struggle to achieve things that give us a strong sense of power and may also help others in many ways. When one person raises his batting average or lowers her golf score, someone else’s does not diminish. When a doctor saves a human life or develops a new treatment, he or she feels powerful and everyone benefits. The ranks of the teaching profession are filled with happy teachers who feel powerful when they see students succeed. I have written this book to try to help people, and if I succeed, I will feel very good and very powerful.

Fortunately, in an affluent, reasonably democratic society such as ours, almost everyone has some access to power, and many people are satisfied with the amount they have. We don’t all aspire to as much power as do politicians or those rich people who have made their own money. But, at a minimum, we want someone to listen to what we have to say. If no one listens to us, we feel the pain of the powerless, the kind of pain you feel in à foreign country when you are trying to get information and no one speaks your language. In a choice theory world, many more people would enjoy the benefits of listening to each other without trying to get the last word.

In personal relations, coercion doesn’t work any better for the powerful than it does for anyone else. Because the powerful tend to use it so much, it may actually work to their disadvantage in their marriages and with their families. Powerful men used to stay with their wives, but it was unusual for them to be faithful. Today many more of them divorce, rather than pretend that their marriages are successful. Because today the law protects wives who divorce much more than it did in the past, many more unhappy wives now divorce their powerful husbands. The powerful need choice theory for happiness as much as or more than other people. Because of their power, if they embraced this theory, the whole society could benefit.

In a choice theory society, where the emphasis is on getting along with one another, forcing others would be practiced less often. There would be little reason to judge each other, and more effort would be made to negotiate differences. The powerful would find that there is more power in getting along with people than in trying to dominate them. A characteristic of this society would be learning to deal with the need for power. Such a society is not beyond our grasp if we can change our psychology.


Just as the power of others concerns us primarily when they use it to threaten what we want to do with our lives, freedom concerns us mainly when we perceive that it is threatened. I believe that the need for freedom is evolution’s attempt to provide the correct balance between your need to try to force me to live my life the way you want and my need to be free of that force. This balance is best expressed by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. External control, the child of power, is the enemy of freedom. Its bloody rule, use the power you have to kill the people who don’t agree with you, is the leading cause of suffering around the world.

But more than suffering is at stake. Whenever we lose freedom, we reduce or lose what may be a defining human characteristic: our ability to be constructively creative. As I explain in great detail in chapter 7, our creativity is not necessarily good. When we don’t feel free to express ourselves, or if we do and no one will listen to us, our creativity may cause us pain or even make us sick. The more we are free and able to satisfy our needs in a way that does not stop another person from satisfying his or hers—the golden rule again—the more we are able to use our creativity not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of everyone. Creative people who feel free to create are rarely selfish; they get a lot of pleasure from sharing their gift.

What made the United States one of the most creative, modern countries is that our Constitution protects our freedom, especially free speech. The Founding Fathers, many of whom were rich and powerful, were well aware of the dangers of an oppressive society when they wrote the Constitution. Most of them had fled England to find freedom and were generous enough to want to share it with many who were much less powerful. To be rich and powerful is not necessarily to be selfish.

But after so many years of the freedom we have, many people are still deeply suspicious of free speech, of allowing people to say things that they know are not right. Having enjoyed the benefits and suffered the problems of the Bill of Rights for so long, these people see only the problems and would vote against this protection today if they had a chance. If you will do what I say, I will protect you against the forces of evil is the working maxim of every tyrant who has ever lived.


Fun is the genetic reward for learning. We are descended from people who learned more or better than others. This learning gave these people a survival advantage, and the need for fun became built into our genes. With the possible exception of whales and porpoises, we are the only creatures who play all our lives. And because we do, we learn all our lives. The day we stop playing is the day we stop learning. Fun is best defined by laughter. People who fall in love are learning a lot about each other, and they find themselves laughing almost continually.

One of the first times infants laugh out loud is when someone plays peek-a-boo with them. I believe they laugh because that game teaches them a useful lesson: I am I, and you are you. Up to that time, they thought that I am I, and you are me, too—that they owned everyone who took care of them. Not being able to recognize that you are different from others and don’t own them is not a problem when we are a few months old. But it is destructive to relationships if it continues into adulthood. It is important to find out early that we are different from others and that the only persons we own are ourselves.

It takes a lot of effort to get along well with each other, and the best way to begin to do so is to have some fun learning together. Laughing and learning are the foundation of all successful long-term relationships. When a marriage begins to go sour, fun is the first casualty. That’s too bad because fun is the easiest need to satisfy. There are so many things you can do to have fun, and rarely does anyone stand in your way.


The answer to the all-important question posed in the first chapter, How can I figure out how to be free to live my life the way I want to live it and still get along well with the people I need? is that it is much more possible to find ways to do so with choice theory than with external control psychology. But if you want total freedom, you can’t have it. None of us is free from what is written in his or her genes. As much as we may try to find love and belonging, we can’t disregard the other needs, especially power and freedom.

Power destroys love. No one wants to be dominated, no matter how much those who dominate protest their love. Love also means working out how much to be together—there is less room for freedom in a good relationship than many of us want. Over time these amounts will change. If they cannot be successfully worked out, the relationship may fail.

The partners are the coleaders of a sextet of needs, his and her need for love, power, and freedom. Anytime there is tension in a marriage, it may be that the relationship among these six needs is no longer working. One or the other partner wants more power or more freedom if he or she is to give as much love to the marriage as the marriage needs.

Negotiation is necessary whenever there is a major change in the marriage. One or the other may need more power or freedom when a partner (or both partners) starts or stops working; children come; jobs change; they move to a new city; they buy an expensive home; and, especially, when one or both partners retire. For example, if the husband retires and is now around the house all day, the wife who had not worked or had retired earlier feels suffocated. He now begins to intrude in parts of her life where he had shown no interest before. If that marriage is to avoid a crisis, the couple must renegotiate the need for freedom.

The best time to negotiate this need is before the husband retires, but the wife should insist on it as soon as she feels uncomfortable. The longer she waits, the more difficult it becomes. If this couple had been familiar with the needs and had previously negotiated, there should be few problems. If this was the first time they attempted to negotiate, it would be very difficult. The way to do this negotiation is described in detail in chapter 5 in the discussion of the solving circle.

By now it is obvious that we are social beings, and to satisfy our needs we must have good relationships. Robinson Crusoe did not need Friday to survive, but he was a lot happier when Friday came along. Unless we are hermits, if we are doomed to a life by ourselves, even if we have all we need to survive and plenty of comfortable space to live in, life does not cease but it is miserably lonely. Misery is being without the people we want and need. When we are alone and want to be with others, we live in perpetual hope that someone will come along. That someone will be our friend and even possibly love us. He or she will listen to us, learn and laugh with us, not try to force us to do what we don’t want to do, and maybe help us to survive.

In summary, power isn’t worth much unless you can use it to influence people. It would be hard to satisfy your need for power if you were just appointed chief of sales in a tobacco company; selling access to the internet would be a lot more rewarding. Freedom is the freedom from others but never all others; our genes do not allow us to enjoy that much freedom. And what fun is it to learn anything or achieve anything if we can’t share it with others? A friend of mine, a dedicated golfer, shot a hole in one playing by himself. Disaster.