Have you ever been told by a partner or other person in your life that you were "too needy", or ended up saying it to someone else? The term sure seems to get thrown around a lot, and it's definitely something most of us try very hard to avoid being called, to the point where we may feel afraid to express any desire or need to a partner.
But a lot of the time, when Jeff calls his partner Sandy needy, what Jeff is really trying to say is that he is unable or unwilling to meet a need that Sandy has expressed. The implication is often that Sandy is unreasonable or somehow messed-up for having that need. When it's set up this way it can feel to Sandy like she has two choices: to keep trying to get Jeff to give her what she's asking for (which doesn't seem to be going that well so far), or try to deny that she needs it or has a right to it (which leaves her disempowered and diminished). Jeff is stuck too, since he's being asked to do something he can't do and doesn't want to feel like he's wrong or a bad person because of it. So to keep from being wrong, he has to make Sandy "needy".
When we separate having needs from being needy we loosen the trap that automatically makes someone have to be wrong. Sandy can have a legitimate need which she has a right to get met. But meeting that need is her responsibility, not Jeff's. Maybe Sandy has a need to be reassured that she is beautiful and desirable. To be clear, she's not looking to Jeff and only Jeff to make her feel beautiful and desirable. That actually would be needy.
Instead, Sandy does things for herself that help her feel confident in this area. Yet it's also important that she gets some active expression from her partner in order to feel open and available to him. She can try to get her need met by asking Jeff to tell her that she is beautiful and desirable on a regular basis. Maybe Jeff can and is willing to do this; maybe he isn't. Sandy isn't "needy" for asking, though. If Jeff doesn't give her what she asks for, she can clarify this need for herself. Is hearing her partner say the words the only way she can get her need met, or is there another way that Jeff can express his desire and appreciation that would do the job? If it's the latter, they can see about working it out. If it's the former, she needs to be willing to let Jeff go.
When we keep trying to get something we need from someone who can't or won't give it to us, it's not about love anymore. It's devolved into a power struggle. When we pretend that we DON'T need something that we really DO just to keep someone around, we're sacrificing our personal integrity and also that of the relationship. It's really manipulation at that point, and it's just about guaranteed to breed resentment.
The "needy" label really applies only when we either make our partner responsible for meeting all of our needs, or when we persist in trying to get our needs met in a particular way from a particular person when they've made it clear that they're not up to the task.
It's more than okay to clarify and ask for what we need, as long as we're willing to walk away if the other person can't give it to us.
Special thanks to Rhonda Britten, whose teachings helped clarify the distinction between being needy and having needs.