Pain Pursues Pleasure

Lisa May, Executive Director, Live the Life South Florida

We all have emotional needs, and when our emotional needs are met, we feel loved. When our needs go unmet, we feel pain. When we feel pain, we pursue pleasure, and often our pursuit of pleasure takes us to places that ultimately bring us back to pain. Question: If you’re hungry and you eat rat poison, will you still be hungry? Answer: No, your stomach is full whether with rat poison or steak. You experience a sense of pleasure because of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released in the brain, giving us a sense of pleasure. So, if you eat rat poison because you’re hungry and your stomach is full, dopamine is released even though the rat poison will kill you. 

Pleasure and pain

The same is true in other scenarios. We need and want our sexual desires met. Sexual desires can be met with my spouse, or I can go to another form of rat poison such as pornography and still experience the sense of pleasure that dopamine provides. Dopamine has no morality. So, the question begs:  What relational needs give me pleasure, and where do I go (poison) when those needs aren’t met? Is it gambling, alcohol, food, sexual addiction, drugs, or my smartphone and computer? Everyone has a threshold of pain. The point to remember is “Pain Always Pursues Pleasure.” When our needs are unmet, we feel pain; when our needs are met, we feel loved. The goal is to guard your heart, spouse and marriage by being INTENTIONAL about meeting the relational needs of your spouse. 


Meet the need

pleasureSome will say that they should meet their own needs or only God can meet all of our needs. Still, if we explore the Scriptures, we’ll discover that He often instructs and chooses to involve others in fulfilling our physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,” but, in verse 14, Paul says, ”Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

Renowned psychologist with Intimate Life Ministries, David Ferguson, has outlined ten primary emotional needs noted in the Scriptures.

  • Acceptance – Receiving another person willingly and unconditionally, especially when the other’s behavior has been imperfect; being willing to continue loving another despite offenses. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7).
  • Affection – Expressing care and closeness through physical touch, carefully respecting the other person’s boundaries; saying “I love you.” “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16). And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16).
  • Appreciation – Expressing thanks, praise, or commendation. Recognizing accomplishment or effort. “I praise you for remembering me in everything and holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (I Corinthians 11:2).
  • Approval – (Blessing) Building up or affirming another; affirming both the fact of and the importance of a relationship. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what helps build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
  • Attention – Conveying appropriate interest, concern and care; taking thought of another; entering another’s “world. “ “There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (I Corinthians 12:2).
  • Comfort – Responding to a hurting person with words, feelings and touch; to hurt with and for another’s grief or pain. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles to comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • Encouragement – Urging another to persist and persevere toward a goal, stimulating toward love and good deeds. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing” (I Thessalonians 5:11).
  • Respect – Valuing and regarding another highly; treating another as important; honoring another. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 12:10).
  • Security – (Peace) Harmony in relationships; freedom from fear or threat of harm. “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16).
  • Support – Coming alongside and gently helping with a problem or struggle; providing appropriate assistance. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

We all experience all of the above needs at some point, but generally we have 2-3 needs that are priority needs. I encourage you to evaluate and assess your top three needs and then ask your spouse to do the same. Share your priority needs, and then share how you’d like those needs to be met. For example, a need for support might be fulfilled by asking for help with the dishes. A need for affection might be: hold my hand when we’re in public. Remember, when our needs are met, we feel loved. 


If you have a story to share or questions to ask, or if you’re interested in participating in one of our classes, please email [email protected] or visit our website, Need a weekly refresh of what you can do to enhance your marriage and family relationships? Enroll in our Marriage and Family Monday Minute.

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