Gillian Anderson just explained why our relationship needs should be “non-negotiable”

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Lauren Geall
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Gillian Anderson on the red carpet for Sex Education season two

Sex Education star Gillian Anderson has opened up about her approach to dating and relationships in a new interview – and her words are seriously refreshing. 

It’s hard not to fall in love with Gillian Anderson.

The actor and activist – who, it was recently announced, will be joining the cast of The Crown season four as the UK’s first female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – isn’t one to shy away from honesty, using her voice to tackle subjects including motherhood, the menopause and ageing.

And now, as she returns to her role as single mum and sex therapist Jean in the second season of Netflix’s Sex Education, Anderson has once again spoken honestly about another private aspect of her life – her relationships. 

Speaking in a new interview for The Sunday Times Style, Anderson opened up about her approach to relationships has changed as she has grown older – and why it’s so important that her needs are now “non-negotiable” in any relationship. 

Gillian Anderson
Gillian Anderson opened up about her approach to relationships ahead of the release of Sex Education season two.

“Early on after the break-up of my last relationship and before my current one, somebody encouraged me to write a list of needs and wants in a future partner,” she explained. “Needs are non-negotiable. If you go on a date with someone and realise they won’t meet, say, three of those needs, then they are not the person for you. It may last as a relationship, but it won’t make you happy.

“Wants are easier, not more frivolous per se, but easier to deliver,” she added. “Doing this made it clear to me going forward who would be good for me in a relationship.”

It’s safe to say that Anderson’s message – that we should all feel free to stand up for our needs without being branded “difficult” or “stubborn” – is seriously empowering. Of course, relationships require some negotiation – but, as Anderson points out, there are some things that absolutely shouldn’t be compromised.

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“My partner and I don’t live together. If we did, that would be the end of us,” she says. “It works so well as it is, it feels so special when we do come together… It’s exciting. We choose when to be together. There is nothing locking us in, nothing that brings up that fear of ‘Oh gosh, I can’t leave because what will happen to the house, how will we separate?’. I start to miss the person I want to be with, which is a lovely feeling.”

Defining the difference between our relationship wants and needs – aka the things that are absolutely essential, and the things we prefer – can be difficult, but it’s an important process. As therapist Dr. Aimee Daramus previously explained to Well And Good, staying in a relationship – even if you can appreciate the person you’re with is a good person – isn’t the right thing to do if that relationship isn’t fulfilling you.

“It feels awful to hurt a nice person who doesn’t really deserve it,” she said. “If you know you’re not right for each other in the long run, though, it can be kinder to turn them loose so they’re free to meet someone who will feel things for them that you don’t.”

She continued: “Nobody’s going to have it all, so understanding the difference between what you need and what would be nice can help you make tough decisions,” she says. “If somebody has everything you need but the passion, it might be worth trying to develop it. But if time passes and the spark isn’t igniting though, you might have to decide how important that is to you.”

Gillian Anderson as Dr Jean F. Milburn in Sex Education season two.
Gillian Anderson as Dr Jean F. Milburn in Sex Education season two.

Speaking ahead of the release of Sex Education season two on 24 January, Anderson also went on to reveal the impact her character – the outlandish and open sex therapist Dr Jean F. Milburn – has had on her personality.

“I find myself saying something embarrassing at the dinner table and I don’t know if it is me or if Jean has given me the licence to say that,” she adds. 

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There’s no doubt that we’re very excited for the arrival of Sex Education season two on 24 January. When season one landed on our screens in January 2019, it wasn’t long before we fell in love with the coming-of-age comedy-drama, which shed light on the messiness of relationships, sex and everything in between.

It’s a funny, honest and sex-positive show filled with strong female characters and open conversations – what’s not to love?

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Images: Getty/Netflix


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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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