Are you a needy spouse or married to one? Are you a codependent for your spouse’s damaging behavior? A few changes can help you to be a secure, loving couple again
In my daily coaching I encounter three basic relationship styles that cause confusion and conflict for both men and women. Couples are confused because what they believed to be a healthy way of relating is not resulting in true partnership. In fact, the harder they try to work things out, the worse their relationship becomes. Today, I will introduce you to those three styles and the kind of changes that are necessary to get to a loving, equal, partnership in your marriage.
The dependent or needy style of relating
“What does it mean to be dependent?”
The common term for dependence is “neediness,” as far as it relates to marriage and other relationships. To be dependent on something, to need it, means that you cannot live or function without it. So, a disabled person may be dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. It’s not bad to depend on a wheelchair if you are disabled, but it is bad to depend on a wheelchair if you were able to walk without one. We don’t look down on disabled people, but we would lose respect for someone who used a wheelchair who was not disabled. Many people lose respect in their marriage by being overly dependent on their spouses where they could be self sufficient. The more needy one person is, the more power the other person has. Many women, in particular, need to learn why their husbands don’t respect them.
“How does being dependent cause relationship problems?”
The main problem with dependence is that the one depended on will have more power in the relationship. Because that person knows you could not possibly live without him or her, there is a power imbalance. If that partner is very loving, it won’t create problems. But, in relationships with problems, the person depended on often does not feel a need to show respect and enjoys a certain freedom to misbehave that his or her partner does not have. I prefer to help people have equal relationships because it prevents many of the problems brought about by dependence. The changes that end neediness are the same ones that motivate spouses to become more loving.
“How can a needy spouse be helped to change?”
The partner who is dependent can work on being able to survive and function without his or her spouse. This does not mean that he or she wants to be alone or divorce, just that he or she would be able to. It might mean saving enough money to be able to live on your own for a few months, for example. It might mean making friends if you are dependent on your spouse as your only social outlet. By making such changes, you would bring yourself to a level equal to your partner. You would also be with your partner for the first time because you truly want to and not because you have to. This is a better experience for your partner. Being able to take care of yourself (happiness, finances, etc.) will make you feel secure enough to deal with your marriage problems rather than letting them drain you of your loving feelings. If you find that you are often both angry and sad because of your spouse, you probably have this dependent style.
The interdependent or mutually needy style of relating
“What about interdependence—where we both depend on each other?”
This is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but does not work very well in practice. In reality, interdependence means that both partners are needy. Then, what results is a competition of needs. Inevitably, one person will feel that his or her need’s are not being met in the relationship and begin withholding what the other spouse needs. This results in distance and demands for love from each spouse, with neither one giving it. This kind of relationship is more unstable than when only one of them is a needy spouse. The relationship is likely to be highly conflicted and both partners end up feeling like the relationship is unfair and that they are not loved. If both of you are angry with each other and increasingly avoid each other, there is a good chance that you both have this relationship style.
“How can an interdependence problem be fixed?”
The key to stabilizing this relationship is for the partners to learn how to be loving while at the same time setting boundaries with their spouse and striving to meet their own needs. Because of the lack of cooperation in this kind of relationship, what is usually necessary is for one partner to work on overcoming his or her neediness first, while still showing love to the other partner. This is one of the most common kinds of work that I do with my clients. On their own, as people make progress on overcoming being a needy spouse, they typically have even more conflict with their spouse and either give up or get out of their relationship. The partner who is “left behind” then feels devastated until getting into a dependent relationship or another interdependent relationship. However, if one partner can make the change first, with healthy, but loving boundaries, his or her partner can also transition to being happier and less dependent. The end result will be a mutually supportive relationship, described below.
The codependent or conflict avoidant style of relating
“I know that codependence is bad, but I’m not really sure what it means.”
Codependence is a behavior which appears loving in the short term, but has disastrous long term consequences. An example of codependence is being “patient” with a persistently damaging behavior. In the short term this reduces conflict, while in the long term it deteriorates the health and happiness of both partners. Codependent people often fear conflict or have difficulty saying “no” to others. While that reduces short term conflict, it destroys the relationship as well. Codependent people often blame their partners for bad behavior, but fail to see their own role in maintaining the behavior.
“It seems that I am codependent for my spouse’s bad behaviors. What can I do?”
To save your marriage, you will need to have good boundaries while still being loving. Good boundaries create a relationship that is more likely to succeed in the long term, while being loving helps your partner to make sense of your behavior without feeling rejected (although he or she will still be stressed by it). During the time of transition a lot of stress will be placed on the relationship, but that will decrease over time and result in a closeness and equality that you could not have otherwise. You can learn some of these skills from reading self help books on boundaries. If you have difficulty knowing what to do or maintaining your boundaries, you can get extra help from a relationship coach.
The mutually supportive or secure style of relating
“Are you saying that in a good relationship both partners are actually independent?”
Not exactly. What I am saying is that both partners should have the ability to be independent. By having that ability, they will feel more secure and be less demanding that their spouses meet their emotional needs. They will be with each other because they want to be and not because they have to be. They will also be able to accomplish much more together than they could on their own, because they will be able to cooperate while still being able to pursue their own interests. They are the most likely to have a close marriage and the least likely to be tempted to have an affair. One of the surest signs of an unequal relationship is either partner feeling controlled. In an equal, loving relationship, people feel free to be themselves and pursue their interests while also desiring to promote the growth and happiness of their spouse.
To bring this home, I can honestly say that I do not need my wife and she does not need me. But, we love each other very much and truly want to be with each other. We don’t place demands on each other—we help each other. I can’t imagine there ever coming a day when I won’t want to be with her. Wouldn’t you like your spouse to feel that way about you? Do you prefer to be needed or loved? Contact me if you would like help having a Oneness marriage with your spouse, which is centered around love and not fear.