You will never learn how to have a good relationship from following social trends. You must use relationship styles that have worked for thousands of years to have a lasting relationship.
In my coaching I encounter three basic relationship styles that cause confusion and conflict for both men and women. Often what people consider to be secure behaviors are actually needy behaviors. And, what they count as helping behaviors often turn out to be codependent behaviors.
It doesn’t help that there is so much bad advice about relationship building both on the internet and coming from counselors. We can no longer trust that the best medical advice will come from medical doctors. We also can’t trust that the best relationship advice will come from counselors.
The single best tool for determining the helpfulness of a behavior is our experience when we use it.
If the harder you work at your relationship, the more frustrated you become, you need to come to the right conclusion. The right conclusion is NOT that your marriage can’t be improved. The right conclusion is that what you are doing to improve it is not the right thing to do.
Today, I will help you to identify needy, codependent, and secure behaviors so that you can see what you or your spouse is doing that is or is not helpful.
The dependent style of relating
“What does it mean to be dependent?”
To be dependent on something means that you cannot 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 are 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 dependent a person is, the more power the other person has. Children depend on their parents, but should become more independent as they get more mature physically and intellectually. Good parents help their children become more independent as they are able to do so.
Sometimes parents inhibit the growth of ability and independence in their children. They may end up with children who live in the basement playing video games all day. Although it might seem loving to provide total care, it prevents the other person from being able to cope with any stresses and to care for oneself. It also creates selfishness that often makes the same parents come to resent their children.
Some spouses also inhibit the growth of independence and abilities
“How does being dependent cause relationship problems?”
The main problem with dependence in marriages is that the one depended on will have more power in the relationship. If your spouse believes that you could not care for yourself without his or her help, it will make your spouse feel too secure in your relationship.
Your spouse should never feel so secure that he or she will neglect you or treat you badly. You need to maintain enough independence that your spouse feels you do have other options, should the relationship become bad. Also, having this ability will make you less likely to put up with bad behavior from your spouse. The result is that your relationship will be healthier.
Having enough money in a private account to be able to leave your spouse is one of the single best things you can do to keep your marriage healthy. Knowing that if my relationship with my wife became bad she could leave me and find someone else is a blessing for our marriage. If all of us could keep in mind the possibility of losing the ones we love, it would help us to value them and treat them better.
Some of the most destructive messages you can give to your spouse are,
- I need you,
- I will never leave you no matter what,
- There could never be anyone else for me but you,
- Even if you cheated on me, I would fight for our relationship.
Be careful that your behavior is not signalling over dependence on your spouse. Love your spouse. Treat your spouse well. But don’t promise unconditional love or that you would never leave.
Also, encourage the growth of skills and abilities in your spouse so that you are not tempted to become complacent in your relationship.
Recently, my wife told me she wants to learn to fly an airplane. My response? Go for it. The risk is far greater if I try to protect her from such things than if I encourage her. I never want her to feel like I am holding her back from growing in any way. Many of the spouses of people I work with are divorcing so that they can feel more independent and free.
The needy style of relating
Needy people try to change other people so that they can get their own needs met.
I need you to change, so I can be happy is the underlying idea behind needy behavior.
Unfortunately, this type of thinking and communication is actively encouraged by marriage counselors. Whereas the Bible tells us to love our spouse, counselors are now telling us that we should get our spouses to love us, and if they don’t, to get divorced. For this reason, marriage counseling is far less useful than in the past and good marriage counselors are difficult to find.
Let me give you an example of a needy behavior which many people falsely believe is secure and healthy
Criticism. Criticism is letting someone know you don’t like something about them. Criticism is often promoted as good communication, even though it is destructive. Have you ever heard, If your spouse is doing something you don’t like, you need to let your spouse know so that your spouse will know and can treat you better? This is an example of something that sounds logical, but does not work.
If you learn from your experience with this method, you will find that rather than your relationship becoming better, your spouse will become defensive and your relationship will become more distant. You will end up getting less of what you want overall from your relationship.
Some people believe so much in the importance of communication their dislikes to their spouse that they destroy all of their relationship connection and are rejected by their spouse. If something is not working, it is important to notice that and to learn a better way.
What is better than letting your spouse know what you don’t like about him or her? Use healthy boundaries to stop the bad behavior from continuing, while also helping your spouse to feel loved and important.
If your attempts to change your spouse’s bad behaviors or to get more love are only making your relationship more distant, I encourage to get my book on overcoming neediness so that you can get the love you want from your spouse.
It is possible to be a very independent person and yet to be needy, using behaviors that don’t work in an effort to get more love and attention from your spouse. It is also possible your spouse is using needy behaviors in order to get more love and attention from you. If so, you know how that feels. My book can also help you to deal correctly with a needy spouse.
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.
You can know if you are codependent if you are helping someone to maintain a bad or damaging behavior.
For example, when you give-in to needy behaviors, you are being codependent. Although your spouse will like it that you give-in, it only encourages your spouse to use more and more needy behaviors.
Giving reassurance to an anxious person comforts them temporarily, but they soon become anxious again and need more reassurance. Creating such addictions is codependent behavior. Another example of this would be giving up a social life of your own in order to keep a spouse with no friends from becoming lonely. Although you would help your spouse not feel lonely, you would also be taking away the motivation for your spouse to have friends.
Regularly doing things for a dependent spouse that he or she should be able to do without your help is also codependence. In this case, you would be preventing your spouse from gaining independence and helping to bring about the long term problems caused by dependence.
It would not be unusual at all to hear a client say, I did everything for my wife for years. Now she is leaving me so she can feel more independent.
How to overcome codependency
You will need to make an important mental shift in order to overcome codependency. Instead of thinking, how can I please or help my spouse? you need to think, what impact will my continuing to do this have on my spouse and on my relationship?
Continuing to give in to neediness, for example will result in your becoming more and more resentful and your love for your spouse disappearing. Continuing to reassure your spouse will maintain your spouse’s anxiety. Continuing to do too much for your spouse will not only make you eventually become resentful, it will contribute to your spouse either separating, having an affair, or both.
Having a priority of pleasing your spouse can be as disastrous as having a priority of pleasing your children.
Good relationships are created by loving your spouse, making your spouse feel important, and having good boundaries to end destructive behaviors. It is not possible to continually please your spouse and to have good boundaries at the same time. Neither can you do that with your children.
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).
The secure style of relating
In a secure and healthy relationship, both partners should have the ability to be independent. By having that ability, they will feel more secure and have better boundaries. They will recognize that their relationship could end, so they will proactively maintain it with:
- at least weekly dating,
- daily one on one time together,
- an enjoyable sexual relationship
They will also each have their own friends and interests, though they will make time for each other. They will take care of the children and do well in their work, but they will not prioritize these things to the point they no longer maintain their relationship.
Relationships don’t end because of conflict. Relationships end because people fail to do the maintenance work that keeps their relationship enjoyable.
People do what they do because they either think they have to or because they want to. Relationships based on obligation do not last. Never count on your marriage lasting because you have children, are religious, or own a house together. If you want your marriage to last, you need to work to keep it enjoyable for both yourself and your spouse.
One of the surest signs of severe relationship problems is either partner feeling controlled, resentful, or not a priority. In an equal, loving relationship, people enjoy time with each other, feel free to pursue their interests, and use good boundaries rather than arguing, complaining, or criticizing.
Would you like to have that kind of relationship?
I would be happy to help you learn how to have a relationship in the same way many of my clients have. To cut out the needy behaviors, to be a desirable person, to enjoy your life, to help your spouse to enjoy being with you, and to use good boundaries to help your spouse to make positive changes.