If you are needy, the future of your marriage depends on your willingness to: 1) be loving, and 2) apply healthy boundaries
“Needy” people put up with behavior from their spouses that most people would not tolerate. They frequently seek reassurance from their spouses and are vigilant to any sign that the relationship is in danger. They are quick to feel jealous when they shouldn’t be and are ineffective when they should be. Their behavior and emotions are fear driven and reactive and push their partners away rather than creating closeness. What becomes of their relationship depends on their not making it their spouse’s “job” to love and reassure them. It also depends on their ability to become effective in dealing with damaging behavior from their spouse. The end result will be getting more of the love and affection that they want, without pushing their spouse away.
Struggles in togetherness for needy people
Communication is more than giving information. It is the way we emotionally connect. The way we talk will make us closer, more distant, or keep the emotional connection the same. Early in relationships, we talk in a way that builds our relationship. After the initial honeymoon period is over, we settle back into our pre-relationship patterns of communication and interaction with others. People with a history of close relationships and many friends are going to naturally do better talking to their spouses. Those who have tended to be loners, disconnected from others, or simply going from one relationship to the next may not be good at the give and take of a long term relationship. Secure people talk in a way so as to make others feel desired. Insecure people talk in a way that repels others. If you were your spouse, how much would enjoy hearing what you have to say?
Some couples do a lot together. Some couples do little together. Some of us will want to spend most of our time with our spouses. Others will want to spend more time alone, with friends, or involved in a career. This presents little problem if we and our partners are similar in our needs for togetherness and attachment. There is no right or wrong about it either way. Problems arise when one person desires more intimacy and togetherness than the other. In this situation, one partner will use communication to try to pull their partner in while the other uses communication (or lack of it) to push their partner back. This push-pull will gradually increase the emotional distance in the relationship. Needy people react to the increasing distance by pulling even harder, communicating in more angry and controlling ways, resulting in their partners pushing back even harder. Secure people will be involved with other activities and lessen the pressure on their spouse. As a result, their spouse will enjoy their time together more, with less need for space.
Needy people don’t understand that secure people don’t always want to be close
Doesn’t everyone want to have as close of a relationship as they can, all the time? This comes as quite a surprise to needy people, but the answer is “no.” Most of the time, people don’t want to be as close as possible. People actually want to be as close as possible only sometimes, while at other times they would rather be with friends, or by themselves. They are no less committed to their marriage at these times, but need these times to balance out their lives and appreciate their relationships more. Married people need to have regular time together and apart. They need to have some time which will not be intruded upon by the other and some time when they don’t need to report in.
The development of neediness in relationships
For some couples, one partner wants to have much more closeness than the other. Compromise is harder with such large differences and causes more conflict. When compromise does happen, each person has to give up more of either independence or closeness. A tension then hangs over the relationship because neither partner is really satisfied. This begins to build up as internal pressure inside of each partner. This struggle for independence and closeness by the partners can result in roller coaster relationships that alternate between closeness and distance. Neither is truly satisfied, but each gets some of what they want.
In other cases, rather than compromise, one partner gives in to the desires of the other. The more needy partner “temporarily” (they think) sacrifice their need for a close relationship in order just to maintain the relationship. Or, the less needy partner “temporarily” sacrifices time with friends or individual time. These sacrifices only postpone inevitable conflict. The compromises may help one spouse to enjoy the relationship while the other one becomes resentful and gradually loses all feelings of love. If it was the needy person who made the sacrifice, the relationship is likely to continue, but to be a very unhappy one. If the secure spouse made the sacrifice, he or she is likely to see divorce or having an affair as a solution to an unhappy marriage. This will come as a devastating blow to the needy partner who may experience the rejection as sudden and “coming out of nowhere.” Needy people often see danger when it is not there, resulting in mistrust. Needy people also often do not see divorce warning signs for what they are.
Three possible outcomes for needy partners
As stated above, the most common outcome is for the secure spouse to end the marriage, in search of a more secure and accepting partner, or simply to feel free. At this time, the rejected needy person can become like a “fatal attraction,” with desperate and damaging behavior. He or she may continue to cling to a spouse who burned out on the marriage and wants nothing more to do with it. Saving the relationship must include an end to this repulsive clinging behavior.
A different kind of outcome occurs when one spouse has a strong need to be parental, and to take care of the needy spouse. This kind of marriage can be very stable and long lasting. Both partners can feel secure and important. One is needy and receives care; the other is needed and gives care. Close, two way sharing cannot occur, however. The way to a closer relationship in this case is for the parental partner to be less caring and more empathetic–connecting rather than behaving like a parent. Also, the needy partner can learn to be more independent and more of a partner–less of a child, for their spouse. Partnership relationships (equal level) are required for maximum closeness.
A less likely, but possible outcome for a needy and distant relationship is for the needy person to become less needy. The needy spouse has to learn new ways of interacting which are neither controlling nor submissive. He or she has to work on developing some independent goals and friendships, while supporting the same in his or her spouse. He or she also has to improve self-care and learn how to not be “punished” by his or her spouse’s behaviors. It is a difficult transition for needy people, because they fear rejection and interpret any signs of anger from their spouse as failure. A good way to start this process is to use a book such as, Overcome Neediness and Get the Love You Want. People with severe insecurity will benefit from some combination of counseling and coaching, decreasing their fears and learning essential connection skills.
Help is available for those who don’t wait too long
Sooner or later, the fears that needy people have which prevent effective action, combined with the continuing damage of their behavior or their partner’s behavior, end their relationship. Some people wait until they get to this desperate point to get help. While there are some effective things we can do, even at that point, my recommendation is that you take some steps now, to avoid getting to that place. The sooner you make healthy changes, the faster and easier it will be to turn your relationship in a good direction. A good way to start is by getting a practical book on overcoming neediness. If your relationship has already reached the point where whatever you do has no positive effect, it is time for you get more serious help such as a coaching package for overcoming neediness.