Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says ‘I need you because I love you.’
― Erich Fromm
One of the primary reasons relationships struggle or fail is because of self-fulfilling prophecies. Trust me, as a therapist and human being, I know we don’t do it on purpose. In fact, for most people, it’s not even something they’re aware of until it becomes so glaringly obvious to everyone around them that eventually, a well meaning friend or mentor suggests there could a pattern at play.
A super sneaky one many who show up on my therapy couch have, but at first don’t see a problem with, is being a GIVER.
Wait what?? How could being helpful ever be a problem?
I know it sounds ludicrous at first, but priding yourself on always being the one to be there for others, to help fix their problems, to rescue them from tragedies, and even to make sure your partner always climaxes first can become a serious sabotage to lasting and rewarding relationships for all parties involved.
If people NEED you, then they are not truly free to simply WANT you.
And it is DESIRE NOT NECESSITY that makes relationships feel good.
Needing To Be Needed
I had a lengthy and super vulnerable conversation with a decades long friend and former primary partner recently. We laughed and cried and processed the struggle to connect. Him seeing that his history of always being the knight in shining armor for women was royally fucking things up for him. In the last 20 years of dating, all but perhaps two of his relationships (me being one of those two exceptions) were characterized by him rescuing women from really profoundly shitty circumstances.
He would expend valuable (and limited) time, money, and energy trying to win and keep damsels in distress. Not on purpose of course, but it’s what kept happening over and over. He’s truly great at being a defender and protector of anyone in the underdog position. Even his male friends tend to be the outcasts and misfits.
A Tragic Cycle
We did great at first. As an alpha female myself, I was so attracted to his decisiveness, his MacGyver like creativity, and his rugged exterior forged by a hard life of both natural and sadly at times, forced independence. Like most type 8’s on the Enneagram (the Challenger), he had to grow up too quickly and his tender hearted side took a back seat to his warrior side.
Oh the fun and adventure (and mind blowing sex) we had for quite a while! *smiles mischievously even thinking about it*
… but eventually the self-fulfilling prophecy began to kick back in because I didn’t NEED him. I only wanted him. As a woman and single mother approaching 40, I was my own security by now. In fact, I was trying to help him achieve his dreams that had been on hold for 20 years because he’d been too busy helping those around him. He was thrilled but he’ll also tell you now, he was terrified as well.
It caused subconscious self-sabotage in him, leading him to stay preoccupied with things that decreased his fear of losing me. He came to bed later and later, filling his free hours with video games, beer and weed. We’d argue because I missed him and he didn’t want to feel controlled. He began to have unexplained panic attacks which were heightened during planned family days.
I felt his pulling away and my own pain body – the emotional aspect of our internal, and usually subconscious thoughts – told me stories of not being good enough… not attractive enough for him somehow or not the type of partner or parent he thought I should be (… none of which he probably ever thought). I lost respect for him as the traits I was originally attracted to became less and less visible. I found myself pulling away as well which then led his pain body to tell him that his worst fear was happening… he was losing me.
Such a tragic cycle. Could’ve been avoided perhaps but it wasn’t.
Eventually, him not being needed and me not feeling wanted (as well as a handful of other complications) led to our relationship’s demise, but the point being, as we continued processing he said something very profound:
I HAD NEVER FELT TRULY LOVED BY A WOMAN BEFORE, not even by my own mother, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I craved it and yet found myself pulling back from the thing I wanted most.
Are You The Needy Or The Needed?
The vast majority of people both want to feel like they’re contributing something invaluable to a relationship and at the same time, they also enjoy the feeling of being given to or taken care of at times. The key is balance.
As feminist psychology proposes, a healthy relationship is one where individuals can say, “Let’s do life independently together.” 😉 Where I don’t need you to be the determining factor in my health, happiness, or success and neither do you. Where you are completely free to be yourself and I will celebrate it all. Where we embrace our differences and enjoy the comfort of our shared core values or hobbies.
A great term for this is interdependence. Unlike codependency, an interdependent relationship provides “a safe bond where partners can rely on each other but also maintain their autonomous identity.”
You bring your strengths and gifts and I will bring mine and we learn to take turns being both vulnerable and responsive to one another’s needs and preferences.
Tips For Creating Interdependent Relationships
Our patterns repeat until we break them. It’s typically helpful to look at your past for clues.
- Who do you tend to be attracted to? Why?
- What did your parents, culture, or religion tell you about being helpful? When has that served you well and when perhaps has it started to feel excessive?
- What is your Enneagram type? Certain types tend to be more prone to either over-extending themselves or not allowing themselves to rely on others. (I wrote about mine here.) Work on your own path towards balance.
- What do others tend to tell you about the way you behave in relationships? How do you make others feel?
- Do you ever seem to find yourself worn out, depleted, resentful OR afraid of losing the ones you love?
As my girl Cheryl Muir would then say, “WHAT IS A BETTER, MORE EMPOWERING CHOICE?”
- What’s one small step you can take today to focus on giving from a place of abundance and not deficit?
- What if you allowed yourself to truly trust that you are not only lovable but worthy of love, just as you are?
- Practice noticing and celebrating the differences between you and those you love without anxiety.
Consider reading books (some great ones listed below) or listening to podcasts on themes like vulnerability or assertiveness. You might also benefit from sitting down with a therapist or coach to further explore and heal your own self-sabotage and self-fulfilling prophecies. Clinical research has shown that around 95% of our behavior is driven by our subconscious so if you don’t know what’s rattling around it yours, it could be next to impossible to shift.
- Attached: Are you Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find – and keep – love by Dr. Amir Levine
- “The Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-Dependency – the Other Side of Co-Dependency” by Drs. Janae & Barry Weinhold
- “I Need Your Love – Is That True? How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciate and Start Finding Them Instead” by Byron Katie
- “I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t): Making the Journey from ‘What Will People Think?’ to ‘I am Enough’.” by Dr. Brene Brown, LMSW
- “Obsessive Love: When it Hurts Too Much To Let Go” by Dr. Susan Forward
- Blue Truth: A Spiritual Guide to Life & Death and Love & Sex by David Deida
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, former university psychology instructor, and empowerment coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”
From former evangelical to queer and poly and now a more subdued yet forever kinda irreverent omnist, she’s a big fan of keeping it raw and real. If you’re interested in working with her, Tamara offers sessions both online and in her midtown Pensacola FL office.