Monday, July 6, 2009

When Want Turns to Need, Kiss the Relationship Goodbye

You know how there are people in your life that you really love being with? In fact being together is so great, you want it to last forever.

It's an amazing experience. It's easy to imagine giving up other things in life to be together. So we do. We may change our locations to be together. This can involve saying goodbye to old friends, leaving jobs, selling houses, you name it. We move in a big way to be together.

Of course, the changes may be smaller as well. Deciding not to pursue other relationships. Deciding not to take that new job in another city. Deciding to give up other extracurricular activities so as to have more time together.

Whether the changes are big or small, making meaningful changes in your life to pursue a new relationship can make the difference between a new relationship getting off the ground or not.

From Love to Entitlement and Need
Having made these types of changes can sometimes result in a sense of entitlement in the new relationship (I gave up all this to be together) or need in the relationship (I created a void in my life that must now be filled by my new partner).

When we start to experience these types of thoughts, feelings and beliefs, we actually begin to undermine the relationships that we hold so dearly. We can transform something that is easy and unencumbered, to something dominated by have-to's and should's. The result frequently leads to one of two situations: a relationship in which you stay together because you each buy into the have-to/should paradigm (guilt-based relationship) or a break up. In my experience, one usually precedes the other.

Not for Lovers Only
This phenomenon is not the exclusive providence of relationships between lovers. I've seen the same phenomenon occur between parents and children, siblings and friends. I'm sure that, if you think about it, you can think of several relationships that are bound together by entitlement, need and mutual shoulds. Maybe you're in one yourself.

If you are, the first question to ask yourself is, "do I really want to be in this kind of relationship?" If your answer is yes, then read no more.

I your anser is no, then the next question is, "what can I do to change this".

The first thing to do is to eliminate the needy part of the relationship. The cool thing is that the neediness is never one sided. There usually is the needy (dependent person) and the needs-to-be-needed person. This symbiosis of need is what propels the relationship forward.

If you're the needy person, the best solution is to dive deeply into your need. Recognize that your need is tied to beliefs about the potential loss of the other person. These beliefs may result in fear of being alone (loneliness). Fear of not being able to make it financially (lack of self confidence). Fear of having given up everything for that person, and now having lost them as well (regret).

The key is explore your neediness in depth with great clarity and detail. If you're afraid of being financially barren, try it on for size. Imagine yourself financially barren. What does it mean? How would it look? What would you do? Write it down. Talk it through. Play it out.

Once you have a good handle on your neediness, talk about it with your partner. Perhaps you'll come to the conclusion that there's nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps, by talking it through with clarity and specificity, you'll realize that you have shared concerns. Take it on straight ahead with no hidden fears.

Need to be Needed?
If you're the needs-to-be-needed person, recognize that, needy only works (if you can call it working) if you're enabling it. So, own up, stop complaining about the needy one, and look at why you're doing the need-to-be-needed thing.

Perhaps you've decided that the other person can't make it on there own, that they really do need you. Do they? If so, what did they do before you? Perhaps they're not as needy as you're making them out to be.

Also, there's likely a need in you that's fulfilled by your partner's neediness. I know a lot of guys who feel more comfortable and secure in their relationship when their partner is needy. The last thing they want is a confident, independent partner. Is that you? I know others who have transformed the needy people in their lives into their raison d'ĂȘtre. For example, for many parents, their children and their families are their lives. This can sound really great and altruistic, but ultimately, it doesn't work. We may say that we're doing it for them, we're actually doing it for ourselves.

Once you have a handle on your reasons for needing to be needed, decide if that's really what you want? If so, be clear about it! Declare, "I love being in a relationship where I'm needed and never, ever going to complain about the consequences!"

If not, then it may be time to give up your neediness. You may want to sit down with the other person in your life and talk about it. "I've been treating you as needy and I've decided that you're not needy. This doesn't mean that I'm not going to continue to support you in... (you fill in the details), it just means that I'm no longer going to respond to you in a way that confirms your neediness... (again, give some examples).

The End of Neediness
I believe strongly that the best relationships and the only sustainable relationships are the ones built on mutual desire and wanting, not on symbiotic need. Two independent people who are together because the really want to be together always trumps two mutually-dependent people who have to be together in my book.

So, on this independence day weekend, it may be time to declare your independence from your relationship so that you can start experience a deeper and stronger one.


  1. Teflon: I love how you break everything down to the basic, bare facts & options. Your clarity of perspective is extremely useful to me.

  2. Sree, thank you for your comment. So, do you find yourself in the needy or the needed role? Teflon

  3. Both - at different times, that is. And I notice that when I become aware of myself taking on the role, it tends to fade away. And your post will help me be more aware of when I'm playing the need-to-be-needed role; I suspect I'm doing that more than I've recognized up till now.


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