Overly dependent? Too emotional? Need frequent reassurance? If these characteristics describe you, then you likely experience yourself as the “lesser” partner in your marriage. And the dynamic of needing to be constantly reassured probably leaves you feeling all the more insecure. Meanwhile, your spouse might feel drained or resentful for having to be the ‘strong one’ all the time. Even if you don’t feel that your marriage is in jeopardy from these problems, they simmer under the surface, weakening the foundation of your relationship.
You may also relate to other common struggles of people who feel insecure and overly dependent. They often have an underlying sense that they are inadequate, unworthy of love, and essentially flawed. They have strong fears of rejection and often feel jealous as they scan for evidence of their spouse finding someone better than them. Because they feel emotionally weak or oversensitive, they frequently become overwhelmed by emotion and look to their partner to help comfort them.
As an insecure person, you probably also have a sense that you need to earn your spouse’s acceptance and love. You might place your spouse on a pedestal and work overtime to meet their needs. Unfortunately, this reinforces your sense that you are below them, inherently unworthy of their love or appreciation—except as a reward for the things you do. It increases your self-doubt and motivates you to keep your opinions to yourself. As a result, you might rely very much on your spouse to make most decisions for you—from picking a restaurant to choosing the best career path for you.
It can be helpful to assess how your partner’s personal style affects your marriage. Your spouse may be basically secure and comfortable with looking for support from you. They are likely to be reassuring and encourage you to feel secure in the relationship. If this describes your marriage, choose to take in the positive and allow yourself to grow from the experience.
However, like many insecure people, you might have chosen a partner who tends to be highly self-sufficient and avoids vulnerable emotions in themselves and their spouse. These marriages are fraught with conflict. You might cry out for attention, only to have your spouse withdraw; prompting you to press for attention again, perpetuating a never-ending cycle of pursuit-withdrawal.
Though marital patterns related to insecurity and overdependence can become entrenched, the good news is that they can also be changed. The key is for you and your spouse to be willing to work on improving your relationship.
Nurture your own personal growth
You must be willing to challenge yourself to grow as a person. By nurturing a sense that you have value as you are—that you don’t have to overcome some basic inadequacy—you can begin to engage more fully in your marriage. You can share more of your thoughts, feelings and opinions. And you can feel free to explore your interests independent of your spouse.
You might grow through psychotherapy or through efforts at finding personal validation in work, pursued interests, and other personal relationships. You might also look into books, online resources and workshops to help nurture personal growth.
In the end, by strengthening your sense of self, you will become a different partner. This can lead to a stronger marriage. But be forewarned, if your partner prefers a more dependent partner, they may resist your change and your marriage may become turbulent. It might interest you to know that I’ve never worked with anyone in therapy who has regretted their growth, even when it resulted in this kind of difficulty.
Encourage personal growth in your spouse
If your spouse is secure and emotionally mature, they might simply need to be extra supportive and encouraging, letting you know without question that you are loved and respected. Then it’s up to you to take in that acceptance and love, allowing you to develop a strong, more independent sense of yourself.
However, if your spouse tends to avoid emotions, they may need to grow personally in order to fully value and appreciate you. You will probably need to express your needs strongly, prompting this kind of growth. You might even look to couples therapy for help to express yourself and to open your spouse to responding in a more positive, connected way to you.
Make your marriage a safe haven
It’s essential that you and your spouse feel that you are supportive of each other—that you feel safe in turning to each other for support during difficult times. Even when you disagree, you want to feel safe with, and loved by, each other. This kind of safe haven is created when you can consistently act in a way that communicates that you care about and respect one another. When people feel safe with each other, they also trust one another and feel freer to be fully themselves.
Make your marriage a secure base from which you can explore personal interests
For a marriage to be successful, both people need to pursue their individual interests and live life according to their values. When you live as less than a whole person—as you do when you ignore self-care and self-interest to attend to your spouse—you cannot connect in a fully intimate way because you aren’t fully there.
Asserting your thoughts, feelings and desires might feel very intimidating. You may fear being rejected or abandoned if you divert energy away from attending to your spouse; or if you express any differences of opinion. The reality is that when you have a spouse who truly loves and respects you, they want you to be fully yourself.
Be emotionally available for each other
To enjoy a happy marriage, both people need to truly be there for each other. You cannot have an intimate relationship if you don’t interact very much, or if you are simply clocking time and not really sharing from your heart. So, make sure that you and your spouse are warm and affectionate with each other, spend quality time together, and show each other genuine caring.
By doing all you can to nurture personal growth and feel your spouse’s support, you will find that you develop a stronger sense of self. You will be less fearful of rejection. And you will grow, becoming increasingly true to your genuine self. With time, you will have less of a need to depend on your spouse. And eventually, you will change from being dependent upon your spouse to having a relationship in which you are both interdependent. That is, you will feel that you and your spouse can act independently but also choose to rely or depend upon each other for support, encouragement, and maintaining a shared life. Once you reach this level of interdependent connection, you find happiness and fulfillment in yourself and in your marriage.
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