Today, in our society dependent is a dirty word. It’s a synonym for weak, helpless, clinging, incapable, immature and inferior.
Because when you look up “dependent” in a thesaurus, those are the very words you’ll find. Naturally, we don’t want to be any of those things, so we see being dependent in our romantic relationships as dysfunctional, as a bad thing, as something to avoid at all costs.
So we strive to be self-sufficient. We strive not to need or seek out comfort or support (because again, needing them would mean we’re pathetic and weak). We don’t get too close to our partners. We largely keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves (at least the embarrassing or sad or painful ones). We remind ourselves that we’re the only ones who can really be trusted. We don’t let down our guard.
It is true that dependence requires vulnerability. It requires that we share our hearts and souls, because this is how we connect. This is how we cultivate intimate, profound bonds. And that’s scary, because it means putting ourselves in a place to potentially get hurt.
We fear that if we reveal our true feelings, our true selves, our partners will leave us. Clients regularly tell relationship therapist Kelly Hendricks, MA, MFT, they struggle with these fears. Her male clients worry: “If I let my wife see the softer side of me, will she no longer view me as a ‘man?’ Will she still see me as the man she married? Will she see me as ‘weak?’” Clients also fear being judged, criticized and shut out.
Plus, many of us aren’t taught to effectively process or even label our emotions—which naturally makes it difficult (i.e., impossible) to share them with our partners. Instead we’re taught to fear our own emotions, or not to trust others with them, Hendricks said. Which leads us not to lean on our partners for emotional support, running “the risk of not having close and connected romantic relationships.”
Hendricks defines dependence as: “an innate emotional attachment need for survival that directly benefits one to have a felt sense of emotional safety and security that lends toward confidence and trust to connect deeply with self and one’s world.” She noted that it’s a completely human need to desire, long for and seek out deep emotional connections, comfort and reassurance from our romantic partners.