I’ve been working with and studying relationship dynamics for the last 30 years. One of the main issues I witness for most couples is the idea and expectation that our partner is supposed to meet all of our needs. When the truth is, to be in a healthy relationship that is stable, grounded and sustainable, one has to take responsibility and attend to his or her own needs. I realize that this idea challenges romantic notions about relationship. However, as soon as one or both partners begins turning to the other with the expectation to get the needs met, it’s usually the moment that a dysfunctional dynamic begins.
I will give an example of how this plays out. Here is one partners position.
I have an insecurity around rejection (based on my experience with my parents or maybe some incidents in school when I was a kid) and I keep reaching to my partner for reassurance so that I can feel secure. I notice that my partner starts pulling away as I try to get them to meet my need. Then when my partner pulls away, it reinforces my insecurity. I get triggered by this and reach for them again, creating a loop of patterning. I am in a cycle of getting re-triggered in my insecurity as I keep reaching for them.
Here is a typical partner's reaction.
I feel pressured and need space, but my partner keeps pulling at me to attend to them. The more I feel their need put on me, the more I feel pressured and want to pull away. The more I pull away, the more they come after me. I feel overwhelmed by their needs.
Here is an example of how both partner's react to the other.
When I don’t get what I want, I’m angry and disappointed and I blame the partner for not meeting my needs.
My therapy practice is about is helping people develop the emotional intelligence required for a healthy sustainable relationship with themselves and others.
I don't find it useful to blame our parents. As adults, it is ours to deal with even if we were victims as kids. It is on us to deal with our pain and learn how to be an conscious adult. To blame the parent (or our partner) is to stay the victim. Although there’s space for acknowledging our parent’s mistakes in our healing process, it’s not useful to land here as a stance.
In my opinion, both partners need to understand their own needs and expectations, recognize the ways they project those needs onto their partner, take ownership of that need, and learn to meet that need on their own. According to my teacher of 20 years Jennifer Welwood, if we are putting more than 25% of our needs onto our partner, we are putting too much on them. A healthy ratio is this 25/25/50. 25% partner, 25% friends and family, and 50% self. This idea is hard for many people to accept, because of the romantic stories we internalize throughout our lives. The expectation that our partner will meet all of our needs and that they will be our savior to our loneliness and existential emptiness is not realistic.
Esther Perel states “we look more frequently to our partner to provide the emotional and physical resources that a village or community used to provide.”
When I work with couples and individuals, I compassionately hold the space and guide each person to learn how to stand in their own adult awareness, and take care of their needs as they communicate and connect with their partner.