When “Paul” was describing his marriage to me, his eyes began to tear up as he described the constant arguing, criticism, and disparaging of his character while in the presence of his young children.
His wife “Michelle” seemed to seek out any opportunities she could find to judge, criticize, and blame him for anything. Sadly, there had not been any signs of physical affection either. Intimacy was a thing of the past, and cuddling or holding hands was a foreign concept to him at this point in his marriage. He found himself lost and believing the constant labels Michelle would put on him, which affected his self-esteem, energy, and confidence.
His marriage was everything but loving, kind, and respectful. Yet, when his divorce was imminent, he was devasted by the thought of being alone. Paul found himself emotionally dependent on his wife, even though the marriage was an unhappy one. When he moved into his new home, not having his wife arguing with him or someone telling him that he was being selfish by going on a business trip, was very difficult at first. For the first time in over ten years, he found himself able to come and go as he pleased, and it scared him to death.
One of the biggest challenges in moving forward with a divorce tends to be breaking from the emotional dependency of a spouse. Even in a toxic, unhealthy marriage, clients find breaking the cycle of dependency incredibly difficult. Why? Because they often feel as though all their eggs were in one basket and now the basket is empty.
Emotional dependency is when you rely entirely on someone else to help you cope with your feelings and meet your emotional needs. Emotional needs are the things that you need to feel fulfilled and happy — like a sense of safety, belonging, achievement, or connectedness.
Soon, for such people becoming emotionally attached or dependent on their partner is a normal thing. Such people unknowingly take relationships as a source of validation and self-worth.
Let’s examine the signs of emotional dependency:
Your happiness depends on them. Whether you have a good day or a bad one hinges entirely on whether they’re around and what kind of mood they’re in. If you’re not doing something fun with them, then you’re probably feeling miserable. Processing your feelings is difficult.
Dependence for validation. Valuing your partner’s views and feelings about you is a very good thing to do. However, if their opinion or approval is more important than yours to you for everything. We need to know that even our partners shouldn’t be trusted more than ourselves.
You idolize them. In your mind, you build them up to be something that they aren’t. You might put them up on a pedestal and see them as someone who could never hurt you or do any wrong. Or you might unconsciously thrust them into a role that they’re not responsible for — like savior, protector, or therapist.
You’re anxious when they’re not around. Time spent apart is excruciating for you. You start ruminating about when they’ll be back and whether their feelings for you have changed while they’re away. Feelings of jealousy arise if your spouse spends time with others.
You fear losing them even if the relationship is toxic. You don’t know how you could live without them, and you spend a lot of energy trying to make sure that they don’t ever leave you. You feel very jealous or possessive over them. It makes you anxious when they spend quality time with other people or on other projects because you feel like it threatens your relationship. You want their time and attention to be focused only or mostly on you even if that means constant arguing.
You have a hard time being alone. No matter what you’re doing, you’d prefer their companionship over solitude. Not just the fun stuff either — daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, or working feel difficult on your own. You may tend to jump from relationship to relationship.
You need a lot of reassurance from them. You’re constantly asking them if they still like you and want to spend time with you. You need them to reassure you that you aren’t annoying them and that the choices you’re making are the right ones.
Your self-esteem depends on them. A compliment from them can send your self-esteem soaring, but silence can make it come crashing back down. Their opinion of you is the most important factor in how you feel about yourself.
You rely on them to help you cope. You use them to find relief from the stuff that’s stressing you out. When you’re struggling with something (like a project at work, a fight with a friend, or an upcoming deadline), you turn to them to help you feel better.
You struggle to process feelings on your own. When something happens to you (good, bad, or otherwise), your first instinct is to reach out to them. Their reaction helps you process how you feel about the situation.
Emotional dependence is not healthy.
Recognizing and addressing emotional dependence in relationships is vital for fostering healthier dynamics within your marriage and personal growth. By implementing boundaries, nurturing independence, and seeking support, individuals can break free from unhealthy patterns, cultivate stronger self-worth, and build a more balanced and fulfilling life.
What are the first steps in breaking this dependency?
A possible cycle that may have begun long before you met your spouse. The chances are that the feelings that lead us to develop this kind of dependency have roots in our early childhood experiences and previous relationships and not necessarily romantic ones. Being honest with yourself and spending time doing self-reflection is the first step in breaking this cycle.
Build up your sense of self & practice being alone.
Maybe you don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re alone, or who you are without your spouse’s guidance. Unplug from your devices and take a walk, spend some time in nature, or get truly alone with yourself and your thoughts through meditation. Setting a timer for 30 minutes away from your phone can be a good exercise in quality time by yourself. Hang out with other friends, try out a new hobby, or take a trip to somewhere new and see what you can find. Find the things that can give you joy on your own.
The first step to building a more independent and fulfilling relationship with yourself is to identify the root problem and what causes the current state of your emotions. Consulting with a mental health professional would be the primary step in understanding and correcting a troubling emotional state. It is possible to overcome unhealthy emotional dependence. With self-awareness, therapy, and personal growth, individuals can establish boundaries, and develop a stronger sense of self-worth and independence. If you make the effort and commitment, positive change is attainable.
The Divorce Coach for Men