Is Needing Part of the Love Equation?
By Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D.
Why is it that so often when we feel we are in love, we also feel we are in bondage if anything happens to shake the feeling of "security" in the love? Why does love so often make us dependent on the other person? Shouldn't love be a marvelous and freeing feeling rather than these other sensations of need and fear and dependence?
Songs Say it All
Songs so often say it all: "Can't Live, if Livin' is Without You," "I Need Your Lovin'," "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone," "I Fall to Pieces," "It's You I Need to Take the Blues Away, It Must be Love," "Without You I am Nothing," "I'm Drowning Without Your Love," If you Leave, I Won't be Able to Breathe," etc.
The message each of those songs gives is that when the person we love is no longer with us, we can't go on. We need that person to be able to stay alive... at least figuratively speaking. Without the person we love, we are nothing, we can not bear to live.
And while we all know that this is not exactly true, most of us have certainly been in the position of feeling something akin to those words.
So what does it mean? Does it really mean that loving someone implies that we need the other person so much that we simply feel we can not go on without them? Or could all that be a fallacy?
Typical Love Scenario
Let's examine what happens in a typical love scenario...
Boy meets girl (man meets woman), chemistry, infatuation, bliss, love, we've all been there and know how that part of it goes. But what is really happening? Raging hormones answer only a small part of the question, even though they can create a vast impact. An article in the weekend supplement of Spain's daily El Mundo (8/7/06) refers to University of Pisa's Donatella Marazziti's work on romantic love activating parts of the brain associated with addiction. She has found that falling in love is a bit like going crazy from the point of view of brain chemicals and hormones.
Jung and the Intelligent Psyche
Carl Gustav Jung said that our psyche is so infinitely intelligent that it attracts us to certain individuals (as certain individuals' psyche causes them to be attracted to us) in order that we experience precisely that which we need to grow. (See my April 2006 Newsletter: Committed Relationships: Use Them to Grow Towards Self-Understanding and Real Love).
So how do we typically grow? By going through an experience of some sort that may not be easy. We grow at school by learning, studying, and taking exams. We grow in life by becoming more aware, and we generally tend to become more aware when some life experience obliges us to do so.
By extrapolating, we might say that in relationships we grow most quickly through experiences that are not necessarily easy. And going back to Jung, he clearly proposes that throughout the course of our lives it is our psyche that in its infinite intelligence leads us to be attracted to precisely those individuals who most have the potential to be instruments in our individual growth. In order for that to work, evidently we first have to be fully in relationship with those people. So we fall in love, we begin to feel that our happiness depends in some measure on the other person, and so begins our need of that person.
External vs Internal Needs
An external need, in others words, when we depend on something external to ourselves for our well-being, frequently carries within it the seeds of failure. In the case of a relationship, it may often be the cause of power plays between the two people, the less needy one being the one to dominate the relationship, and the needier one to resentfully accept this dominance due to his or her need for the other partner.
Obsessiveness, Possessiveness, or the Need to Control
Power plays are not the only manifestation of relationships mired in mutual need. Another frequent expression is obsessiveness or possessiveness, or a need to control. And you can imagine - if you haven't been there - the kind of resentment and negative feelings that this can generate on the part of both people. Akin to any substance addiction, obsessiveness or possessiveness or the need to control can take people to hellish places in their hearts and minds that few of us would wish to visit. I have created an entire workshop on this topic, because although this type of addiction is often masked by a veneer of sophistication, it occurs more frequently than most people suspect, and makes the existence of those that suffer from it a living nightmare.
Does Needing Mean You Really Love?
So why do we become needy in relationships? Of the roughly 40% men and 60% women that come to my private practice, many would initially answer that 'needing' your love partner is how it should be. But why should love imply a feeling that almost always develops into something negative, and at best, makes those who feel it, as said at the beginning of this article, that they could not live without the beloved, thus 'proving' in their minds, that this is really love? Is that really what love is all about?
Wouldn't it make more sense to assume that love means freedom rather than independence? (See my article Are You in Love, or Do You Love?). So what does needing our partner tell us?
Falling In Love With Yourself...
Let's start with the falling in love part. What are we actually falling in love with? Stated simply, we fall in love with those bits and pieces of ourselves that we have not yet recognized, but that we find (via projection) in the partner. Is she tender and understanding? Is he funny and the center of the party? Is she strong and enterprising? Is he confident, with a great sense of integrity? All of those qualities may well be part of your partner's character, but the fact that you fell in love with those specific traits, tells you that they are actually part of your own character as well.
Since you do not yet manifest those qualities, because you have not yet recognized them in yourself, you need your partner to be able to 'be in touch with' that part of you. That is what 'hooks' you on your partner. Your partner's presence in your life gives you contact to those parts of you that you have not yet developed, making you feel that your partner is absolutely indispensable to your well-being.
When Your Partner Leaves
So then, when something happens to the relationship, or your partner leaves, or threatens to leave, is when the strong feelings of need arise. This is the time when you should realize that these strong feelings of need are a vast red flag letting you know something is going on inside of you that only you can do something about. If you ignore it, or translate it into "I was deeply wounded by my partner," or "My partner did not return my feelings when I most needed him/her, so I guess that means I always choose the wrong people," or "Next time I will choose better, so that this kind of thing never happens to me again," then instead of resolving your inner dilemma, you will merely perpetuate it by maintaining the status quo inside of you, falling in love with yet another person that puts you in touch with bits of you that you have not yet recognized in yourself, and thus setting yourself up to be 'needy'.
Can it be Solved?
So what is the solution? Simple to state, less simple to execute (mainly because it requires some of that inner discipline that most of us don't want to exercise): work on those bits of yourself that you catch a glimpse of in the beloved. Examine yourself to see where they might reside in you. Work at developing them; growing them. If you do this, I guarantee you that the next time you fall in love, it will be with a smaller degree of external need, and hence, a greater degree of internal freedom. Or, if you remain with the same person, your love will grow into something infinitely more loving.
Note: Need in love relationships may be the consequence of an early dysfunctional relationship with one of the parents. This may cause the individual to grow up believing that love means hurting in some way. Then, when the individual finds someone who 'plays' that role for him/her, that person becomes necessary to the first person's emotional survival - or so it is believed. The need that arises from this has more to do with a lack of self-esteem or poor boundaries, than with getting in touch with unrecognized bits of the self, and thus the work that needs to be done is on one's self esteem in connection with the construction of healthy boundaries.