By: Esther Boykin
Despite the recent surge in conversations about vulnerability, we still live in an age of uber-independence. We celebrate those who seem to have reached success by lifting themselves up by their bootstraps despite that the fact that those same people would happily acknowledge that others helped them along the way. We might even shy away from moments of vulnerability as if they will make us appear weak or, even worse, needy.
With these cultural messages that make independence seem like the highest achievement, it may seem counterintuitive to profess your need for another person. But healthy relationships are not built on two independent people simply sharing space with one another. The key to a loving, emotionally close relationship is for two interdependent people to learn how to come together to share a life. But how do you create interdependence? There are some simple ways to start.
Interdependence is not the same as being needy.
I’m sure your first reaction is, “I’m not needy,” or “I don’t want him/her to think I’m needy.” But what I am suggesting is not about being helpless or clingy. Too often we use the term “needy” interchangeably with “needing someone,” but the difference between the two is significant. Being needy suggests that you’re desperate for the other person to take care of you. Needy people feel unable to care for themselves and, even more importantly, they don’t feel they have something to offer their partner in return. That’s not the basis for a strong relationship. Instead, it sets up a power imbalance and can lead to one person feeling valued only for what they can give or do rather than for the emotional support and connection two partners share.
But needing someone in your life is not a desperate plea for financial support or to be rescued emotionally. It is a natural part of the human experience, one that begins when we are infants and continues for the rest of our lives. There is no denying that people need other people and that it’s a valuable and empowering experience when two people understand their self-worth. Unlike our need for our parents as children, adults need to build relationships in which the give and take of support and compassion is reciprocal.
Develop your independence.
When we consider that being interdependent with our significant other means mutual love and support, it makes sense that being independent is the first step. To develop interdependence in your relationship, you must first be your own person and value your ability to care for yourself. The goal is to be able to give and receive support, love, and encouragement from one another. This can only be accomplished by independently developing your own sense of self-worth and interests. Even in relationships where one person may carry the bulk of the financial responsibility or one of you acts as the primary caregiver for your kids or home, it is still important to know that you are capable of doing these things on your own. By recognizing and continually strengthening your individual abilities, you ensure that your need for one another is based on a healthy emotional connection rather than external obligations.
Be brave and say the words.
Just as much as we need to be self-sufficient and capable of meeting our own basic needs, we need to be loved and have reliable social support. Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to emotional closeness is our own unwillingness to ask for it. It can be scary to wear your heart on your sleeve, yet the only way to find someone who will truly care for our affections is to make them available. Trust in the human desire for connection and tell your partner just how much you need them. This should not translate into, “I need you to take the dog to the vet,” or “I need you to pay my parking ticket.” Instead, try saying, “I had a really stressful day, and I need to spend time with you,” or “You are so funny; I need that kind of laughter in my life.” Be clear that what you need most is to be a vital part of your partner’s life and for them to want to be a part of yours. It is that kind of mutual connection that can take your relationship from good to amazing.