Lesson 7: My Partner Is Not Here To Meet My Needs
“Many times, we experience a glow at the beginning of a relationship. We think that the relationship was made in Heaven, that we’ve found the person who is going to meet all our needs! Of course, when they don’t, we decide this is a relationship from hell.
One of the greatest mistakes we make is to think that our partner is here to take care of us, to be our sugar daddy, our sweet mama. Expecting our partner to meet our needs actually holds back the relationship, because, whether they meet our needs or not, any time we have a bad feeling we will blame them. Any time a need is not met, we think they must go into sacrifice to take care of us. There is no way for our partner to win. This is not the purpose of a relationship.
Happiness is the purpose of a relationship, and it does not come from our partner meeting our needs. Happiness comes from our ability to make contact, to give and receive, and to bridge the differences to form an integration for a new level of confidence in our relationship.” –Chuck Spezzano, PhD
The exercise follows: “Today, if you feel that you are not happy, take a look at your attitude toward your partner. If you feel they have been put here to meet your needs, be willing to change your attitude. Be willing to move past this mistake. Be willing to make another choice. Be willing to see that your partner is here to co-create with you, to make contact, to communicate to move forward together, arm in arm, and heal with you until you become fully happy.”
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I peeked at the title of this lesson yesterday and felt a little bit of dread anticipating it. In my most recent relationship, I’ve been assigned the role of the “needy” one and, let me tell you, I can see why historically I’ve opted for the role of the “independent” one. It’s tempting to get back on the pendulum and swing back in that direction, but then I’d still be in this complex. Instead, I’m trying to just really keep my heart open to learning about what the truth is and what’s been going on without judging myself. (Suspending self-judgment makes it a lot easier to admit the truth!)
“Needing” has been a very difficult topic for me. As a child, my needs were most definitely not met so, I sent them underground and became a self-sufficient, do it all myself for myself, secret loner. But those needs that were driven underground festered into some kind of monster that I hid in shame. It came out as this kind of weird covetousness and an attitude of entitlement and specialness. This is highly unattractive (to me too, which is why I felt so plagued and ashamed). It would naturally drive people away, thus reaffirming that I couldn’t have needs because they would never be met. This kind of thinking leads to sacrifice, martyrdom, giving to get, manipulation, control, and lots of other nastiness. And then, of course, more shame and embarrassment and repression and shadow possession. It is a vicious cycle, torturous and very tricky to unravel.
About a year ago, I came across a book called Exceptional Marriage by Marcia and Brian Gleason. In it, they differentiate between mature needs and immature needs. The lesson was so helpful for me. First of all, it taught me that, in fact, we do need of each other. As humans, we need companionship, affection, camaraderie, connection. And it is, in fact, when my immature needs rear up that this kind of true connecting is actually not possible.
My immature needs are the ones that could only have been met by my parents when I was a child. It has been a long, hard road, coming to terms with the fact that my childhood is over and accepting that what I needed is not ever going to happen the way I’ve wanted it to. There is a deep mourning process that must be gone through. I’m 39 years old, and only in the last two or three years have I really begun to mourn properly. I’ve had to admit and come to terms with the fact that I was not mirrored or contained sufficiently and therefore, do not have a sufficiently developed inner adult. I have not been my own container and I have sought containment within my relationships. It’s time to let go of something that is never going to happen for me. I have to accept and take responsibility for that reality now, to grow up and learn how to do it for myself.
Now, yes, our partnerships provide a certain level of support, recognition and solace, but if I don’t have any clue what it means to “be contained” or “mirrored”, having never had the experience, how can I ever truly be holding up my end of a relationship? And what if my partner is not available or capable in any given moment to do that for me? I’m just going to fall apart? Fundamentally, I’m asking the relationship and my partner to do all the work, to hold everything together, to be my source of everything. What if they can’t, or, worse, what if they’re just like me and doing the same thing? Then no one’s taking care of anything, not of ourselves and certainly not of each other. No one is taking responsibility for themselves. It’s chaos. There can be no intimacy, no bonding, no communication, no connection– none of the good glue that makes a relationship feel like a safe place in a healthy way. Then there’s panic, which pushes the good stuff further away still. This is a situation in which one or more people are totally unconscious, totally in the grips of their shadows. It’s like living in a constant state of tantrum, or the impending threat of one. I have to be able to contain myself and my shadows if there is any hope of conscious relating.
What I’ve done to start healing this is enter into relationship with therapists (a strictly “contained” relationship) who can provide the experience of containment and mirroring, which I gradually internalize to the point that my inner adult is developed enough that I can do those things for myself. I have to feel my connection to myself, my worth, my validity, my deservingness all by myself. I have to build connection to my creativity, my freedom of expression, my passion for life, all by myself. I have to engage. I have to have a connection and a sense of companionship to myself that is not dependent on what is or is not going on around me. People can be, feel and do all kinds of crazy things in life, and if my connection to my center is contingent upon what others do or don’t do, I am in the same vulnerable, terrifying position I was as a child. In the face of adversity, I become a child.
I also have to become intimately acquainted with my needs so that I can relate with them and address them myself. The biggest part of that is admitting that they are there. I have to stop judging them, I have to stop pretending that they aren’t there or they will always get the better of me and my relationships. I have to learn about them and where they are coming from. I have to differentiate the mature ones (things that are okay to ask of others) from the immature ones (those that only I can meet). Then I have to decide how I’m going to address and meet those needs.
I don’t truly believe that my partners have been put here to meet my needs, but I have had the desire for it to be so and tried to get them to do it anyway. What a mess. And how selfish. I love the idea of helping one another. I love the idea of walking arm and arm as equals and co-creators, making contact, communicating, and even being witness to each others’ lives. I have to be responsible enough with my needs to be able to carry my own weight in such an equal partnership. That is precisely what creates true partnership in the first place.