In media interviews, I am often asked, “what are the key components to having a successful relationship?” Usually I answer: good communication, trust, respect, and constructive conflict resolution skills.
While these are important components to creating a successful relationship, I now know that what’s even more important for a successful long term relationship is that both individuals in a relationship have the confidence that they can accomplish the following two skills.
First, each partner must have the confidence she or he can take care of himself or herself economically. In other words, they don’t need to rely on another adult for their economic security.
They have the skills that will allow them to have a job that can support their lifestyle. They don’t need another adult/parent to take care of the basic needs such as rent, food, car and other basic expenses. They can support themselves.
Secondly, each individual must be able to live on her or his own emotionally. They cannot be afraid to live alone. They can live with a roommate, but they don’t have to be with a significant other.
It’s critical that both individuals in a relationship have achieved both of these confidences before they live together or get married. This is not to say that you can’t develop these confidences after you have committed yourself to someone. It’s just a lot easier before you start to live with someone.
When either of these confidences aren’t met, a condition of dependency is created within the relationship. Dependency within an adult relationship poisons the love between the couple.
When an adult is dependent on another adult it creates a great deal of resentment, which gets in the way of their love for his or her partner over time.
It might feel wonderful at first to have someone who will take care of you, but after awhile they will resent the task and you will resent the power they have over your psychological or physical well being in the world.
When dependency enters a loving adult relationship it blocks the formation of healthy intimacy both emotionally and physically. A dependent individual avoids taking any psychological risks because they don’t want to jeopardize his or her security positions.
Without psychological risk, dependent individuals seek a false sense of harmony and avoid communicating their emotional truth. Without risk, the experience of being in love and passion fades over time.
With today’s high divorce rate, married people are well aware that they could be single at anytime. At some level, people know that they can be abandoned in the adult world-there is no guarantee.
Many people in relationships don’t want to acknowledge this fact and don’t even want to discuss the possibility. This is especially true for adults who are either economically or emotionally dependent.
The idea of being on their own is especially frightening. It is this fear of being alone that causes psychological havoc in their relationship.
Dependent adults and their fear of abandonment causes them to compensate by developing controlling behaviors within the relationship. They want to prevent their partners from leaving them, so they act in ways that they think will keep the abandonment from occurring.
They generally try to control the relationship and their partners in two ways. The first way is by being passive and avoiding conflict or any behavior they think might upset their partner.
As a result the passive individual begins to develop a great deal of resentment because they lose themselves in the relationship. Their true sense of self is blocked from expression.
They are always “walking on eggshells” for fear of creating possible emotional upset with their partners. The passive partner will say things like, “he or she might get mad if I tell them that” or “I don’t want to get in an argument”.
The passive acting partner can rationalize their behavior by believing that they are being a “nice person”. The reality is that they are manipulating the relationship and their partner.
They hate it when I tell them that what they are doing is not nice, but controlling. They become defensive because they have a different self-perception. They are deluding their partner of the truth, I don’t think that’s being nice.
This self-censoring behavior by the passive individuals creates a whole lot of anxiety when they are around their partners, making it impossible for them to have any sense of true intimacy because they are always acting in a way that they think their partners wants them to be.
They are on stage in a play without having a script and constantly improvising their lines. Eventually the passive individuals’ partner is going to leave because they get bored with a lover who isn’t really present emotionally most of the time.
Another classic controlling behavior that’s used to compensate for the fear of abandonment is what is generally called aggressive behavior.
Aggressive partners communicate directly and overtly what their partners can and can’t do in terms of their own behavior. They tell you what you can wear or who you can talk to or dance with if you’re at a party.
This type of control is very parental and is going to cause a great deal of resentment for their partners.
Some people put this type of controlling behavior in the category of being jealous. Some tend to romanticize this type of jealous aggressive behavior.
They see it as a sign of love. I see it as nothing but self-centered control trying to compensate for their fear of being abandoned. Jealousy has nothing to do with love- don’t confuse the two.
Adults tend not to like being controlled and the more they experience this control the more they want to get away from the controlling partner.
This triggers a greater fear of abandonment and insecurity. The aggressive individual responds with more control and a vicious cycle of power and control is created that will eventually lead to the ultimate demise of the relationship.
The antidote to this issue of control is to not be dependent on another adult. Instead of being involved because of some dependency, choose or want to be with them because you are treated with love and respect, and enjoy your experience of being involved.
You are not with them because of any type of fear where your choice is removed. If you’re partner does leave you, you will survive. You can take care of yourself as an adult in the adult world.
If you are involved with another adult who tries to control you, have the confidence that you won’t tolerate that type of behavior as well.
About the author
A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Daniel Beaver started his private practice in 1973 in Walnut Creek, California, and continues providing individual and couples therapy today. He co-founded the Relationship Counseling Center of Walnut Creek in 1974.
The author of three books, Creating the Intimate Connection, More Than Just Sex, and Love Yourself, which was just published this year.
Visit www.danielbeaver.com to know more about Dan.
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