In partnerships, friendships, and in families we often faced with difficult issues; our loved ones’ problems. If only they would follow our advice, right? I have witnessed many a fight occurring in response to one person trying to support their partner/loved one. Dealing with our loved ones’ problems, and emotions, can sometimes feel like a lose-lose situation that leaves both parties feeling unresolved and disconnected. I find that its helpful to make a distinction between support and over-dependency.
Support: Support is what most of us hope for in healthy relationships. We don’t want someone to solve our problems for us, nor do we want our partners/loved ones’ to feel burdened. We are not asking for our loved one to take on the full weight of our problem(s).
Over-Dependency: Dependency isn’t all bad, but sometimes the fear of dependency, or the fear of over-dependency, gets in the way of asking for (and giving) support. Unhealthy dependency is when we expect our loved one to resolve our problem(s), or when we feel like we can’t solve even the most basic issues on our own. Most of us don’t want that unhealthy over-dependency.
I have noticed that some of my clients don’t ask for support because they are afraid of being, or becoming, overly dependent. Asking for a hug, or asking for help making dinner doesn’t make us overly-dependent. Asking for some patience, or some extra TLC, when we are down-and-out isn’t over-dependency. In fact, when we are in the habit of asking for a little bit of support here or there can help us avoid getting into a total melt-down mode.
Additionally, I have noticed that some people feel nervous when their loved one asks for support. Sometimes because of past overly-dependent relationships, we feel afraid to support our loved ones. We fear that they will become overly-dependent, that we won’t be able to help them, or that it will become too burdensome for us. It helps reduce the fear when we remind ourselves that our partner doesn’t need us to take on their problems or their full emotional load. Often our loved ones simply want to hear how much we care about them and believe in them finding their own solutions. A simple statement of our love and faith is often all they really need.
Distinguishing between over-dependency and support can make the process of supporting and being supported much less scary. Reminding ourselves that asking for, and giving, small acts of support (a statement of love, or help washing the dishes), doesn’t signal over-dependency.
Katie Larson, MA
Marriage and Family Therapy Candidate