While it's important in any relationship to feel needed, sometimes a partner's behavior can cross the line. When neediness becomes overwhelming and burdensome, it may be time for an exit strategy. Breaking up with an emotionally dependent partner is both an internal and external process, one that requires both enlightened emotional preparation and a firm declaration of your boundaries.
The Dynamics of Neediness
A major challenge in building up resolve to leave a needy person comes in overcoming the guilt associated with doing so. However, if you better understand the dynamics of neediness, you can see that guilt is often how needy adults control those they're in a relationship with. In a healthy relationship, the sharing and fulfilling of emotional needs is symmetrical, but an overly needy person uses guilt to instill a sense of one-sided obligation, making you feel bad if you don't fulfill his every need. According to psychologist and author Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., people with these types of emotional dependency issues are clingy and controlling because they can't tolerate the uncertainty of trying to get what they need from someone they can't manipulate. However, as much as you might feel like you're helping a needy partner, start by understanding the toxicity of the relationship dynamic.
Affirming Your Needs
Break yourself out of the negative mental habits that have been keeping your relationship with your needy partner alive. Toxic needy partners prioritize their own needs over those of others, so there probably hasn't been much room for your needs in the relationship. While you and your partner may consider you the strong one in the relationship, recognize that such interpersonal dynamics are not a healthy basis for a relationship. Examine the ways in which your needs have gone unmet, both in terms of attendance to your desires and struggles, and in terms of your partner being unrealistically demanding of you in how well you meet his needs.
When confronting a toxic needy person with your intention to leave, explain clearly your reasons for wanting to terminate the relationship. Describe the unhealthy relationship dynamics as you see them and discuss specific ways in which your needs aren't being met and why the relationship is not healthy for either of you. Monitor your language and tone of voice to make sure that you do not leave the issue open to discussion, but instead declare your intention firmly.
Reaction and Aftermath
Resolve yourself to stick to your decision no matter what your partner says or does in the aftermath of the breakup. Prepare yourself beforehand for manipulative and guilt-tripping techniques designed to get you to reconsider. Expect your partner to respond to your complaints by abdicating his responsibility. For example, he may tell you that if your needs haven't been getting met, you should have been telling him what to do to meet them. He may also look for ways to insult you and paint you as cruel and uncaring, or he may say that he won't be able to survive or be happy without you. Understand that these are standard techniques of control and manipulation; your partner may need a therapist, but he must learn to take responsibility for himself.
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- "Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All the Time"; Melody Beattie.
- After Psychotherapy: About Neediness
Lauren Vork has been a writer for 20 years, writing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in "The Lovelorn" online magazine and thecvstore.net. Vork holds a bachelor's degree in music performance from St. Olaf College.