“We need in love to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily—we do not need to learn it.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
“If she leaves me, I’ll die—I’ll have nothing to live for. She’s everything to me—she’s my life!”
Jeremy, 27, is panicked over the possibility of losing his girlfriend, Shannon.
Not surprisingly, she isn’t flattered by being the object of such colossal longing and adoration. Instead, she feels an enormous amount of pressure, suffocated by Jeremy’s immense need and weighed down by the gravity of his dependency.
Jeremy’s brand of love doesn’t feel like love to Shannon. Her experience is that of being smothered. The effect on Shannon is understandable. Jeremy is demonstrating neediness, not love.
It’s impossible for neediness and love to coexist.
That’s because love is a two-way circuit, consisting of equal players locked in the dance of mutual give and take. Needy people, though, focus solely on their own needs, creating a draining effect on the other person.
Jeremy’s needy behaviors are driving Shannon away. Instead of looking forward to his calls as she did early in their relationship, she dreads them. Caught up in an exhaustive back-and-forth loop between guilt and repulsion, she craves release.
Being situated at the center of someone’s universe is far from a breeze. On a constant basis, Shannon feels responsible for Jeremy’s well-being—held hostage by a dilemma. “My actions will either make or break this man!” she exclaims.
“When Jeremy says, ‘I love you,’ he’s waiting for me to reciprocate. He’s always wanting me to hug him, too.” And, Shannon added, he does so in a pleading way, saying, “All I want is a hug.”
That’s not love—that’s fishing for reassurance.
Shannon usually gives in because she can’t bear to see him crushed. Instead of referring to herself as Jeremy’s girlfriend, she describes herself as his “obsession.”
In a counseling session, Shannon told Jeremy how she felt. After she made herself clear, she expressed her need by saying, “You’ve worn me down. I need some time apart from you.”
She asked Jeremy for a two-week break, including no phone contact. Her request was precise: “Give me some space—let me miss you!”
Jeremy pouted a bit but reluctantly went along with her wishes.
His compliance, however, was short-lived. Within 24 hours, he sent a text, followed by several more. Each time, he exerted great effort to convince her of his love and try to change her mind.
In a session with Jeremy alone, I asked, “What’s the difference between love and need?”
He shook his head—he didn’t know.
“Your actions,” I explained, “convey that you need her, not that you love her.”
The expression on his face switched from sad to stunned. “I love her!” he insisted.
“If you loved her,” I responded, “ you would take her requests seriously. Her needs would matter.” I pointed out that when Shannon asked for space, he neglected her request.
Jeremy needs to learn that actions speak louder than words. Instead of conveying love, his actions shout, “It’s all about me.” For example, reaching out for hugs is fulfilling his need while ignoring hers.
“When we love someone,” I told Jeremy, “we make sure a hug is what the other person wants, too. That’s love.”
If Jeremy’s feelings were based on love, he would be exercising understanding and caring restraint, instead of working so hard at dismantling the boundaries Shannon had erected for the sake of her well-being.
“Love gives space for the other person to breathe, even though it hurts,” I said.
Jeremy replied somberly, “In other words, I’ve got to let go, right?”
I replied, “We can’t let go of what we don’t own. You never did have her—we never possess anybody. My best advice, is to stop clutching. Cultivate your independence. Only then can the relationship be right.”
For Jeremy, releasing his grip was a frightening thought. “She may never come back!” he declared.
He may be right, but loosening his grip is the only shot he has at saving this relationship. As long as Shannon feels obligated, guilty and repulsed, she won’t be inclined to reverse her direction.
The more desperate we are to keep a relationship, the more apt we are to lose it. A relationship must be grounded in free choice, not overpowered by neediness.
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.
(c) 2017 Salee Reese