“The surest way to be unhappy is to depend on someone else to make you happy.”
– Marty Rubin.
Dependency is an innate human experience. Most of us have a necessary dependency on our parents during childhood, both emotionally and physically. We need that reliance to help us grow into, ideally, mentally and physically healthy adults. In being human i.e. social beings, we can never rid ourselves of this reliance on others, we look for groups of friends, we frequently ask others for advice and support. While we will seek this for the rest of our lives, it is important to differentiate between healthy dependency and unhealthy dependency, specifically in romantic relationships. Healthy dependency is good for a relationship, where both partners help each other through daily crises, as well as consulting each other on important decisions; however, unhealthy reliance can diminish a person’s ability to care for the self and can even begin to promote loss of one’s individuality.
Personally, I have grown through unhealthy to healthy dependency in romantic relationships. I entered a relationship 4 years ago and for 2 years we were together in the same physical place. At that point in time I did not see any drastic dependence in my behavior. However, due to the one-year age difference, he had to go off to university a year before I did. The separation presented me with my first ever serious crisis, at the time, I did not understand why the separation broke me emotionally, to everyone around me it did not seem like a big deal or a life or death situation, but my brain treated it as such. It caused me extreme emotional distress, specifically with terrible anxiousness.
Then slowly, regaining my ability to think clearly, I realized how badly dependent I had become on my relationship, for my happiness, my sadness, any sort of emotion was dependent on how the other was acting. Not only that, I felt that I had lost what my hobbies were, everything I did seemed to be shared with my significant other. I merely did not know how to be alone.
Over time, I found the psychological explanation for this type of dependency. It is very easy for relationships to be recognized in the brain’s reward center, similar to the idea of drugs, we like to think of relationships as something that will bring us happiness and less pain. Following this way of thinking, being out of a relationship becomes something that will bring us pain and heightened anxiety. By having a romantic partner, we expect for certain romantic actions to make us happy. We may or may not have an idea of what is pleasurable in a relationship for us, this impending excitement, called the “expectation of pleasure,” can release dopamine (the feel-good hormone) from our limbic system (Jantz, 2015). The result of this is a severe addiction on not the other person, but rather our own brain chemistry, the euphoric feeling that is produced while in that relationship. Of course, this is one of many explanations, but it is one that provides insight towards why we could become dependent in a relationship.
Just as we feel the extreme pleasure from this chemical dependency, the lows from the addiction we feel can be just as intense. Becoming dependent in a relationship, can lead to avoidance of ever being alone, and therefore losing an idea of self. The consequences of having a dependent relationship end can be very harsh. It can lead to severe depression and anxiety. Even in a rough patch of a dependent relationship, may cause extreme distress to a dependent person, especially when the person feels as if they have lost their individual likes/dislikes.
Nonetheless, there are not only ways to prevent becoming dependent, but even ways to slowly grow out of it. After 2 years of long distance and meeting each other 5 times in several different places, I am finally able to peacefully coexist with myself without being in the same physical place as my significant other. By having the human ability to think and reason, there is always time and space to understand the instinctive responses of the human body/brain and those reactions that we do not need for survival nowadays can be lessened.
To help make one’s experience in romantic relationships better and to enforce a healthy dependency, one must practice and understand self-love. It is not simply a tumblr quote when people say “you must love yourself first, in order to love someone else.” We need to understand how to create happiness within ourselves and it is not by being in a relationship.
Here are some steps to staying your own person, while also loving another:
1. Be introspective. Are you often upset when your partner does not act or respond in a way you expect them to? Is your relationship the center of your life? Do you fall apart when you have no plans with your partner?
2. Find happiness from within. It is conditioned for us to think people “make us whole.” You make yourself whole. Find love within yourself.
3. Be alone. Staying alone can be extremely difficult for a lot of people, but it is something we all need to learn. Spend some Saturday nights alone, sit and think, listen to your wonderful thoughts and realize how lovely it is to be with yourself and how important you really are. After all, you are the only person who will truly be with you till the end of your life.
4. Find your own hobbies/activities. Sharing hobbies and doing things with your partner can be a great bonding experience, but leaving some small activities to yourself is a way to be less dependent on the other. Try baking, cooking, singing, dancing, learning a new instrument, painting, or meditating. I know I like to leave a physical place where only I go to, a safe haven perhaps.
5. Create balance. It is easy to become needy, to want to do everything with the other person, but it is important to find the healthy balance. A healthy needy is to ask for advice, to seek mutual comfort, however it becomes unhealthy when you need the person 24/7 and when you are without them you become immobile and devastated. If that is so, use the above examples to practice self-love.
6. Understand the power of mind. The mind is extremely powerful, it can make a situation seem like the end of the world, but remember, it is as powerful as you make it. At the end of the day, you are the one controlling your reactions to outside events. If you are able to remember how you have the power to think and feel about certain things, you are the real winner.
Remember, if you feel down in the dumps, because you feel like you have lost yourself or being alone is truly the worst experience ever, contact a psychologist or a trusted adult who can help you. Remember, you are never alone.