Emotional Dependency - What It Is and How to Overcome It

03 January, 2021
It's normal to look to partners for guidance and emotional support. Emotional dependency, however, passes the point of support. In this article, you’ll learn what exactly it is and how to overcome it.

Most of our patients have therapy goals related to being more independent within a relationship. In other words, they want to become less dependent on a partner, friend, or parent.  Emotional dependency happens when someone believes they need another person to feel complete and happy. 

There’s a huge difference between love and emotional dependency. When you’re in a dependent relationship, you feel that you need that person to survive, and not in a healthy way. You constantly crave that person’s support, approval, and attention. This is because you aren’t giving yourself these things.

It takes lots of courage to tap into the strengths that help us get beyond our need for others, but it’s necessary for us to reach our true potential.

As a matter of fact, love is confused with dependency, as both come with intense feelings. A person with emotionally dependent behavior thinks they need another person to feel complete. In this state of mind, they’re incapable of taking full responsibility for their own feelings.

In order to stop being emotionally dependent in your relationships, you must cultivate wholeness from within.

A dependent person’s happiness relies solely on another person. This may have some dangerous consequences for their well-being and peace of mind. Emotional dependency is a true challenge that’s incredibly difficult to overcome.

Keep in mind that it’s normal to have a certain degree of emotional dependence on your partner. Nevertheless, when your happiness comes to rely on them, it becomes unhealthy and unbalanced.

How far it can go

In an emotionally dependent relationship, you typically end up relying on your partner to meet nearly all your needs. When you feel distressed, you instantly look to them before trying to manage your emotions yourself. 

Feeling as if you can’t live without their emotional support can suggest your relationship has veered to an unhealthy level of dependence. For the most part, emotional dependence doesn’t pave the way toward healthy relationships. Emotionally dependent people need a lot of reassurance from their partners.

In that case, the need for emotional closeness is extreme, constant, and may only be soothed by your partner. At its worst, your spouse’s emotional expression becomes increasingly restricted.

Do you often feel insecurity or self-doubt? Do you need your partner’s approval to feel good about yourself? This need triggers fears of what may happen if they leave you. These fears of abandonment can, in turn, lead to attempts to control their behavior to hold on to them. Yet, trying to control people usually backfires. 

Those who feel manipulated and unable to make their own choices end up leaving the relationship. A pattern of failed relationships is highly common in emotional dependency. There’s such a thing as too much closeness! Too much dependence is damaging. 

What can you do to overcome this overwhelming dependency? Keep reading!

How to overcome emotional dependence

Have you detected emotional dependence in all your past relationships? If you answered yes, you must take action in order to address this horrible pattern.

Of course, it’s perfectly healthy and okay to lean on others as needed to some extent. Yet, it’s essential to know how to show up for yourself as well. Several strategies can help identify dependency.

Breaking emotionally dependent behavior is hard. But with courage, energy and bravery, you’ll be able to do it. You’ll feel in control of your life.

Here are a few tips to overcome this behavior:

  • Practice being alone. It’ll be uncomfortable at first, especially if your pattern is to reach out when you feel lonely. That being said, the more you practice without giving in to the urge to reach out, the easier it’ll become. Being able to be alone is the key to healthy relationships. This way, you won’t rely on someone else to always be there. Being alone also brings that much-needed time for you to self-reflect and rebuild your relationship with yourself.
  • Try the no contact rule. This consists of not calling, texting, or messaging an ex in any way after a breakup. It includes not talking to their friends or family about them or the breakup itself. You should block their phone number, Snapchat, Instagram, Venmo, and Facebook, among other accounts. This pretty much kills any chance of reconciliation. 
A couple kissing.

  • Set boundaries. Boundaries are key in relationships. With no highly defined boundaries, it’s difficult for anyone to get what they need. If your partner wants to spend all their free time together, but you want to make time for other relationships, say “I love spending time together, but time apart is important too. Let’s set a limit of four nights a week”.
  • Consider your needs. Both of you have valid needs. However, you can’t fully fulfill each other’s needs. Just promote healthy behaviors. There’s nothing wrong with communicating your needs if you do it with respect. For instance, say “After work, I need some time to myself. I would love to spend time with you after that”.
  • Explore your triggers. Do certain things trigger emotionally dependent behavior? Yes. For example, seeking your spouse’s approval as your self-esteem sinks when you make a mistake. Detecting your triggers will help you find the ideal coping mechanism. How about using positive talk to remind you of your successes? Keep a card with positive reassurance phrases with you at all times.

If your partner keeps struggling with emotional dependency, they may find individual therapy helpful. It’s imperative for both of you to seek support. A couples therapist may help. This is because therapy offers a judgment-free environment. 

Are you in it for the long haul but your partner doubts your relationship? Try to find a therapist. They may help you work together to find effective ways to communicate. They may also help develop stronger trust.

Sadly, emotionally dependent behaviors are hard to improve. Although it’s pivotal to take steps to address emotional dependency, bear in mind that you need to have compassion and patience.

Riso, W. ¿Amar o depender? Cómo superar el apego afectivo y hacer del amor una experiencia plena y saludable. Editorial Planeta/Zenith