I remember my client, Joan, who adamantly said to me, “I am not getting close to you because I don’t want to need you”. I was struck by her honesty and self-awareness. She knew exactly what to avoid, why she did it and admittedly so. She showed up for therapy weekly to check it off her to-do list. She did not engage with me in a way that fostered any intimacy or connection. She worked hard to keep a safe distance.
Disconnection became a necessary skill so she could survive her family. Throughout her life, from childhood into adulthood, her parents emotionally abandoned her. No wonder she didn’t want to need me or anyone else. If she could not rely on her own parents to support and love her, how could she expect anyone else to? She absorbed the covert message, “you are not lovable” as her truth. She even struggled to love herself.
Joan wanted to connect to others. She wanted a life partner. That’s why she came to see me. Yet, a part of her wanted to stay disconnected and alone. It felt safer.
Joan’s perception of need showed up in all of her relationships. She told me she did not reveal much of herself to anyone in her life. She valued autonomy and viewed need as a sign of weakness.
Joan may have been stuck in a stage of “immature need“. According to Brian and Marcia Gleason, LCSWs, partners demonstrate immature need through expressions like, ‘I can’t live without you’. Immature need encompasses a desperation for an other. It is regressive in nature. Joan did not want to become dependent on me. Her fear: if she were to “need” me, she might not be able to function without me. A terrifying thought for someone who worked so hard at autonomy.
When you approach your partner from immature need, you enter that relationship incomplete. Your partner’s presence fills a void in your life. This is why you might feel threatened to live without them. Their absence brings you back to an old wound. You might even think to yourself, “He/she completes me”. The truth is no one can fill that void for you. Your work is to strive for “mature need“.
The Gleason’s describe mature need as a “source of courageous connection”. In their book, Exceptional Marriage, they write:
When couples are able to see each other in truth (neither idealizing nor demonizing), they are then open to feeling mature need. To allow ourselves to experience the full-bodied, wholly conscious, undefended need for our partner is high up on the list of peak experiences. To feel, to express, to reveal that ‘I need you’ from the fullness of my heart and soul, transports me to the absolute highest reaches of the human experience. It is a thing of miraculous beauty. It is also scary as hell.
Mature need requires you to let down all of your defenses. This experiences proves to be your most powerful and vulnerable. When you express mature need, you admit the significance of your partner. However, couples who demonstrate “mature need” know that they can also live without their partners. They simply choose not to.
The Gleason’s summarize it this way:
Their “I need you” is not the desperate, demanding immature need of earlier stages. It is the fully aware knowledge that ‘With you, I am capable of so much more than without you’ “
When you approach a relationship from a place of mature need, you enter the relationship as a complete and whole person. Your partner does not complete you, he/she complements you. When you join each other as two whole, complete persons, your potential grows far beyond the sum of your parts.
Mature need transforms you.