Does Your Partner Need You?

It's great to be needed, but not too much.

Posted Oct 31, 2014

How do you know if your romantic partner really needs you?

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In healthy relationships, partners depend upon each other, playing indispensible parts in each other’s lives—yet they each still maintain active individual interests. The balance between being needed and being independent can be difficult to strike, but it can also disguise some of ways couples depend upon each other. In other words, sometimes we don’t fully appreciate how much our partners might really need us. 

Do you see clearly how you matter in your partnership? Or at times, do you wonder whether your partner really needs you?

Here are some ways to tell:

  1. Your partner engages in self-disclosure with you. Self-disclosure refers to talking about personally meaningful events, thoughts, or emotions. Such an act is a clear indicator of need and is an incredibly important component of relationship well-being. Much research supports the idea that self-disclosure to a responsive partner is a favorable process that increases romantic couples’ intimacy (Laurenceau, Barrett, & Pietromonaco, 1998).

  2. Your partner borrows your brain. It’s hard to remember everything, so why not split the burden? Recent research shows that satisfied couples remember together, rather than individually—a clear indication of needing each other. This type of socially-distributed cognition has some great advantages for couples as they navigate the world together (Harris, Barnier, Sutton, & Keil, 2014).

  3. Your partner is integrated into your social network. If how much your partner needs you includes all the ways your partner benefits from knowing you, consider your friends and family. Does your partner benefit from knowing your friends? How many friends you share (i.e., your social network overlap) has been linked to relationship quality, but this link is likely a function of how much friends approve of a partner more than mere overlap (Sprecher & Felmlee, 1992). The evidence suggests that interdependence is fostered through shared friend groups in which the friends like your partner.

  4. You and your partner share responsibilities. It might surprise you to learn how many ways your partner needs you. For example, think about your partner’s reliance on you to share the work that comes with being a couple. Whether the responsibilities are related to making social plans, swapping the job of designated driver, parenting, household chores, or financial decision making, couples often have a lot of work to do in order to keep their relationship (and lives) in good form. Relationship quality can suffer when the division of labor is not satisfactory (Treas & Lui, 2013) and couples can benefit from striking a good balance between being needed by and needing their partner.

  5. Your partner seeks you for comfort. A classic component of a secure attachment is the idea that people pursue proximity with attachment figures in times of distress—for example, as an adult, your romantic partner. Does your partner turn to you in difficult times? Such behavior would indicate that your partner needs you. Note that some romantic partners are high in attachment avoidance, and thus, to feel safe, they may need to emphasize independence (not dependence) in times of need. For most people, healthy dependence on a partner means viewing that partner as a safe haven, a refuge from stress or hardship, an accepting source of comfort. 

  6. Your partner relies on you when pursuing goals. People take on all sorts of goals—a new fitness plan, a new home-repair project, etc. How does this relate to couple dependence? New evidence shows that people outsource the hard work of meeting goals (Fitzsimons & Finkel, 2011). In other words, they share the self-regulatory effort needed to complete tasks with their romantic partner, which usually leads them to exert less of their own effort towards achieving those goals. This type of outsourcing predicts greater relationship commitment and underscores the potential importance of interdependence when it comes to goal pursuit.

When considering interdependence, having your partner need you is essential, but excessive dependence is considered unhealthy. In healthy relationships, people don’t want their partners to be excessively dependent; they encourage their partner’s autonomy. Both partners benefit from having their own independent pursuits and self-sufficiency, thus allowing them to be in a good position to give their best to their partners. The challenge is to strike a healthy balance between being needed by and needing your partner, while at the same time fostering your own independent self-worth.

 

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References

Fitzsimons, G. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2011). Outsourcing self-regulation. Psychological Science.

Harris, C. B., Barnier, A. J., Sutton, J., & Keil, P. G. (2014). Couples as socially distributed cognitive systems: Remembering in everyday social and material contexts. Memory Studies, 7(3), 285-297.

Laurenceau, J. P., Barrett, L. F., & Pietromonaco, P. R. (1998). Intimacy as an interpersonal process: the importance of self-disclosure, partner disclosure, and perceived partner responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(5), 1238-1251.

Sprecher, S., & Felmlee, D. (1992). The influence of parents and friends on the quality and stability of romantic relationships: A three-wave longitudinal investigation. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 888-900.

Treas, J., & Lui, J. (2013). Studying housework across nations. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5(2), 135-149.

 

Photo credit: mrhayata