Naked Marriage - Cling on to marriage

Cling on – or let go? Pt1

They take no notice of me. They don’t support me or show any interest in my job, or my passions, or my interests. They don’t listen. They seem bored when we’re together. I don’t feel they’re proud to be with me. They don’t call or text to see how I’m doing. They’re always too busy to talk. I feel I’m last on their list of priorities. It’s like we’re not even a couple.

I feel suffocated. They won’t let me breathe

I feel suffocated. They won’t let me breathe. They’re jealous. They want to know where I am all the time. They hate me doing anything that doesn’t involve them. They call constantly while I’m out with friends. They want to know exactly when I’m going to be home. If I have to work late, they sulk about it. They want to do everything together, all the time.

On the face of it, these two sets of problems sound like polar opposites, right?

You might have even heard the same person say these things about two different relationships. Or about the same relationship at different times.

At the deepest level, all of us need to feel both free and autonomous, and safe, needed and claimed.

Perhaps you thought they were being fickle – that they don’t know what they want. Perhaps you heard yourself saying something like:
“What are you complaining about? I wish my girlfriend was that laidback!”
Or:
“Count yourself lucky. At least he cares enough to get jealous!”

But the thing is, at the deepest level, all of us need to feel both free and autonomous, and safe, needed and claimed.

These things are hard to reconcile. But if you don’t strike the right balance, or understand how these needs fit together you will drive the other person away.

A great way of understanding this is through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

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Maslow pictured our physical and psychological needs building on each other like a pyramid. You need each type of need to be met before you can worry about the ones at the next level:

 

Let’s start with the basics.

At the bottom of the pyramid you have the survival stuff. You can’t focus on anything else when you’re scare about going hungry, just as you can’t function properly if you’re sleep deprived. If you’re reading this, you’re probably fortunate enough to have access to resources to tackle these fundamental needs. But to get by, even at the most basic level, we also need to feel safe and secure.

 

Safety and security are complicated

Safety and security are more complicated than they seem at first glance.

You might not be living in a warzone, but if you’re afraid of or intimidated by your partner, you will obviously not feel safe. You might not be in a physically abusive relationship, but if your partner cuts off your financial access, or makes it clear that they will kick you out / threaten your home life if they don’t get your own way, you can’t possibly feel secure.

What’s more, people often try to persuade their partners, outsiders and even ourselves that what we are doing is for their benefit, even when our motivations are actually selfish. When it comes to safety and security, these are easily translated for emotional blackmail.

 

Fine line

This means that there can be a very fine line between one person’s idea of being made to feel “safe and secure” and one person’s idea of feeling precisely the opposite.

These distinctions can be subtle. Sometimes only you and your partner really understand each other’s motivations. Sometimes only you know if you’re really doing something to make the other person feel safe, or to make sure they know you’re in control.

Take my friends Tia and Rob (not their real names).

From the outside, they’re adorable. Tia had a rough time growing up, she’s teeny-tiny, and she’s spent much of her life feeling vulnerable. She desperately needed to be in a relationship that would make her feel safe.

When you see her with Rob, he always has a protective arm around her. He boasts on Facebook about running across town in a thunderstorm to pick her up when she was in a crisis. Her friends joke that they wish their boyfriends sent so many messages saying “I love you” throughout the day. Rob is always looking after Tia, doing little things make her feel safe.

Or so I thought.

What matters is that both of you have your basic needs met. Not that one of you gets to take the high ground. Not that you feel obliged to thank someone for getting to play the hero. That you actually feel safe and secure.

Until I found her crying in the bathroom of a bar and she admitted she was exhausted and wanted to get a cab home, but Rob controls the money and wouldn’t let her leave alone because it was ‘unsafe’ – and he wanted to stay out all night. Until she told me that, when they fight, Rob reminds her he’s the only thing keeping her from the streets. That she feels trapped and depressed, but she can’t really complain, because he’s just like this because he loves her, right? That she should be grateful that he wants her to feel safe and secure, even if it’s having the opposite effect.

Uh-uh. Nope.

 

What matters

What matters is that both of you have your basic needs met.

Not that one of you gets to take the high ground. Not that you feel obliged to thank someone for getting to play the hero. That you actually feel safe and secure.

 

The key

The key is honest communication. It’s listening to each other.

Different people need different things in order to feel safe. If you want your relationship to work, you must be willing to provide those things, not the things that suit you.

Different people need different things in order to feel safe. If you want your relationship to work, you must be willing to provide those things, not the things that suit you.

If your partner’s actions seem possessive rather than protective, explain this to them. If you feel harassed because they keep messaging you while you’re out, set boundaries. If you feel their aggression is targeted at you instead of whatever might hurt you, or that their “concern” makes you worried, stressed or dreading the next fight, you need to make this clear.

And If your partner says this to you, don’t flip out and tell them they’re ungrateful. That you only care about their safety. That you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. After all, if you claim you’re doing something for their benefit and it turns out not to, why keep foisting it on them? Listen to what they actually need from you – and what they don’t.

 

Out of reach

Equally, if you feel your partner is always out of reach when you need them, or you genuinely feel unsafe and unsecure because of their behaviour, tell them. It’s fair to expect someone whose reckless, dangerous or destructive behaviour undermines your peace of mind to tone it down.

Just make sure you’re being honest about which needs are actually being unfulfilled. Don’t claim, for example, that being alone in the house makes you feel unsafe if really you just feel bored or neglected. These are valid feelings too, but it’s a different type of problem, as we’ll discuss in Part 2.

Our basic needs for safety and security are fundamental to everything else in our lives. No matter what else is great between you, if your partner’s behaviour consistently makes you feel less safe and secure, or if they refuse to do simple things that that would help you fulfil this need, your relationship will turn toxic fast.

 

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Cling on to marriage or let it go – Part 2 is here

We’ll look at the psychological needs behind clinging on and letting go.

 

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