Loving Yourself When Your Partner Is NeedyBy Dr. Margaret Paul
March 13, 2017
Do you know how to love yourself when your partner is needy and wants you to take responsibility for his or her feelings?
Are you an empathic person who feels others' pain and then takes responsibility for their feelings in an effort to alleviate their pain? Is it hard for you to feel others' pain without trying to fix them?
Often, empathic people become caretakers to try to alleviate others' pain so they don't have to feel that pain. And takers are generally very attracted to caretakers.
This is the situation with Tiffany:
"My husband lays his feelings at my feet often and in my own shame, I feel responsible for his feelings and will 'pick them up' most always, and abandon my little girl. When I do hold on to myself, and I don't abandon my littler girl, my husband gets angry and manipulative and unkind because his tactics to get me to take care of his little boy are no longer working. It takes all I have to hang on to me, but sometimes I'm able. What is the best response to him when he turns ugly and unkind while I'm hanging on to me? How do I communicate that I'm working on loving myself and that he needs to back off and own his own feelings?"
Tiffany will feel shame and take responsibility for her husband's feelings as long as she believes that she is responsible for his feelings. If she didn't believe this, then she wouldn't feel shame over not caretaking him. Her husband likely picks up her shame, which gives him the green light to pull on her to take care of his feelings.
The fact that her husband gets angry and manipulative and unkind when she doesn't care-take him indicates that he is very stuck in his wounded self and unable to care about her at that time. His wounded self just wants what he wants, regardless of how this affects her.
Tiffany wants to know the best response when he turns ugly and unkind when she doesn't care-take him. The first thing she needs to accept is that he won't be able to hear anything she says to him. She needs to stop trying to communicate with him that he needs to back off and own his own feelings, because when he is stuck in his wounded self, he doesn't care about her need to be loving to herself. The best thing she can do is lovingly disengage – walk away saying that she won't engage with him until he is open and caring with her. If saying this will enflame him further, then she needs to walk away without saying anything, and perhaps send a prayer that he opens to learning.
The point is to fully accept that when someone is abandoning themselves and stuck in their wounded self, they are not in their rational mind and they are not capable of caring. There is nothing you can say or do to have control over getting them to open and care.
The more Tiffany accepts her lack of control over him, and the more devoted she is to loving herself rather than caretaking him, the better she will feel. Over time, as her husband gets that pulling on her to take care of his feelings and then getting angry, unkind and manipulative isn't going to work, he might start to do his own inner work. Of course there is no guarantee of this, and we always take a chance on a relationship when we move out of caretaking and into loving ourselves, but, by taking this risk, we have a better chance of creating a loving relationship than continuing in a dysfunctional system. If Tiffany doesn't devote herself to loving herself and keeps caretaking her husband, at some point she is likely to be done with the relationship. By loving herself, she gives the relationship a chance.
Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Relationships Course: "Loving Relationships: A 30-Day Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul - For people who are partnered and people who want to be partnered."
Join IBVillage to connect with others and receive compassionate help and support for learning to love yourself.
Photo by Desiree Fawn
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