Do you believe that you need a partner to be happy? My client, Adrienne, an attractive woman in her 50s, has been married and divorced twice. She was unhappy in both marriages, but she still believes that she needs a partner to be happy. This belief continually leads her into inappropriate relationships with men who initially come on strong, only to turn out to be emotionally needy, just like her.
The problem is we attract people at our common level of woundedness and our common level of health. Because Adrienne had never learned to take loving care of herself, she generally met men who were not taking care of themselves. When she finally did meet a man who was taking personal emotional responsibility, the relationship was short-lived. He soon lost interest in a woman who wanted him to make her happy.
As Adrienne and I worked together, it became apparent that she had spent her whole life taking emotionally responsibility for others her parents, her children, and her partners. In her belief system, she was supposed to make others happy and they were supposed to make her happy. But it never seemed to work out that way she never felt happy.
Adrienne also believed that taking care of herself was selfish rather than self-responsible. She feared that if she did what she wanted to do, instead of what everyone else wanted her to do, the people around her would be mad at her. As we worked together, it became apparent to Adrienne that her unhappiness was not because she didnt have a partner but because she was not taking responsibility for herself. She was not speaking up for herself at work or with the men she dated, instead allowing people to walk all over her. She realized that in constantly trying to have control over people not getting angry with her, she was abandoning herself. It was her self-abandonment that was causing her so much pain and feelings of aloneness.
As Adrienne began to take better care of herself, she started to feel better. But she still felt that there was a hole in her life. She wanted a partner for companionship to have dinner with, to go to a movie with, to travel with and play with.
Adrienne, I said to her, I understand that you would love to have a partner to do things with. But why cant you do these things with friends? Im not saying to stop being open to finding a partner, but meanwhile, why not do these things with friends?
I dont have friends, she replied. I have been so busy trying to find a partner that I havent taken any time to develop friendships. When I dont have a date, I tend to isolate.
How do you feel when you isolate?
I feel sad and lonely. Thats why I think I need a partner to be happy. It just hasnt occurred to me that I could be doing fun things with friends.
So, this is a major way that you have not been taking care of yourself. You have been allowing yourself to feel sad and lonely rather than taking care of yourself by developing friendships. Would you be willing to put yourself in places where you might meet people and to reach out for friendship?
Adrienne agreed that she would do this. The next week in our phone session, she sounded much better. She had met an interesting woman at her daughters soccer game and they had plans to meet for lunch.
As Adrienne devoted herself to developing close friendships, she stopped feeling sad and lonely. As a happier woman, she started meeting happier men. The last time I spoke with her, she was dating a man she really liked. And she was keeping up her friendships, determined to not make this man responsible for her happiness.