Does your Partner Have your Back or Cause You to Watch your Back?
Here’s he latest article from Shrink4Men Forum moderator, Mellaril. Good stuff! – Dr T
When you think about your partner, do you feel she has your back or do you feel like you have to watch your back? In your relationship, who do you depend on and who depends on you?
I’m a big fan of Attachment Theory for a couple of reasons. First, I think it provides a bridge between who and what someone is and their observable behavior.
When I began to peel the onion in an effort to understand my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, I found references on Personality Disorders. While a lot of the information about personality disorders appears to apply to my ex-girlfriend, that information, in itself, didn’t explain particular aspects of her behavior. When I began studying Attachment Theory, things became a lot clearer.
I’ll never know whether my ex-girlfriend has a personality disorder or not, I know specific things she said and did. These are facts. Attachment Theory helped me put those her behaviors into context. Another reason I like Attachment Theory is that it’s applicable to my marriage. Attachment Theory not only helped explain my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, it explained a lot of things about my marriage to a woman who doesn’t have a personality disorder, but has some quirks.
While I was researching Attachment Theory, I came across the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. In one section, the authors discuss the “Dependency Paradox” and conclude, “If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, find the right (italics added) person to depend on and travel down it with that person (p. 29)”.
Their contention is that having someone in your corner is important, if not essential, to growth and happiness as an individual. If you want to hear it expressed in song, listen to The Beach Boys Don’t Worry, Baby. The context may be a drag race, but what he gets from knowing his girl is behind him is priceless. If you want to hear it from the perspective of someone who has your back, check out You’ve Got Me to Hold on To by Tanya Tucker. I think of my wife when I hear it.
In the pages leading up to this statement, the authors discuss the “Codependency Myth” (pp 25 – 26), touching on familiar topics of avoiding enmeshment, establishing boundaries, and developing a “greater sense of self,” (p 26) etc. Their discussion reminds me of something I read on Shrink4Men, The Secret to Happy, Long Lasting Relationships (March 9, 2009) where Dr T pretty closely describes what Heller and Levine challenge. In Hostile Dependency: Is your Wife, Girlfriend or Ex a Child Masquerading in the Body of a Woman? (June 7, 2011), Dr T talks about the negative side of dependency and the resentment being dependent on someone can cause. It also reminded me of Healthy Self-Love: The Foundation of Good Relationships (January 4, 2010).
This was a problem. I found two apparently contradictory ideas that I think have merit and are based on solid research. On the surface, it appeared they both couldn’t be right.
Heller and Levine’s statement is elegant in its simplicity and, for a lot of us, a lot harder than it looks. Shrink4Men is a testimony to how difficult finding the right person to travel with can be. I spent some time thinking about the differences in my marriage and my past relationship in light of Heller and Levine’s statement.
It became clear, my wife has my back. My ex-girlfriend never did, at least not completely. While I never doubted my ex-girlfriend’s fidelity, she was inconsistent in the little things that instill confidence in a relationship, those things that you may take for granted since they’re always there and automatic. As I pulled that string, it led me to the question of what it means to “depend” on someone. It’s an interesting word, full of nuance depending on who you’re talking about. The Free Dictionary gives six definitions, two of which are relevant:
- To rely, especially for support or maintenance: Children must depend on their parents.
- To place trust or confidence: You can depend on his honesty.
One definition has positive connotations, one definition can have very negative connotations. Another definition for “depend” is “subordinate.” How we define what it means to depend on someone can tell us a lot of how we view the world and how we see ourselves.
The first definition implies need. Most of us who frequent Shrink4Men have come to learn that need is, oftentimes, not a good thing. If someone wants you or you want someone it’s because of who you are or they are, qualities you have and qualities they have in them. If you need someone or someone needs you (i.e., depends on you as in definition #1) it’s because of something you or they lack or can’t do yourself/themselves.
There’s a huge difference between “dependent” and “dependable.” My wife isn’t dependent on me, she’s dependable to me. Also, subordinates are never equals. Any relationship where subordinate is the definition of depending on someone is inherently unequal. Trust and confidence can be mutual, you can’t be mutually subordinate. When you think about your relationship, does that person have your back or are they causing you to watch your back?
So, what’s the point? The point is I think both Dr. T and Heller and Levine are correct. Before you can depend on someone else, you have to be able to depend on yourself. After that, we may have what it takes to find the right person upon whom to depend.
Thanks again to Mellaril for some excellent food for thought. – Dr T
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Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.