Dear Neil Venketramen,
My name is Shaun. I’m 28 years old and engaged to Nicole, the girl of my dreams. Our wedding date is eight months from now. I’m having second thoughts.
Nicole likes to hang out with her co-workers after work a few times a week. She will stay out late without calling; sometimes she’ll text. On the weekends Nichol spends a lot of time alone, shopping, catching up on chores and chilling out with her friends. She’s a very independent woman, and I admire that, but I want to spend more time with her. We live together, but we don’t spend much quality time together.
I’m worried about these red flags, and I am not sure what to do? Can you help me? Thanks.
I am glad you decided to write. Not many guys spot relationship challenges early in their relationship.
It seems that what bothers you the most is not that she is independent, values her time alone or likes to go out with her friends. Spending time together is your red flag of most concern. You have what we call in my profession different attachment styles.
Whether couples are married or just starting out like you and Nicole, the ability to develop a healthy attachment with your partner is the foundation of a great relationship. Most married couples live for decades together supporting an unhealthy attachment style. Resentment builds and ultimately their marriages are in deep trouble. Then they attend therapy based on having poor communication, not realizing that their attachment styles are different. You and your fiancé are getting a head start on working through this issue before hostility sets in.
Aside from one’s independence, where the person is free from the control or influence of another, in any relationship, there are two kinds of dependency, where two people rely on each other, and they need to be in balance. When they are not, the power shifts to one of the partners. Think of an equal arms scale with the pans hanging below the beam. One is labeled dependence and the other interdependence. To balance the scale, you place weights in one pan to counter the load in the other pan. If one pan has more weight on it, the balance is off. Being off kilter might be what’s sending up your red flags.
When people or objects are interdependent, they are mutually reliant on each other. The flower feeds the honeybee enabling it to make honey, and the honeybee pollinates the flower. With couples, when one partner is sad or feels hurt, they rely on the other for emotional comfort and vice versa. You enjoy spending time with your partner together, and they feel the same way about you. You two make it a priority to spend quality time with each other.
Dependence, on the other hand, is more of an obligation or need to handle an aspect of the relationship. A person who relies on another for financial support is dependent. One may feel as though they need to spend all their time with their partner otherwise, they get anxious or feel abandoned. They are exhibiting dependency.
In your case, maybe you do not enjoy spending free time alone because you don’t know what to do with it. You expect your fiancé to fulfill your need to be occupied and not feel anxious. Over time your partner may feel guilty that she does not satisfy your needs yet smothered by your neediness.
Still, dependence is not necessarily unhealthy in a relationship. I am dependent on my wife to plan our meals together; she is dependent on me to manage the service and repairs of our cars.
There are many reasons why one becomes dependent on a partner. It can be like the example in my family where we are splitting up the household responsibilities. Maybe being dependent makes one feel loved in a relationship.
While you appear to be emotionally dependent and would prefer more time with your Nichol, it does not mean you have an unhealthy attachment to your partner. Your mission in your relationship is to balance the scale.
The first step is to talk to Nichol about your dependency and interdependency needs. What are both of your expectations for your relationship and attachment to each other? Identify the priorities for the week. How much time would you like to spend with her?
The second step is to broaden your circle of support, connecting more with your family or friends, and perhaps catch up on the hobbies that make you happy. It seems as though Nichol has found space for other interests that make her happy. You need to find your space for things that will make you happy.
Once you get to a point where you feel that the level of attachment is healthy for the relationship, and the juggling act between individual independence, dependence and interdependence is working for your relationship, you will start to feel good about your connection with your partner.
In conclusion, I must tell you how impressed I am. Most men that I encounter see asking for help and working on their needs in a relationship as a weakness. I see this as a sign of strength. You are taking charge of your happiness and developing the ability to master building your relationship from the start. Congratulations.