How To Deal With Needy Relationships
A bit too needy
My husband ignores my need for an affectionate, morning cuddle. He grouses, turns away, and goes back to sleep. I feel rejected, and lonely. Breakfast can be tense because he doesn’t understand why I feel vulnerable.
Psychologists have long known that most people are “needy” at some point in our lives. Some may hide it better than others, but it always leaks out eventually. Have you ever known a couple where one partner seems more discontent than the other? Let’s call this couple, John and Maria. You are close friends with Maria and she never stops telling you about how John isn’t sensitive enough, or affectionate, or “John doesn’t do the dishes or laundry, even when I’ve had an overwhelming day.”
Or maybe, you are good friends with John. John tells you that Maria just doesn’t want to be as fun as she used to be. Or that she is grumpy, or nagging, too much of a perfectionist, or “can’t take a joke.”
If you have ever met people like this, or if you have ever been people like this, congratulations, you are a human being with needs.
I think that the secret to happiness with dealing with “needy” people, is to acknowledge that all of us are needy people. People form relationships because we all have psychological and biological needs that, as a social species, only relationships can provide.
When I am honest with my spouse, he describes his need for more daytime displays of affection. We have different circadian rhythms.
John and Maria must talk
When I hear someone talk about how Maria is just “too needy”, or how John gets sullen if Maria doesn’t “show up” for him, I know that I am dealing with two people whose needs are not being met. In fact, if we are honest, we know that sometimes we all fail to meet the needs of others, and others, fail to meet our needs. It is part of being alive, to have moments where for whatever reason, needs on one side feel oppressive to the other partner who “needs” space.
We need space, we need place
The fact is that we all need space. We all need love and devotion too. We all need affection. We all need interest and some degree of enthusiasm. It is the when, where, and how of these needs that are the true crux of the problem.
For chronic sufferers of “neediness,” the first thing to note about him, or her, is that this person has failed to effectively articulate needs in a way that doesn’t repel the other person.
For love to work, each of us “needs” to find a safe place, in which they feel they can be themselves, without being rejected for it.
After all, if a man complains that his partner is never “here for me.” It is because, in all likelihood, emotionally, or spiritually, that partner really isn’t mindfully there for him, at least in some critical moments. And, it works both ways. A woman will often confide that her spouse won’t converse with her, or listen to her suggestions about something she may wish to do, concluding that he doesn’t care about.
The cure for neediness is, then, showing up.
I believe that the Japanese have a very socially acceptable time and place for “cuteness.” These constraints meeting with natural need, helped give the world “Hello Kitty,” as well as hundreds of other cute anime tropes.
Psychologists use the term “cute aggression” to describe how our human need to be needed, is also paramount to fulfilling relationships. Too many cute cat videos are one indication that someone who has very little else in their life is lonely. Needs for care-taking, nurturing, and affection are not being met.
Cute aggression happens when a shut-in elderly aunt or uncle, grabs and hugs the baby a bit too enthusiastically. It is pinching cheeks of toddlers, or kissing babies a bit too emphatically. We blow raspberries on babies tummies. We go crazy for puppies, kittens, or any baby animal. We want to cuddle, play, or just hold the cuteness for a brief time.
Cute aggression also happens to adults, when they flirt a bit too much, or just seek out hugs, or other physical contact, such as neck rubs, or hair tousling. It is not necessarily a negative thing. In most settings, prior to social distancing, human contact is welcomed, not shunned. We are not talking here about non-consensual grabbing, but of the normal human need that is exchanged and expressed with both body, and vocal language. It is usually exchanged comfortably, and is a social lubricant.
Aunt Maria keeps chucking my chin
Most of us are familiar with a relative who would chuck us under the chin when we were little, or perhaps play tickle monster with much abandon.
We may make fun of the person who is overly cute aggressive, but it is also understood to be acceptable human behavior in appropriate settings.
The unfortunate part of it comes when someone does feel offended. If prior touch has been violating, or traumatic, some people respond to the cute aggressor as a threat. In these situations, the needs of the offended are not being met. Their needs are for safety, security, and reassurance.
I think there are ways to identify this kind of scenario. Act honestly, and not hysterically. Say what you are or are not comfortable with, or if you are the itinerant hugger or baby holder, always state your intentions in tandem with your deeds.
Remember that the reason cute aggression exists, is because people are natural nurturers. Although it is not discussed as much, especially in our individually focused culture, the need to love is just as real as the need to be loved.
Our human needs are affected by our upbringing, how much, or how little, our parental and family attention/attachment, satisfied us. Stressful events, or a sensing of rejection will affect everyone differently. Add environment, temperament, and expectation, and you will find plenty of unmet needs.
Communication is key
For my own part, when I see someone I know with a baby, I seldom mind my own business. Of course, I read cues, and hear words. Yet, if a go ahead is given, I will coo, smile, and usually play peek a boo with the cutie patootie. My needs to have my own children and grandchildren are unfulfilled, but in recognition of that, I accept that I may go a little to ga ga over others’ children, or pets.
It does society good to see that some people really don’t have the full-time benefit of company, either of children, or adults. When you meet someone who is without a partner, family, or children, even if just temporarily, go out of your way to be inclusive with them. It will fulfill some of your need to nurture, as well as meeting some of their needs.
We live in challenging times right now. Learning to read social cues is a bit harder behind our COVID-19 masks, but I can assure you, the psychological masks we all wear hide much more about our neediness.
Neediness has become a negative word, and that is too bad. We are taught to hide our needs, protect our vulnerabilities, and always put on a good front. The reasons we have these defense mechanisms are myriad, but if we understand them, we can help one another discover how to be vulnerable enough to create trust.
In relationships of all kinds, we can learn to be expressive enough about our honest needs to not feel ashamed of them. Finally, by owning our needs, we can learn to communicate effectively with partners and others, to meet more of our beautifully complex, human needs.