You enjoy your partner’s company, share his concerns, and feel connected to her even when you’re separate. These are signs you are attached to your partner. The outcome of attachment is intimacy, caring, and understanding. It can be a beautiful thing and it is absolutely necessary to form a healthy relationship. But not all kinds of attachment are healthy. Excessive attachment is unhealthy, and damaging.
There are three warning signs you have an unhealthy attachment to your partner:
1. Emotional dependence
A good relationship includes a healthy dose of interdependence; an unhealthy relationship includes a poisonous dose of emotional dependence. So what’s the difference between interdependence and dependence? Interdependence is a two-way street and dependence is not. Take these examples:
- Interdependence: I rely on you for comfort when I am sad, and in return, I comfort you when you are sad.
- Emotional dependence: I offer you an unlimited amount of comfort, but I never ask for – or expect – comfort in return.
- Interdependence: I enjoy spending time with you, but I also enjoy doing things on my own.
- Emotional dependence: I don’t enjoy doing things alone, so all of our free time must be spent doing things together.
Meeting all of your partner’s needs and not expecting to have your own needs met – or demanding that all of your needs are met without meeting your partner’s – is not healthy. Self-sacrifice is not love and can end up making one — or both — of you feel guilty that you’re not doing enough to make the other happy.
2. Preoccupation with your partner’s needs and feelings
It is normal in a relationship to share your worries with your partner. In a good relationship, you care about your partner’s worries and they care about yours, too. But there is a line between caring and becoming preoccupied.
If your partner is nervous about an upcoming performance review at work, for instance, it is healthy for you to listen with compassion, offer words of encouragement, and then return to your own work. In this scenario, you are showing respect for your partner’s ability to meet life’s challenges. If you listen to your partner with compassion, offer words of encouragement, and then put down your own work so that you can give their performance review all of your time and attention, you have crossed over into the realm of unhealthy attachment.
In a healthy relationship, you want to be as supportive as you can be while your partner goes through his or her life, but you know that it is not your life
3. Rescue behavior
If you make your partner’s life your own life, rescue behavior will naturally follow. When you are worried about every little thing that happens to your partner, no matter how trivial, you will try to take charge, make decisions, and provide solutions – even when they didn’t ask for your help. This is called rescue behavior.
In a healthy relationship, partners ask for each other’s advice, but they understand that the individual has to be comfortable with and take responsibility for the decision. You may step in to help your partner, if they ask for your help, but you don’t wade into their life and start living it for them.
If you take over your partner’s life and something goes poorly, then you stop being the partner they walk through life hand-in-hand with as equals. Instead, you become the person to blame when things go wrong, or the person expected to fix everything. As rescue behavior follows preoccupation, anger and resentment follows rescue behavior.
If emotional dependence, preoccupation, and rescue behavior are signs of unhealthy attachment, does that mean one must detach from their partner entirely in order to be healthy? Not at all. The choice isn’t unhealthy attachment or no attachment at all. There is a middle ground: healthy attachment. The key to achieving the balance between attached and detached is to lovingly disengage from your partner.
You want to respect your partner’s right – and their ability – to lead their own life. You must disengage from your partner to the degree that you can let them have their life, and you can have your own. You can’t solve your partner’s problems for them. You can assist, support, cheer-lead, and soothe, but you can’t take over or interfere. With compassion and love for each other, you attend to your own responsibilities and let your partner do the same. That’s the magic balance a healthy, happy, mutually supportive relationship requires.