Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More
Following is an E. Mail comment that describes what many people experience when married to an individual with a particular set of personality characteristics.
The E. Mail:
“My husband and I just got married. He is constantly touching me, grabbing me and kissing me…24/7… He states that he ‘just wants to be with me every moment of every day because he loves me so much.’
We have had so many arguments over this because he goes to work and school with me(I’m in college). He sits outside of my work and even comes inside and stands around my work area so that I can’t get my work done. It’s to the point that my bosses have told him to leave…
He comes to school with me and sits outside in the parking lot, waiting for me even on the hottest days of the year…I can’t get dressed in the morning without him following me from room to room. It interferes and it often makes me late…
I find myself suffocated…
We’re married 6 months and I haven’t been out of his site more than a few hours…He tells me about every thirty minutes that he loves me and wants a hug and kiss….every time I go to the bathroom, every time I get off the couch to get a drink and etc.”
This wife goes on to complain that she has to force him to dress in the morning or he will make himself late to work.
While it’s not unusual for newlyweds to go through a period of anxiety as they adjust to one another, this situation goes far beyond the average. Let’s examine what might be going on with this new husband.
John Bowlby was the first to propose the concept of Attachment Theory based on his observations of mother/infant relationships. Basically, an infant relies on its mother’s nurturing as well as social and emotional development. Future relationships build on the patterns developed with mother and father. A secure attachment to parents fosters attachments to people in adulthood. However, weak attachment to parents fosters anxious attachments in the future.
Based on what this wife describes of her new husband, he doesn’t feel securely attached and constantly seeks reassurance. In many ways, he is manifesting separation anxiety. When left alone, he feels terrified that his wife will disappear, resulting in his loss of the person who provides support, nurturing and safety in his life. Another way of stating this is to describe his behavior as needy and dependent. The paradox here is that all of these efforts to ensure security in the marriage actually serve to undermine the relationship, possibly leading to divorce. After all, how much reassurance can anyone provide? It’s like trying to fill the proverbial pot that has a gaping hole in the bottom.
This description fits the criteria for Dependent Personality Disorder. Additional characteristics are the inability to make decisions for fear of loss. Rather than stating what is wanted, the strategy is to get others to decide, in this case, the wife. The fear of being alone, based on the sense of self doubt that, “I can care for myself,” can lead to attempts to prevent the spouse from going anywhere on this/her own. The constant demand is to be taken care of. This is often a source of great conflict. This type of person even finds it hard to show initiative and, therefore, cannot start projects, much less bring them to completion.
There is another dynamic that should be mentioned here. The dependent person is extremely controlling. In this case, the wife feels much like a “puppet on strings.” She cannot get away from him. His efforts at control are motivated by the same force, “Stay with me, care for me, I need you constantly.” This can be quite tyrannical.
Why Would Somone Marry a Man or Woman With This Personality?
First, let me say, in defense of all those dependent personalities, these are not bad people. In fact, the people they marry are not bad people. Furthermore, they can benefit very much from psychotherapy. Most often, in a troubled marriage like the one above, marital psychotherapy is called for.
Second, why do any of us marry the people we do? There is no simple answer. However, I will venture a guess. I have said before, in previous blogs, that what starts out as something very appealing often turns into something maddening later on in a relationship. In this case, the husband was warm, loving and attentive. Perhaps he showed some tendency toward dependence but that was no reason to end a relationship with a nice person who was attentive. Don’t forget, it is a common thing to minimize some features of a person that we may not like but hope will change with time or, more often, we dismiss them and ignore ithem. Later, it comes back to haunt us.
Does this sound familiar to you? Please post your comments, questions and experiences about this.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.