The Healthy Relationship: 3. Your Needs Don’t Matter, Only Mine Do

| Karen Scarth |

In the next few posts we will be looking at how some relationship rules develop and why someone may tolerate harmful boundary violations. These rules are not meant to be exhaustive but they do highlight some common patterns.

Your Needs Don’t Matter.  Only Mine Do.

With this relationship rule the message is: “Your needs don’t matter, mine do.  Your job is to look after my needs.  It is not okay to say no.”

Individuals who have been exposed to childhood abuse and family dysfunction often learn that their purpose and value (at least in the abusive relationship) is to be at the disposal of another’s needs. This can also occur if a parent is ill or disabled and the child is in the role of caregiver.

This type of relationship has many faces. It can be the parent who needs you to pretend you are happy or fine in front of neighbors and friends when they have just finished a physical and verbal blow out with you behind closed doors. It can be the sister who chronically calls in a crisis and expects you to drop everything and come sort out her life for her. It can be the father who sexually abuses his daughter. It can be the friend who relies on you to comfort and support him or her but is never there when you need something.

If this becomes the accepted rule within in a relationship, then one person may find him or herself tolerating mistreatment. This kind of harmful imbalance in a relationship may be viewed as normal and the only way to secure much needed connection. In the trade off between a painful relationship and no relationship,  individuals in these relationships often choose the painful relationship.

Indeed, individuals who have endured these kinds of relationships believe relationships and emotional pain are synonymous. In these circumstances, people do not view relationships as sources of support and fulfillment. Instead, for them, relationships are a necessary chore or obligation they must endure.

For some individuals, their only emotional connections are within dysfunctional relationships. It becomes very risky for them to insist on more appropriate boundaries with loved ones because they fear the loss of very important attachements or they fear a crisis for the other person if they do so, such as suicide or other self-destructive behaviour. This is why many adult individuals will tolerate unreasonable and sometimes overwhelming demands from others.

Alternatively, sometimes a relationship can occur in which one partner assumes their needs don’t matter (based on their own past experiences with relationships) while the other partner does not operate this way. If the person who feels their needs never count  is fearful and has a distorted sense that the relationship is fragile, they may not attempt to place a boundary on their giving within the relationship. The person whose needs are being met may not be aware that the giving person is spending all of his or her energy attempting to please the receiving person  at the expense of the giver’s needs.  This can go on for years until the giving person feels fed up, used, and angry and leaves the relationship much to the shock of the other.

In the next post, I will discuss the relationship rule: “Don’t expect anything from me. You need to look after yourself.”

hand in hand