Sunday, November 12, 2006

“I Need You” May Sound Romantic, But…

It is not uncommon to hear the words, “I need you,” in romance novels, movies and love songs. And while those words might indeed sound romantic, they’re also scary.

According the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, a “want” is defined as having a strong desire for something. The word “need” is defined as lack of the means of subsistence. In almost every arena of life, the two concepts are opposing elements (

As I have addressed in university lectures and my self-help books (e.g., Adult Loving Relationships []) and pop-psych books (e.g., Mom and Dad's Pearls of Wisdom... You Gotta Love 'Em [ ] and Living Life, Anyway [ ]), there can be some psychological attractiveness to the sound of “I need you.” For example, it might mitigate ones fear of abandonment (“If you need me, there’s a better chance that you won’t leave me.”). I’ve even known some (insecure) individuals who foster their partner’s “needing them.”

An important question is: Do you really want to be responsible for someone who needs you? In my 35 years as a licensed psychologist, I many times have directly and indirectly suggested to my clients, “If he or she tells you, ‘I need you,’ my suggestion is a three letter word: R-U-N.” In a healthy and functional long-term loving relationship, the two individuals don’t need each other – they want each other.

Carpe diem, Bill


Unknown said...

Wow, great post here and one I personally agree with. Any time the other person is "needy" over the long term, it can be damaging to the relationship. On the flip side, it can also set up an opportunity for the other partner to become emotionally abusive, since they know that no matter what they do, the other person will always "need" them.

Interesting points to bring up.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Thanks for your insightful and thought-provoking Comment. Interestingly, one of my favorite statements when I lecture on this phenomenon is: “Need-based love relationships typically are dangerous and short-lived, and there’s one thing you can count on: THE NEED EVENTUALLY WILL LEAD TO GREED.”
Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

I do agree; I can remember times when I verbalized similar feelings to previous boyfriends, "I want you to want me, not need me." However, as I reflect upon those relationships, I realize that there have been times when I felt that I needed them, too. Does this mean that my relationships were unhealthy? I understand too much of one extreme from one partner can be detrimental, but can there be a healthy balance? Aren't we all needy at times?

Perhaps we are defining the term "needy" in different ways. Perhaps you describe the temporary, short-lived and sporadic neediness I felt in my relationships as something different.

I guess it depends on how we define love and our motivations to enter into romantic relationships.

Consider the following excerpt from Carolyn Ellis' (1995) book, Final Negotiations. She shares a portion of one of Dr. Gene Weinstein’s lectures:

"In the throes of romance, love is a high-arousal and high interpretation emotion.... It is unclear whether we experience symptoms as consequences of the definition or define ourselves as being in love because of the symptoms... Love may not be the same for everyone or the same for each person all the time. But in each situation, we label feelings as love because it makes sense to do so. Enough of the details fit the love frame... At times we may be more willing or needful to define ourselves as in love. But it is hard to know sometimes whether we are in love with the role (in love with love) or the person. Is our claim to being in love valid? Are we loving just to get love back? Love provides new mirrors for our sense of self. We narrow the gap between what we are and what we want to be by falling in love with a person who can reflect back to us an image of ourselves we value, or get us further away from one we devalue."

How do you define love?

Just some food for thought… let me know what you think.


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Tracy,
Thank you for directly and indirectly surfacing so many questions from Pandora’s Box. And as many of us battle-scared love-warriors, it also sounds like you learned some of life’s love-lessons the hard way too!
One phenomenon you illustrate, however, is that every time we seem to come closer to an “answer,” we come up with two more questions. I am familiar with Dr. Ellis’ work – she and Dr. Weinstein certainly plummet the depths of what so many people take flippantly: love.
I shall briefly address one of the many issues you addressed – the extent to which loving someone else is an extension of oneself. Firstly, with regard to “need versus want,” how does this strike you: “What I need is for you to want me.” Secondly, in my book, “Adult Loving Relationships”, I have a statement that you may appreciate: “The best indication of the nature of our relationship is how I feel about myself in your presence.”
Again, Tracy, thanks for the insightful and challenging Comment. I also hope that someday I can honestly say that I can practice what I preach unerringly.