"He's not here for me," complained Hailey. "We don't spend enough time together."
"She's too needy. I need space," complained her husband, Ryan.
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"He just does whatever he wants to do, with no concern for me," countered Hailey.
"She's so demanding that I just don't feel like being with her lot. I wish she'd just back off. I need time with my friends."
In my counseling practice, I often see couples where one partner is emotionally dependent and the other partner is emotionally distant. Interestingly, both aspects of this system come from fear. Neediness - emotional dependency - comes from a deep fear of rejection, stemming from inner abandonment. Hailey gives responsibility to Ryan for her feelings of worth, safety and security. She doesn't have enough of an inner loving adult self to take care of her own feelings and needs, so she makes Ryan responsible for them.
Emotional distance also comes from fear - of engulfment. Not having a strong loving adult self to speak up against being controlled and smothered by Hailey, Ryan resists and distances as a way to feel safe.
In this codependent system, each person is triggering the fears of the other. Hailey's anger and complaints trigger Ryan's fear of engulfment, while his distancing triggers Hailey's fear of abandonment. Then they respond to each other with the very behavior that continues to trigger the fear. They are caught in a protective circle, each blaming the other for the problems. Hailey really believes that if only Ryan would spend more time with her, everything would be okay, while Ryan really believes that if only Hailey would back off and stop pulling on him for time and attention, everything would be okay. Neither is accurate.
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Ryan cannot make Hailey feel loved and safe as long as she is abandoning herself. Until Hailey starts to practice Inner Bonding and develops her loving adult and can take emotional responsibility for her own feelings, Hailey will be a bottomless pit of neediness. No matter how much time and attention Ryan gives her, it will never be enough because the inner abandonment will continue to make her feel alone.
On the other hand, even if Hailey does back off from pulling on Ryan for time and attention, it is likely he will continue to be resistant and emotionally distant. His fear of engulfment is not being caused by Hailey - it is being caused by not having a strong loving adult to speak his truth and set limits against engulfment. As long as he does not know how to lovingly take care of himself in the face of someone wanting something from him, he will continue to emotionally distance. Even if Hailey is not making him responsible for her feelings, her just wanting anything with him or from him can trigger his fear of engulfment and the resulting resistance.