Neediness, Dependency, and Interdependency: Getting Your Marriage Right

What are the steps for going from a needy spouse to a healthy, interdependent marriage?

In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will help you to discover that even if you are very independent, you may still be needy. He also talks about the difference between unhealthy dependence and healthy interdependency in marriage. He lays out a simple plan that you can follow for a better marriage.

After listening to this podcast, you may want to:


Neediness, Dependency, and Interdependency: Getting Your Marriage Right

(Podcast Transcript)



[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.



Jack Ito PhD: Is it needy to depend on your spouse for practical help and emotional connection? Or, is that a healthy thing? Is it possible for us to depend so much on someone that it damages our relationship? In today’s podcast I want to discuss with you how neediness and dependency are completely different things. I will also help you to understand the difference between unhealthy and healthy dependency. Did you know that it is possible to be needy even if you are a very independent person? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. Needy people can be very dependent or very independent. Let’s take a look at the difference. Simply put, dependency refers to not being able to survive or thrive without something else. So, for example, we are all dependent on water. We can go for about three days without water before we start running into serious health problems. There is an optimal amount of water for each person to drink, which is going to depend on factors like how hot it is, how much that person exercises, and their health.


Some people get too little water and have health problems because of that. It’s not a bad thing to depend on water. In fact it’s a good thing that keeps us healthy and fits our design as human beings. In society, we also depend on others to survive and to thrive. This is also a good thing. I depend on farmers to grow food, that I depend on stores to sell to me. I depend on others who work to generate electricity, which I use for cooking as well as lighting and running many appliances. These are healthy dependencies. Dependency in itself is neither good nor bad. It just depends what we depend on. Depends on what we depend on. An example of an unhealthy dependency in marriage would be not being able to feel good about yourself unless your spouse was continually telling you how wonderful you are. Or getting a regular supply of illegal drugs that give you temporary fixes to not feel as bad, but which prevent you from ever feeling good.


There are many good things that we depend on our spouses for, and they depend on us for. That’s a good thing. It’s actually called interdependency. They depend on us; we depend on them. It’s what makes relationships and societies work. If someone is too independent—to the extent that they need very little from their spouse or other people,  especially in regard to social interaction, that is unhealthy for relationships. For example, a couple which don’t spend any time dating or in one-on-one interaction have an unhealthy independence. They actually need to depend more on each other for social interaction and create a healthy social interdependency. This social interdependency would help them to maintain their relationship. Many of the people I help to reconcile are lacking a healthy interdependency and so their relationships are falling apart. Their relationships are starved for the emotional nutrients that they need to thrive, and so their relationships are almost not thriving anymore.


Neediness is not like dependency, in that neediness is mainly a bad thing. Dependency can be good or bad depending on what you are depending on. If we are depending on something that makes us unhealthy, then we say that’s an unhealthy dependency. If we’re depending on something which actually helps us to be healthier, and particularly if we depend on something that helps us to be healthier, and in return we provide something which helps the other person, that’s a healthy interdependency. Neediness is not like that. Neediness does not help us to survive or to thrive. Neediness creates damage in our relationships. Neediness is not the result of depending on somebody or something healthy.


Neediness is the result of insecurity. It comes from our fear about the future. Neediness are the behaviors that people do in order to try to prevent losing their spouse or partner, but which actually make your relationship worse. That sounds confusing. Let me say that in a different way. Needy behaviors are the behaviors that we do, thinking that they will improve our relationships, but only end up making our relationships worse. Let me give you an example. A classical example of a needy behavior is criticism. People criticize their spouse’s not because their spouses are needing to be criticized and can return something good in return for the criticism. Criticism can’t be part of a healthy interdependency. People criticize their spouses not because they want to make their relationship bad, but because they believe that criticizing will make their relationships better. They have a delusion (or a false belief) that if we don’t like something about our spouse, that we should tell our spouse that. Many people have been taught that. It’s kind of a truism in our culture: If your spouse is doing something you don’t like, tell him or tell her. But, in actuality, telling people what you don’t like about them is criticism. And criticism makes relationships worse rather than better. In fact, criticism is the number one reason that people lose their loving feelings.


When people are criticized, especially if they’re criticized repeatedly, it makes them feel that they’re not good enough for the other person and their loving feelings shut down—shut off. It turns out that criticism is not really a good thing to do when our spouses are doing things we don’t like. Criticism is a needy behavior. It turns out that when our spouses are doing things we don’t like, rather than pointing that out to them, which is likely to cause defensiveness, arguments, attacks, or our spouse to shut down, and if you don’t believe me, go ahead and try it—give it a shot. Instead of doing that, what we really need to do is to make positive requests of our spouses about things that we do want, and when our spouses just don’t care or they are doing things that are damaging that they don’t have an intention to stop, then neither positive requests nor criticism is really going to achieve the difference that we want. In that case, we would use boundaries to improve our relationships, because boundaries actually stop a spouse’s bad behaviors. Criticism only makes our relationships more distant. That’s why we can say that criticism is a needy behavior—because it makes the relationship worse; while boundaries are healthy behaviors, even though our spouse won’t like it.


People never like boundaries, but we can’t really have a healthy relationship without them. Some other examples of needy behaviors are complaining, arguing, interrogating, and nagging. I’ve heard some people say that in a healthy relationship we need to argue. Well, that is crazy. That’s like saying, in a healthy relationship we need to be hitting each other. You know, in some places, they  actually believe that. But I challenge you to find when arguing is ever really helpful for your relationship. Arguing might temporarily help you to win a point, but it is always at the expense of making your relationship more distant. Perhaps if there wasn’t a better way to achieve something. To achieve making important changes in a relationship, then it would make sense to argue. Because there are better alternatives, like the positive requests, and the boundaries, among other things, arguing is actually a needy behavior.


Complaining, arguing interrogating, nagging—these are not things that will make your spouse want to be with you more. These are not things that will motivate your spouse to make changes for you, except perhaps under duress because they are tired of doing the complaining, arguing, interrogating. You can irritate people into change, but always at the expense of your relationship. That’s why these are needy behaviors. There are many things that people do in an effort to bring improvement, but they only end up making their relationships worse. Those are needy behaviors. Another example of a needy behavior would be hanging around with a person so much that they just want to get away from you. Needy people often have more of a desire to be with others than others desire to be with them. It’s not a bad thing to desire to be with people—it’s part of being in a relationship. But there is such a thing as being together too much. Being too close, too often, actually creates more distance.


The problem is that the more people use needy behaviors, the worse their relationships become. Then they use these needy behaviors all the more—trying to make their relationship better. It got worse and because this is what they know how to do to make things better, or they think they make things better, they will do them more and it makes the relationship even worse. This is kind of a pattern of neediness that many people have in their relationships. The path to better relationships includes increasing healthy dependencies—those are things your spouse is actually going to like, and you will like what you get in return. You two provide that for each other. It’s not so much a business transaction as more of a natural occurrence of treating each other well. Decreasing unhealthy dependencies is another thing we need to do. So one, we are going to increase healthy dependencies, two we’re going to decrease unhealthy dependencies, and thirdly, we are going to work on eliminating needy behaviors and replacing them with relationship building behaviors. This is path to a better relationship. Let me say that again. The path to a better relationship includes increasing healthy dependencies, decreasing unhealthy dependencies, eliminating needy behaviors, and replacing them with relationship building behaviors, including boundaries.


No one is born with the knowledge for how to do these things. I wasn’t. You weren’t. No one was. No matter how good some people seem to be at relationships now, they learned how to do that. Some people were lucky enough to learn it when they were really young because of good role models in their family. Many of us had to learn later, because of difficulties in our relationships and even failed relationships that we didn’t want to keep having. And so we learned how to do better. A good place to begin working on intentionally learning is with my book Overcome Neediness and Get the Love You Want. That will help you to identify needy behaviors that you are doing and will help you to learn healthy behaviors that you can do to replace them. This is a large part of that path. Increase healthy dependencies, decrease unhealthy dependencies, eliminate needy behaviors, and replace them with relationship building behaviors. You  will notice that my book on overcoming neediness is not going to get you through all of those steps and that’s true for most of the things that we learn—is that we’re going to have to use multiple sources, and it’s going to depend on what we already know.


It could be that you and your spouse already have healthy dependencies and that if you simply decrease the unhealthy ones, and stop the needy behaviors, then you’re going to have even more healthy dependencies on each other and your relationship won’t need much more work. That’s why I suggest starting with identifying whatever needy behaviors you have, and starting to replace those with healthy behaviors. For most people, just doing this will bring a lot of improvements to their relationships. People who already have severely damaged relationships will benefit from relationship coaching. They are going to have to focus on the correct skills for rebuilding their relationships even when their spouse is not responding positively to any changes they make. That is one of the challenges that people have when working on a severely damaged relationship. If your relationship is not to that point of being severely damaged, then making any changes in your relationship that’s going to be good for your partner is likely to get a positive response because they are still wanting to have a good positive relationship with you.


It’s only when you get to the point when a person is so burned out on your relationship that they no longer want to be together and then when you work on making improvements to try to make things better you often will get rejection and that’s when many people get stuck. They will get rejection and so they try even harder and get more rejection until they get frustrated and give up. There is no need to do that. There are ways to rebuild your relationships even when your spouse no longer is interested in you making changes, but it doesn’t start with this path I talked about today. As I talked about elsewhere, if you have a relationship that is already severely damaged we don’t just jump in and start trying to help our spouse to enjoy your relationship. The place we are going to start in that case would be helping our spouse, our partner—the other person—to  relax with us. That’s always going to come before any kind of relationship building can come. But, if your spouse is relaxed with you, your relationship is mainly deteriorated to one of a business relationship, then this is a good time for you to start working on overcoming any neediness you may not even have realized that you have. If you would like more help on transforming your relationship from disconnected, or  businesslike, or roommate like, to being a connected relationship, then I invite you to visit my website where you will find professional advice and lots of free resources consistent with Christian family values that you want.


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.