Healthy Dependency - 3/12/07
smartmarriages at lists101.his.com
Mon Mar 12 13:02:52 EDT 2007
On March 6th, I sent the article "Alone Together: How Marriage In America is
Changing" on the Amato, Booth, Johnson, Rogers studies on the trend toward
growing independence in modern marriage.
That same day, this article on Healthy DEPENDENCE appeared in the NY Times
Science section. The ying and yang as we slither forward.....
- INSUFFERABLE CLINGINESS, OR HEALTHY DEPENDENCE?
Insufferable Clinginess, or Healthy Dependence?
The New York Times/Science Times
By BENEDICT CAREY
March 6, 2007
> At one extreme is an ingrained, helpless need to be cared for a stubborn
> problem that psychiatrists diagnose as dependent personality disorder. In
> milder forms, dependency can come across as an annoying clinginess. But it
> can also be a protective warmth that cements romantic relationships in times
> of stress. It is the way people manage dependent urges, researchers are
> finding, that determines the effect of needy behavior on relationships.
The domestic scenes that would slowly suffocate the marriage were not scenes
at all, in the usual sense, but silences, imagined slights, private fears
that went unspoken. She would ask him to do the dishes after dinner and feel
a shudder when he put off the chore, as if it were a rejection.
Or she would dress up to go out, and then struggle against a growing dread
as the moments passed and he did not comment on how good she looked.
³I never once said anything, but I had this need for approval, this terrible
dependence that he had no way to understand,² Ronni Weinstein, 61, a
therapist living near Chicago, said about her former husband. Indeed, she
added, she has since learned that her dependent urges might have been used
to bind the marriage rather than undermine it.
³That¹s what healthy couples learn to do,² she said, ³to voluntarily depend
on one another and decide who is doing what for the relationship.²
Neediness has a familiar face: the close friend who is continually asking
for reassurance, for advice, for help with the wireless connection. The
accomplished adult who lurches from one relationship to another, playing
geisha for each new partner. The abused spouse who is afraid to walk out.
Yet only in recent years have researchers begun to realize that while in
some guises dependence can undermine mental health, in others it can provide
valuable social support.
At one extreme is an ingrained, helpless need to be cared for a stubborn
problem that psychiatrists diagnose as dependent personality disorder. In
milder forms, dependency can come across as an annoying clinginess. But it
can also be a protective warmth that cements romantic relationships in times
of stress. It is the way people manage dependent urges, researchers are
finding, that determines the effect of needy behavior on relationships.
³There are the dependent people who panic easily, who are calling a friend
or spouse 15 times a day, undermining the relationship, and then there are
those who have learned to modulate their impulses,² said Dr. Robert F.
Bornstein, a psychologist at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and
co-author, with his wife, Mary A. Languirand, of ³Healthy Dependency²
(Newmarket Press, 2003).³These people may have dependency needs that are
very intense,² he continued, ³but they have developed social skills, learned
to make others feel good about helping them. That makes all the difference.²
A tug-of-war between headstrong independence and needy vulnerability is
visible as early as infancy. In so-called attachment studies, young children
or primates who are confident in their mother¹s affections tend to be
confident when exploring an unfamiliar room or meeting a stranger. Those who
are less secure often cling to their mothers in new situations, noticeably
³This is an absolutely fundamental dynamic that underlies all of our
interpersonal relations, as well as psychiatric diagnoses,² said Dr. Sydney
Blatt, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Yale University.
Researchers measure the strength of dependency traits by having people rate
how highly they endorse certain beliefs, like, ³After a fight with a friend,
I must make amends as soon as possible²; ³I am very sensitive to others for
signs of rejection²; or ³I have a lot of trouble making decisions for
In studies, people who score highly on these tests also tend to rate their
parents as either authoritarian or overly protective (or one of each). ³The
message growing up is: You¹re fragile, you¹re weak, you need someone
powerful to look after you,² Dr. Bornstein said.
That upbringing primes many people, as they grow, to seek similarly
dependent pairings, with friends, colleagues and romantic partners. The
pattern persists at least in part because it is frequently rewarded.
In one recent study, psychologists rated 48 men and women attending
Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania on measures of dependency, and calculated
their grade-point averages. After controlling for the students¹ SAT scores
and the difficulty of their course schedules, among other factors, the
researchers found, to their surprise, that those students who scored highly
on measures of dependency were doing significantly better, on average, than
those who were more self-sufficient.
One likely reason, the authors found, was that dependent students were much
more likely to say they sought help with course work from their professors.
In another experiment, presented in January at the American Psychoanalytic
Association¹s annual meeting, psychologists at the University of Leuven in
Belgium measured dependency traits, relationship satisfaction and levels of
conflict in 266 adults in long-term relationships. The researchers found
that dependent partners scored significantly higher on satisfaction than
more self-sufficient ones but only when couples were struggling.
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