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I had a conversation today. Actually I listened while a male client vented about his ex-wife.  I had heard what he had to say many times so while listening all I could think was, “some men just don’t get it and never will.”

Mike was angry; he had “given her everything, a great home, new car, financial security.” Seems she couldn’t be satisfied, according to him she was too “needy.”  I asked him to define “needy” for me.  She was “always wanting to talk, insisted on a date night, came to me with every problem, she needed attention, attention, attention.”

“I felt like I was drowning” Mike said. When she finally realized she was not going to get the emotional connection with him that she so needed she left and filed for divorce. He was devastated and angry. She pushed and he pulled away and his pulling away finally cost him what was most precious to him…his wife.

So, what doesn’t he get? He has failed to understand that the more he deprived his wife of what she so badly wanted, an emotional connection with him the needier she became. Her neediness was a response to his fear of her sucking him dry emotionally. He viewed her as a bottomless pit of need, not realizing that if he had given her what she wanted, her tank would have been full. Instead of a needy wife he would have had a happy wife.

In their marriage, Mike was the distancer, she was the pursuer. The distance/pursuer is the most negative pattern seen in unsatisfying relationships. A relationship pattern Mike could have avoided by sharing his feelings with his wife, and listening to their partner. Giving his wife more time and attention would have dispelled her fears and built trust in him.

Mike loved his wife and showed love to his wife the way HE thought his wife needed to be loved. He failed to express his love to her the way she needed and as a result there was no marital harmony. The sad thing, they both had the same fear, he feared he would never be able to satisfy her needs, she feared that also.

In his book, The 5 Languages of Love, Gary Chapman says, “Your emotional love language and the language of your wife may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express your love in English, if your wife only understands Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other.”

We normally love others in the way we want to be loved. According to Mike, his wife was very affectionate, always asking if he needed anything, how his day went and show an interest in how life was treating him. She was giving Mike what she wanted in return.
For marriage to work we have to learn to speak each other’s love language — to step outside our comfort zone and see a spouses needs from their perspective.  Doing that ends deprivation, neediness and the fear Mike had of being “sucked dry” emotionally.

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  • Comment Link mitzy Saturday, 22 February 2014 05:21 posted by mitzy

    There are basuc needs for emotional health. There sre also vows taken, and the assummed in ant relatiinship. Mike was opting out by his choice of his end of the bargin he entered when he married. If you don't expect a car to run on empty why should his wife get, no sex,no time,no attention,no emotional connection? His wife clearly did'nt want the msterisl substitutes Mike gave to cover his lack of emotional nurturing,he made that bargin to cover his inadquacies not her. She is the victim here ti deception on Mikes part.

  • Comment Link Guest Thursday, 11 November 2010 18:43 posted by Guest

    Mike AND his wife were victims: The only thing Mike was a victim of was his own lack of useful relationship skills and his own insecurities. There is a lot about Mike's story that I didn't share in the article. To help you better understand I will do that here.

    Mike stopped having sex with his wife on the day they were married. From that day forward they averaged sex about six times a year. I guess Mike's wife was emotionally abusing him from the words "I do" and continued to do so every time she expressed an interest in an intimate relationship with him.

    Mike spent years giving her every material possession he thought she might want. What she wanted was Mike and he was unable to give her that. In response to her need for a relationship with her husband Mike labeled her a "bottomless pit of need." And it is funny that you should use the phrase "emotionally abuse" because that is exactly what he accuses his wife of doing to him.

    Mike has been told by his counselor, his children's counselors and me that he is the one guitly of emotional abuse. For some reason though he has to hold onto victimhood. He was done wrong because she asked too much of his opinion and that is the only opinion that matters to him.

    What she did was ask for exactly what any wife should expect from a husband. I don't make assumptions when dealing with a client. I've spoken to Mike, his counselor and his wife. Mike continues to do today the same thing he did during the marriage, refuse to...LISTEN.

    Why do you assume that just because Mike describes her as a bottomless pit that she is a bottomless pit? Maybe it is Mike who is the bottomless pit.

    When I spoke to Mike's wife she told me that she made a list for him one time. On the list of things she wanted were, a slow dance, spoon in bed, dinner out once a month, him expressing his needs and sex once a week. Not a lot to ask and certainly not a bottomless pit. The more she asked though the less sex she got and the further away he pulled and the angrier she became.

    I can't speak to your situation, I don't know you and what you have been through. I do know that there are some people, both men and women who can't be happy no matter how much you do for them. The more you give, the more they want.

    Based on my experience though, in most cases spouses are failing to understand clearly what the other person's needs actually are or, they are wounded in a way that keeps them from being able to meet the other person's needs. I think Mike is one of the wounded.

    I would never roll my eyes at. My ex used to roll his eyes at me, I know how dismissive that can feel. I have although, made it clear to Mike that he IS responsible to his wife emotionally and to his children. His response? "I'm not responsible for anyone's feelings, not hers or my children's."

    That belief gets Mike off the hook for any of his own bad behavior and keeps him from having to look internally at what causes him to treat the people who love him with such disregard. He can continue to label them as needy and himself as the victim. First he was his mother's victim now he is the victim his unreasonable wife and children.

    I find it interesting that you use the word "doormat" to describe Mike's wife. Doormats are nomally the abused, not the abuser. When we are hurt by another person's actions it is easy to view ourselves as a victim but take it from me, it isn't a very attractive trait.

  • Comment Link Guest Thursday, 11 November 2010 12:52 posted by Guest

    You're blaming the victim here:

    Cathy Meyer writes: So, what doesn’t he get? He has failed to understand that the more he deprived his wife of what she so badly wanted, an emotional connection with him the needier she became. Her neediness was a response to his fear of her sucking him dry emotionally. He viewed her as a bottomless pit of need, not realizing that if he had given her what she wanted, her tank would have been full. Instead of a needy wife he would have had a happy wife.

    Way to blame the victim, Ms. Meyer!

    Why do you assume the husband was the one who caused his wife's neediness? You overlooked the most important clue in what Mike said to you: He said his wife came across as a "bottomless pit of need".

    By definition, a "bottomless pit" will never be filled, no matter how much he tries to "give her what she wanted". Her emotional tank that can never be filled, to use your metaphor, because there was a obviously a gaping hole at the bottom!

    No wonder he felt like he was "drowning"... because he was indeed drowning, in a sea of emotional neediness coming from his wife. The more his wife tried to grab onto him, the more he collapsed under the weight of being responsible for both their emotional lives.

    You are correct to describe this distance/pursuer dynamic, and you are also correct that it is the "most negative pattern seen in unsatisfying relationships."

    But you are wrong to imply that all Mike had to do was share "his feelings with his wife", listen to his partner, and give "his wife more time and attention". How cliched can you get? I find it hard to believe that Mike really never did any of those things. It is much more likely that he did these things, and more, and it still wasn't enough, for his wife.

    You're also ignoring how emotional neediness is incredibly draining for the spouse on the receiving end. It feels like an emotional vampire has sucked all the joy out of your life. The unending drama is all about centering your attention on her, and her feelings, and her needs, and there's literally no room left for you to have any identity or life of your own.

    The worst part is that after you've given your all, you feel lost and confused and emotionally empty inside, because you have nothing else left to give ... and your partner is still just as emotionally needy as before!

    That's when you realize that you're being emotionally abused by your partner, and that you are in fact dealing with an emotionally stunted partner who has the emotional maturity of a child. And that realization is a complete libido killer. Who wants an immature child as a spouse?

    The reality is that an emotionally abusive situation such as this will never end, until you're either in a premature grave from all the stress, or your partner wises up by getting counseling, or you end up in divorce. And no matter how it ends, it's hell on your kids.

    Ms. Meyer, I think you did a disservice to your client by mentally rolling your eyes while he was venting.

    You should have made it clear to Mike that he was not responsible for his wife's emotional state of mind, and that she needed to get counseling to understand why she was being such a needy doormat.

    And you should have advised Mike to get counseling himself to understand why he put up with his wife's emotional abuse for so long, and what he should do differently in his next relationship to avoid getting caught up in similar situation.