Cathy from Portland, Oregon writes... "Hey Hans, I'm recently married and fear that I'm relying too heavily on my husband for emotional support. I've always been sensitive and cared what others thought of me, perhaps more than I should, but I can feel it affecting my relationship."
"...I know that my anxieties and self-esteem issues are things that I need to work through and I've begun seeing a therapist (virtually now) once a month. But even before the wedding day, I was worried that he might back out because of my high expectations (thankfully he did not). But clearly, that's not a good sign! If I'm having a bad day for instance and call him at work, I'd want him to take the time to talk to me. And later, maybe follow up verbally, or do something nice (flowers, cook dinner, buy me a cookie lol, something!) I mean, I would do that for him. Is that too much to ask? I'm frustrated because it feels like I'm never getting enough support and he's frustrated because he feels like he's always letting me down. We argue a lot. But when he complains of constant failure, I end up swallowing my emotions and not sharing them because I don't want to always be "on him" but then when he doesn't see that I'm clearly upset, it just makes it worse. I just want to be his main priority, because he's mine (but in a non-crazy way). Is that unreasonable?"
Thank you for writing in. I invited my dear friend Dr. Nancy Young to weigh in on your situation. We split the conversation into two parts; she responds more specifically in [part B].
It's so good that you've included a therapist in your strategy for your own healing. It shows awareness and attentiveness to your own needs. Well done seeking help!
Is it unreasonable to be your husband's "main priority?" Not at all - some of the time. All the time? Yes, it is unreasonable. Like the ebb and flow of water on the beach or the rising and setting sun, the two of you must share common emotional ground some of the time, but not all the time. You set your husband up for failure if you expect him to be your all, all the time.
Every relationship is unique in managing their shared emotional space, but it's valuable to appreciate the differences in how you support one another now presently. Your husband's love language is likely different than yours: that's okay and to be expected. You may love through gift-giving, he some other way. As a couple (of individuals), you are both together and separate. As such, you will have to understand where he ends and where you begin.
If you're yearning for a particular type of support and he's having a hard time delivering what you're requesting, lots of possibilities exist. The most innocent is that it's taking time for him to learn what you need, as it will take time for you to understand what you should do for yourself.
There is no easy answer here, but there may be clues in your message. If your anxiety is the real culprit for your doubt and frustration, try to map it out emotionally. When do you have bad days? What types of situations, thoughts, or memories send you down the rabbit hole? Study yourself. Continue to work with your therapist, but do your homework too. Therapy isn't the complete answer either.
As you continue to learn about yourself (on your own and in therapy), you will find that your ability to love and support yourself (and your husband) grows. It should lead you to create a wider network of support to fulfill your life and interests. As that occurs, you can rest knowing that your husband loves and believes in you - and that even if that should fray - that you love and believe in yourself.
In the meantime, if you'd like your husband to buy you a cookie when you're down, tell him. All spouses should know what makes the other happy. And if he can't do it, buy a cookie for yourself.
I hope that helps a little. Take the best of care. ~Hans
Hans is an ICF-certified executive coach at Inner Confidential, specializing in mental fitness and Gottman methodologies for healthy relationships, and a NASM CPT specializing in weight loss and behavior change at the SoFit Network.