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Is It Love Or Emotional Dependency? How To Tell

Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Updated on February 21, 2020
Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding
By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding
Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator.
February 21, 2020

Emotional dependency is when a person believes they need another person to survive, to be happy, or to feel complete. Love is easily confused with emotional dependency because they both usually come with intense feelings around another person. But in an emotionally dependent relationship, people feel they're "in love" when really they're "in need." Emotionally dependent people need constant attention, approval, and support from their partner⁠—because they are not giving it to themselves.

Signs of emotional dependency:

  • Have you discovered from past relationships that you have a tendency to idealize people?
  • Do you project onto your partner how you want them to be rather than how they are?
  • Are you making up the person you think you are in love with?
  • Are you primarily focused on how your partner treats you rather than on who they really are inside?
  • Are you overly impressed by how this person makes you feel special?
  • Have you made your partner responsible for your happiness, worth, and safety?
  • Do you feel anxious or panicked when you are not with your partner or when they don't text when you expected?
  • Do you have a set of expectations that your partner has to meet for you to feel loved and safe?
  • Do you feel that you can't live without this person?
  • Are you terrified of losing this person?
  • Do you feel empty and alone inside unless your partner is giving you attention and validation?
  • Do you feel jealous and possessive of your partner?

Love versus emotional dependency.

"Love" that comes from fear isn't love—it's neediness. Emotional dependency comes from the inner emptiness that is created when you abandon yourself—and you then expect your partner to fill your emptiness and make you feel loved and safe. Once you make your partner responsible for your happiness, safety, and worth, then you need to try to have control over getting him or her to love you the way you want to be loved.

Love is about giving and sharing—not about getting. Love is not needy. There is nothing controlling about real love. Love is that which supports your own and your partner's highest good, which means that you would never try to control or possess the other person. When you love someone, you deeply value their essential qualities—the qualities that don't go away with time.

The challenge of real love is that you cannot desire to get love and to be loving at the same time. Your focus on getting love will always lead to a closed heart and controlling behavior, which shuts out love. Your focus on being loving, and on learning what is loving to yourself and your partner in any given moment, is what opens the heart. When you consistently choose to be loving with yourself and others, you will experience real love.

How to stop being emotionally dependent.

If you do not love yourself—your own beautiful, wonderful essence—then you cannot see or love the essence of another. When you don't see and value yourself, you become emotionally dependent in your desire to get love.

When you love yourself, you will be far less vulnerable to becoming emotionally dependent on a partner because you won't have a desperate need for attention and approval. When you give yourself the attention and approval you need, you'll be able to have healthy relationships with others without depending on them for your sense of well-being.

Learning to love yourself and feel whole, with or without other people in your life, is a lifelong journey. But it's well worth the effort.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. author page.
Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Co-Founder of Inner Bonding

Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.