Being needed feels good. Most of us grow up relishing being mommy or daddy’s ‘little helper.’ I myself have many fond memories of feeling proud of helping my mom do chores or cook dinner. Often it was me simply stirring steaming hot chocolate milk, watching it turn into pudding for dessert. She always made sure we had something sweet after dinner, and I loved wearing an apron and helping her get it all on the kitchen table. Helping our parents or teachers or friends as children is a way we establish worth in oursleves. The subliminal message is: I feel worthy because I am helpful to you. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not at all. The danger lies in only getting self-worth this way, not by any other means such as your own accomplishments or personal qualities that you’re proud of.
I see this repeated in unhealthy adult relationships where one person does a lot (too much) for their partner to ‘earn’ their love. For example, this could be the woman who drives her boyfriend to work, does all his laundry, pays the bills and cooks his meals while he spends his time working part time and watching football on the couch. She’s always giving to make sure he feels her love. But the problem is that she feels she has to do all those things in order to be worthy of love back. She doesn’t have to do anything other than be a loving partner to him. What we have to realize is that love isn’t about what the other person can do for you. Sure we all take turns doing nice, helpful things for each other (especially if your love language is acts of service or gifts). However, there is a different mindset behind doing something for your partner because you love them and doing something because you think if you stopped they would leave you.
That’s why it’s crucial to seek out a partner who loves you for you, just as you are- not someone who will just take from you. Because the reality is that the ‘takers’ of the world never feel satisfied. It’s never enough. They will always want you to give more while offering back much less in return. Of course they have their own underlying self-worth issues, which is why they are drawn to nurturers who make it easy for them to be taken care of: emotionally, physically, financially or all of the above. And the nurturers of the world are often drawn to takers because of their feelings of not being unconditionally loved by their parents. Hence they learn to always be helpful to make sure they feel worthy of love. If you find yourself stuck in this pattern or with this type of person, try to scale back on what you do for your partner and instead show your love in other ways that require less action. If you partner pulls away because you suddenly stop going above and beyond to try and make them happy, then be warned. It’s not a healthy balance if one person is expected to pull more of the weight in the relationship, unless both parties are aware and happy with that dynamic.
The point is that you deserve to be loved for you, not what you can do for your partner. If you had healthy parents, they loved you not because you helped vacume the rugs or change the sheets on the bed. They loved you unconditionally just because you are you. That is it. And it’s not too much to ask another person to love you that way too.
I think many people are trapped in this mindset of feeling not worthy of that type of love, given that they never learned it from their upbringing. And also especially if they feel they aren’t “perfect” looking, whatever that means (entirely subjective). But that does not matter. All those things (looks, helpfulness, financial status) are nice but don’t make or break a 20+ year marriage. What makes a relationship last is two people who genuinely feel loved by each other and enjoy each other’s company. And trust me, that has nothing to do with how well you stir the pudding, provide financially or do the laundry. It has to do with how well you communicate, show respect, and keep attraction over time. It also has to do with your partner fundamentally choosing you, because they love you. Remind yourself of this next time you feel compelled to “earn" love".” Love isn’t granted from a million chores done or a million dollars earned. It’s in the unique way you approach the world or how you have an uncanny ability to make people laugh. Or whatever else that makes someone drawn to someone else. If they don’t love your specialness and believe THAT is what matters, then perhaps it’s time to assess if you are getting YOUR needs met too.