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How to break dependency on spouse

13 years ago

I'm not sure dependency is the correct word...but that's what it feels like. Hubby and I have been married almost 26 years and we have a happy marriage. We enjoy each others company very much and do almost everything together. We own a business and work together daily, have some of the same hobbies, have mostly the same friends. All this is great, except for the fact that I cannot imagine being without him. I am totally dependent on him being in my life every day, not to do things for me, just to be with me.

There have been a couple of times in the past 5 years when he was gone for 5-8 days. I was absolutely miserable and had multiple debilitating panic attacks, especially at night. Just thinking about being without him causes severe anxiety. I am okay during the day, but at night I fall apart. The mere thought of him dying is panic inducing.

Yes, I know this is extremely unhealthy, and that is why I am seeking help. My two sisters want the three of us to take a week-long trip and I really want to go, but...the panic starts as soon as I think about spending a night without my husband.

I have tried therapy a few times before for other things, and I just do not do well with therapists. I do much better with self-help books, I just don't know where to begin with this problem.

Comments (23)

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sounds to me like medication could be in order, in addition to counseling. I don't believe your feelings and panic attacks are normal. You need to find the right counselor (I know it's not easy) and the right medication. At least that's what I would do. Your fears are impacting your life in a negative way. What does your DH think of your dependance on him?

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    What you are describing sounds like a mirror image of my life. Only two times in 42 years of being "joined at the hip" have we been apart. Once for 2 weeks when he went to N. Carolina to help a friend build a home there, and the other time was when he flew to Florida to be with his son when he was hospitalized. Both times were extremely difficult for me, and the last time, when he flew to Florida, I had major anxiety attacks. My doctor prescribed half mg of xanax to be used as needed to help me with these horrible feelings of panic. They worked, and I have only had to take one or two per week, if even that.
    The unthinkable happened on Jan. 31 and my beloved husband, partner, mate, love of my life, passed away. I am now taking a half of a xanax tablet when I feel the panic coming on and then later when the really big attacks come, I take a whole tablet. Losing Bob was as if I had been split in half by an ax. If it were not for Christ holding me up as I deal with day to day happenings, I don't think I couled survive this turn in my life. The Lord has provided me with a wonderful supportive church family that lift me up when I am on a downward spiral and every time I am alone and have those horrendous moments of sheer terror, I call out His name, and He soothes my fears. Although it has been merely 4 weeks since my beloved passed on, I am already beginning to put my life in order... different than before, but I am keeping busy with our pets, and various ministries within our church.
    I am in counsiling for my grief as well... our pastor is a grief counsilor as is our worship leader.

    It isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, but there isn't any way to really prepare for the reality if and when it happens. But with God holding me up..... I know I will be okay.

    This is what is working for me.


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  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It sounds like emotional dependancy. too!

    I've met a LOT of people. I can't find anyone I'd rather be with that's that NICE....and smart...and secure.

    The difference between you and panic attacks. Your seperation anxiety just that. How do YOU wish to proceed...? Self help? or seek medical advice? or a group conseling session may be an option?

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Can't think of anyone I'd rather spend time with than Harry. Well, most of the time anyway. But I've been away several times on trips with two of my sisters and enjoyed every minute. I probably wouldn't now--in fact, I wouldn't go--since his health is like a yoyo and you never know from day to day what might happen.

    Who's to say what's normal? If you're both happy with the arrangement, so be it. If you don't want to go on the trip, don't go. As far as anything happening to him, just keep this in mind. You may go first. So enjoy the time you have.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi tkaye,

    From what you say, you can see the problem, and realize that it's important to take action to reduce it.

    How about developing some friends that are your own friends?

    Thinking of some activities and interests that you might pursue on your own, then working on them?

    When I was about nine? ten? twelve? I had gone to spend a few days at a relative's family's farm home, ones that we knew reasonably well, but weren't close to. They had one child, a son about 20, who teased me some. On my first night there, during the evening I think that I got somewhat anxious and at about 8 - 9 o'clock I began crying, and Dad had to come to take me home.

    My Mom got sick when I was nearly 6 and when Mom was taken to the mental hospital she asked her brother's wife, Aunt Grace to look after her boys. My youngest brother, about 6 mos. old, stayed with them for a couple of years: my brother still says that he looks upon their children almost as brother and sister.

    We used to visit their farm, about three miles from ours, quite often and I rode my bike to their place sometimes: their son was about a year older than I and their daughter about 2 years younger. I don't remember whether I'd stayed overnight at their place earlier, but if so I am rather sure that I hadn't called Dad about bedtime to come to take me home.

    You may have heard me say here that it seems to me that one of my major tasks as a parent is to support, guide and encourage my child to develop independence as s/he grows, a step at a time.

    It seems to me that in a society that has come to be as diverse as ours, if they don't stake out some ground for themselves, they'll be swallowed in the dust that the traffic kicks up. (I was born in an earlier time and was familiar with dirt and gravel roads). Now I guess that it's a case of being confused by the cacophony, unless they've developed a strong sense of who they are.

    As sunshine says, sometimes a religiously-oriented connection can help one work one's way through a parting that's hugely disruptive: almost as though a saw had cut one's self down the middle.

    I offer my best wishes as you set out on that task/journey/adventure/opportunity.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if you find some folks here who will gladly offer some suggestions, and walk with you through the concerns and difficulties as you proceed.

    ole joyful

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sorry I can't offer any ideas to help, but I wanted to mention that my sister and her husband are the exact same way. They've been married since 1958, are joined at the hip.

    Sister says if he dies first, she'll just die too.
    It is unhealthy, IMO.

    I hope you can find a way, good luck.

  • 13 years ago

    I've gone through alot of therapy and I encourage you to try again. The fears you mention have to have some deeper seeded reason for being with you. Without digging, and a guide to help you dig, you won't be able to get to the bottom of it. Once you know why you are the way you are, you'll be able to turn the corner.

    In the meantime, a series of Self Help books are those by Susan Jeffers - Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway would be the first I'd recommend. She has other books that are listed on her website:

    If you get going on a path to change, you don't have to take the plunge of a 1 wk trip right off the bat. I'd suggest an overnight trip with your sisters. Then a 3 day trip. Then the 1 wk. Build up to it.

    First and foremost, though, I highly encourage you to find either a one on one therapist of a group session. Don't know if you have had a serious loss in your past, but if that has happened, talking about things will be your best aid.

    Good luck on this journey. By the way, skip drugs at this stage of the game.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Is there something you might enjoy doing that your spouse is not interested in? A class once or twice a month that you could enjoy and meet new people? Baby steps at first. Just try to get out without him once in awhile. You may just find that you enjoy it! You'll make new friends and that may lead to even more time just for you. My DH and I love doing things together and really enjoy being home together, but I do like to get out once in awhile with girl friends, and he has hockey twice a week with his friends. It keeps us healthy and gives us something to talk about! We both enjoy hearing about each others evenings away from each other. Something else we enjoy sharing!

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well, I'm not sure about the panic/anxiety attacks. DH and I are very close - married 33 years - but we do a lot of things apart and have spent many nights apart due to business travel. No panic attacks. From my perspective though I am sometimes concerned that he is my best friend and I don't spend a lot of time with other friends. It's fine now but if something happens to him and I'm the one left behind I will have a lot of work to do to rebuild a new social network that doesn't include him. I kind of feel like I should be working on that a bit now - making more of an effort to schedule things with other friends. Maybe that is something you could do - plan some activities without him and with some other folks.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    We are joined at the hip, and guess I have never given it much thought. Its been over 51 years of marriage. We stay busy, this includes lots of outings with other couples. Sometimes we girls will plan shopping trips while the guys are playing. It a rare occasion that we leave home in separate cars. Matter of fact, can't remember the last time I drove my car. Must admit that I have always said I wanted to die first, my wish almost came true about 5 years ago, learned that I didn't want to leave this earth yet.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Baby steps. Go out to lunch without him. If you can't do it by yourself take a friend. Go to a movie you would like to see. Pick one that wouldn't interest him so you won't feel guilty.

    Then make an afternoon or evening out without him a regular thing. Don't try to do a 3 day weekend away. Do just one night.

    Have you talked to your DH about it? Is he supportive of you flying solo or does he sabotage your efforts? Funny thing about dependency. There is usually an enabler or co-dependent. Not necessarily intentionally. Perhaps the two of you should visit a therapist together.

    You are like a child with separation issues. You have to ease yourself into independence. Learn how to calm yourself during an anxiety attack. Deep abdominal breathing ,short focused pants. Whatever is easier for you.

    Once you achieve control over just one little thing without the sky falling you will be able to do another.

    Sometimes therapy is not enough. You might need medication for a short term to level the playing field and just get you over the first little hill.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I felt this way about my husband and it was not healthy. Just thinking about him dying before me sent me into depressive fits. In 2002, he asked for a divorce. Long story. Long, long story.

    Even though our marriage was not healthy, he and I were also joined at the hip, owned a small business together and we'd met in 3rd grade. Yep, THIRD grade.

    He was the father of my children, the love of my life, the pop in our "Mom and Pop business," and my late mother loved him with her whole heart.

    When I'd travel out of town for a few days I was sick at heart. I missed him so much.

    WHen the marriage ended, I cried a river of tears. It's been NINE years and I'm still getting over it. How pathetic is that?

    My point is, there are some things in life that we just don't get over, and things we don't understand, and we have to just build a sturdy safe room in our consciousness and lock those things away in that safe room and shut the door.

    As Joel Osteen said, "Sometimes in life, we have to put things in life in the file folder labeled, 'I do not understand this, but I will trust that my heavenly Father is still on my side.'"

    WHen my marriage ended, I was a mess. A woman friend told me, "When you're alone in the world, forced to stand upon your own two feet, you'll learn more about yourself than any other time in your life."

    She was right.

    Human life is hard, and we're all doing the best we can. Be compassionate with yourself.

    Kudos to you for recognizing that this is something that needs to be healed.

    Best thing I ever read was Elizabeth Cady Stanton's essay, The Solitude of Self.

    Here's an exerpt:

    ...As an individual, [a woman] must rely on herself. No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency they must know something of the laws of navigation.

    To guide our own craft, we must be captain, pilot, engineer; with chart and compass to stand at the wheel; to match the wind and waves and know when to take in the sail, and to read the signs in the firmament over all. It matters not whether the solitary voyager is man or woman.

    Nature having endowed them equally, leaves them to their own skill and judgment in the hour of danger, and, if not equal to the occasion, alike they perish.

    To appreciate the importance of fitting every human soul for independent action, think for a moment of the immeasurable solitude of self. We come into the world alone, unlike all who have gone before us; we leave it alone under circumstances peculiar to ourselves.

    No mortal ever has been, no mortal over will be like the soul just launched on the sea of life. There can never again be just such environments as make up the infancy, youth and manhood of this one. Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.

    No one has ever found two blades of ribbon grass alike, and no one will never find two human beings alike. Seeing, then, what must be the infinite diversity in human, character, we can in a measure appreciate the loss to a nation when any large class of the people in uneducated and unrepresented in the government. We ask for the complete development of every individual, first, for his own benefit and happiness. In fitting out an army we give each soldier his own knapsack, arms, powder, his blanket, cup, knife, fork and spoon. We provide alike for all their individual necessities, then each man bears his own burden.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I think you need help that you can't get from a forum. I doubt anyone here is, and I know I'm not trained nor licensed to dispense medication nor suggest what you should or should not take.

    Me? I'd avoid meds if at all possible unless a doctor I totally, unequivocally trust required them. Too easy to get too dependent upon them.

    Suggestions on dealing with it? I wouldn't go for a multi-day trip at this point. My first thought was baby steps. Go to the store by yourself or send hub to the store. Or to get gas mail a letter. Or whatever. Something short and quick. Do this every night. Then work on going to eat with someone or a movie or shopping or paying bills. Whatever. Then I'd look at something like taking a class on something that interests you. Maybe have hubby do it. I'd look to have time where I was away and where the spouse was away to work on being alone both at home and away.

    Phobias are not easily cured but can be managed. There's many ways to deal with them and you should explore some options.

    BTW, have you had a physical lately? Maybe there's a physical reason contributing to this.

    Good luck.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions everyone. One thing I need to make clear is that I am fine during the day. I spend a good deal of time away from him, doing things with other people or by myself. Its just the thought of being away from him overnight that bothers me. A few years ago he was in the hospital several days and I was fine being home alone at night. The problem seems to be when he is too far away for me to "easily and quickly" get to him. Then the panic and anxiety overcome me.

    The trip with my sisters is only 8 weeks away, so I don't have much time to work on myself. I don't think drugs are the answer - I would much rather peel away my layers and discover WHY I'm this way.

    Patser suggested the Susan Jeffers book on fear, I will get that from the library ASAP. I googled it and found many people recommending it. Thanks for the suggestion, Patser.

    Before posting here, I didn't even consider "separation anxiety", which is really just fear. Now I have a direction to go in and can start working on this. Thank you all for your concern.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well, something else is "fear of abandonment." That's another phobia that's very common and something I've suffered with for years. When I was a child, my father left one dark night and that was the end of my relationship with my father. Fairly traumatic stuff.

    It was 30 years later before I realized that 75% of my fears have their roots in "fear of abandonment."

    It really does sound a lot like what you're describing.


  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    As many people have suggested, I would talk to your doctor...

    I'm not sure how old you are but considering it's been going on for 5 years...could it be menopause anxiety? Much anxiety is due to stress...I'd focus on getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising when you can. Exercise is known to help relieve stress and anxiety (but again, please check with you doctor on what is best for you!). You may need to take some medicine to get your condition under control.

    p.s. A good massage every now and then probably wouldn't hurt.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I am a therapist and have had several clients see a hypnotherapist for phobias with MUCH success.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I hope for the best for you! I didn't realize how much entwined my life was with my husband's - every little aspect of daily life, and friends, and hobbies, and routines - - - until he died. We had 47 years together, and it started when we were 16.
    Now I'm struggling with figuring out just who I am, and just now, after over 2 years of this, beginning to find some peace. Had a few panic attacks, and alternated between depression and anxiety many times. I've never lived alone, but I have gone on several overnight quilt retreats with friends - but I knew he would be at home waiting

    I think I would second the recommendations for counseling. Maybe eventually try an overnight trip somewhere fun with friends/sisters. I think I let my individuality get swallowed up too much over the years, but now the new me is emerging.

    I think it's a common situation - when you've found someone you trust and love and want to be with, you become one with them - but the hard truth is, the majority of women over 65 are widows.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Carla35, I'm 50 years old and right in the middle of the menopause phase of life. Anxiety is certainly higher because of it, but the panic attacks started over 20 years ago. And I've been anxiety-ridden my entire life - always had lots of stomach aches, which the doctor claimed was just a "nervous stomach".

    I've known for several years that I was way too dependent on hubby, but it came to a head in the past 15 months, when my daddy died. He lived to be 92 years old, and mom just turned 88 - they were married almost 72 years. Mom became so dependent on dad that she is having a very difficult time now, she says she is just waiting to die. I do not want to end up like her, and know that if I don't start changing now that is what will happen to me.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Being almost 79 years old, I am a survivor. Yes DH is still with me, but with his health issues I don't know how long. I have driven by myself from CA to ND. I have gone to my DD from So CA to NO Cal by myself. I go shopping by myself all the time. I enjoy being with him, but I NEED space by myself. I am semi-dependent on my kids especially if he is gone, but if something breaks or ?? I will find someone to help out. Like several stated, baby steps may be one of your choices. Much of my so call independence was seeing my folks always be together especially after he retired. I wish you the best of luck.
    PS I too get anxiety mini attacks when he is gone at night. I really don't like being by myself, but in CA I had two dogs which gave me some comfort. I tend to be very cautious when out and about, even in the day time. I have been followed home, but I knew the short cuts and where I could stop and get help (rural area). That is one thing that really helped me- is be aware of your surrounding all the time and if you feel uncomfortable in a parking lot, go back into the store and don't ever be afraid to ask for help. Even a store clerk walking out with you helps out, because you get confidence that you can get the needed help. Did you talk it over with your husband? Or could there be that bit of hidden possessiveness that even he is not aware of. Does he give you confidence?
    Good luck.

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hi again tkaye,

    Pehaps the double load of losing your beloved Dad ... and seeing how much the suddenly being alone has upset your mother's applecart has added to the stress that you are feeling.

    Also, I've been wondering how your husband feels about all of this. Would he be really, deep-down pleased to see you develop some other interests and friends apart from your relationship with him?

    Sometimes men like being the boss/leader ... having women lean on them ... and get their noses somewhat out of joint if the leaner even makes noises about becoming more independent, let alone start working on it.

    Some of them may wonder whether this is just the beginning ... whether she would like to leave and be on her own, for some reason(s), and is gearing up for such a move.

    A number of women who were used to staying at home when the children were growing have found, after the children are gone and they have much more free time, that they enjoy either going out to find small, or even full-time work, or developing other interests that, possibly, they hadn't been aware before that they had.

    It's great to be loved deeply.

    And it's great to enjoy one's self and have a spirit of independence, to grow and develop different facets of one's personality and being as one matures.

    As someone said - many people who become older find that, though they were two ... they become one, and feel very inadequate.

    Another thing that is important is that, though each partner may handle a portion of the activities, chores and management that is part of the family's life ... it's important that both learn how to do the whole thing, how to carry on what needs to be done, for very few couples find that both depart this life at the same time ...

    ... and usually it's the woman who is the survivor.

    Too often, and often unfortunately, the woman has learned little about how to manage the family's business and financial affairs. It's a real shame when some fast-talking rascal manages to run off with a substantial portion of their, now her retirement asset.

    Leaving her without that familiar, beloved hand to hold ... but with a much lighter pocketbook ... and justly suspicious of the motives of many who surround her, to whom she should be looking for greater friendship in her newly lonely state.

    ole joyful

  • 13 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    try 41 years with the same person, panic attacks, but when he does foolish things it makes me mad...we have been seperated...the longest time 6 weeks while i cared for my that was aweful! to add to the stress, it was during 9-11, when all i wanted was to be home!

    you don't mention children...for us, they're a buffer and someone i can talk to rely on besides my dh...

    prehaps if you did get back into a close relationship with your sisters, you'll find they're behind you. love you and to some extent protect you as much as your beloved...

    are your parents living? do they have the same relationship you have?

  • 12 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    my partner and i are the same way. we've always been SUPER dependent on one another, even when we weren't together. i know and so does she, that it's unhealthy. i would recommend talk therapy to work through issues. separation anxiety is VERY likely, not to mention pretty common.

    the nights are the hardest part fo me when she's away too. you get so close to snuggling next to that one person and then they're not there. no one's awake to entertain you, and there is NEVER anything good enough on the television to hold your attention away from your anxiety.

    just try to stay strong. baby steps, and let yourself know that it IS okay to hurt. it IS okay to have a difficult time with trying to fix this. once you let yourself feel more, you'll get better faster :)