“Why do I feel like I need to be in a relationship to be happy?”

—Name and school withheld

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise excitedly proclaims the now famous line, “You complete me.” In the context of a romantic movie, it seems like an ideal realization that someone else out there has the power to fulfill my needs and make me a whole person. But the phrase is actually more of a set up. It implies that I am inadequate, deficient, or lacking something until the right person comes along. Don’t buy the lie; it isn’t true.

The danger with the notion that someone else completes me is that my happiness now rests almost entirely with the other person. Too often people become passive, waiting for the one who will make all things right, or dependent, afraid to lose the person if they are already in a relationship.

So let’s think about three ways of being in a relationship:

  1. Independent relationships. These look good on the surface because the partners appear to be strong. However, it comes at a cost. The internal beliefs are: don’t let anyone in, don’t depend on anyone, don’t be vulnerable, I don’t need anyone.  It is often a self-protection strategy to avoid being hurt.
  2. Dependent relationships. Although they may be deeply connected, the underlying belief is that my well-being and happiness rely on the other person so I must constantly monitor the status of the relationship for any sign that something is wrong. This usually results in a desire for constant reassurance. Clearly communicated is the message I need you! On the receiving end, it shouts, “You need me.” This adds a lot of pressure to any relationship.
  3. Interdependent relationships. In these, two people who are each healthy and comfortable with themselves are choosing to be together, not because they need someone to complete them but because they want to share time and experiences with the other person. Each person is responsible for their own well-being and the relationship mutually benefits each of them.

The truth is that at times even healthy relationships may reflect either dependent or independent characteristics. When you learn to be comfortable with and confident in yourself, you can be happy in or out of a relationship.