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Is "I Can't Live without You" Real Love?

When a person says “I need you, I can’t live without you” does that mean they really love you?  The simple answer is NO!  This statement more likely represents someone in a dependency state of one kind or another.  It even may reveal someone experiencing the rather extreme state of infantile dependency and mistakenly thinking it’s love.  Infants cannot survive without the real love and care of adults.  Adults can.

Unfortunately in romance some people emotionally regress into a more infantile dependency-like state.  They literally feel they need and cannot live without a certain other person.  That person is to be their devoted, emotional caretaker – much like a loving mother with an infant.

If you hear someone seriously tell you “I need you.  I can’t live without you.” they actually may be subconsciously asking you to become their parent and to let them become your child emotionally.  This is not, and is not likely to become healthy adult-to-adult love.  In adult love I do not addictively and regressively ‘need’ you.  Rather, as an adult, I can live without you, and instead of needing you I choose to ‘want’ you in my life.  It’s a free will choice instead of a dependency-based compulsion.

Let me suggest that for adults being wanted is much better than being needed.  Mature adults are self-dependent, unless they are disabled or otherwise debilitated.  Adults can use help but are not dependently needy of it.  Mature adults form mutually equality-based, interdependent unions, not addictive co-dependent or infantile, dependency-based, parasitical-like relationships.

If you are an able-bodied and able-minded adult the hard but good truth is you can survive, you can take care of yourself, and if you lose a loved one you eventually can recover, and if you wish you can find another to love and to be loved by.  Yes, you may hurt enormously without a particular person you love, and you may hurt for quite a long while.  However, you also can go on to recover and get back to a state of healthful okayness even though it is extremely difficult, especially at first.  Thus, for functioning adults “I can’t live without you” is false.

Now, it must be noted that someone simply saying “I need you and can’t live without you” is not enough evidence upon which to make a judgment.  However, it may be a clue to take into account along with other evidence when evaluating a relationship.

Many suicides seem to happen in the more extreme “I can’t live without you” mind-set. These occur when the person they think they love rejects them, probably because of expanding dependency and its usual accompanying dysfunctional, obsessive possessiveness.  Evidence suggests that most of these suicides would not happen with the right kind of therapy.  Most also would not happen with greater maturity and self-love development.  Also, there is evidence that points to the fact that most of these suicides probably would not occur if people just were able to stay alive for another six to eight weeks.

However, the pain of rejection and what feels like parental abandonment can be so intense as to seem unbearable.  The person experiencing this often can be saved by the love of friends and family, by experiencing strong spiritual love, and by the unique love relationship that sometimes grows in certain kinds of psychotherapy.In addition there are medications that can be helpful.

Most people saying the “I can’t live without you” statement probably are just trying to emphasize how much they feel love for someone.  They, therefore, are not to be taken as speaking literal truth.  They might be saying it lightheartedly or just because it seems like the romantic thing to say.  Of course, some might say it as a seduction or manipulation effort.  Usually only when said with serious literal meaning does it becomes something to worry about.

Severe “I can’t live without you” mental states can be dangerous, sometimes to the point of physical abuse or even homicide if the person who is depended upon threatens or tries to leave.  So, be careful and get professional advise if you find yourself wanting to leave a relationship with a severely needy, co-dependent person.  When there is infantile dependency in a person with an adult body there can be a danger of physical violence.

The infantile mind-set in an adult body can inflict on others very destructive temper tantrum behavior.  If alcohol, drugs or even some medicines which lower self-regulation are added to the infantile dependence mind-set the danger potential can be quite high.  With infantile dependency, misidentified as romantic love, there also can be obsessive compulsive behavior which sometimes results in stalking which sometimes ends with violence.

Therefore, if the “I love you and can’t live without you” theme is predominant extreme care is recommended.  It is important to know that what has just been described is fairly rare in adult relationships but rather more common when dealing with youth and the chronically immature.  In smaller and shorter doses it sometimes may be seen in those who have been taught to think of romantic love as something of an obsessive, possessive, insane state.

If you find yourself saying “I love you, and I can’t live without you” please examine why you want to say such a thing.  Is it just stylistic?  Is it a way to sound romantic?  Or does it represent how you really, strongly and consistently feel?  If it does you might want to consider making some changes and while you’re at it consider therapy.

Now, consider what this would mean.  Suppose you were to hear a lover say “I do not need you.  I just super, incredibly, fantastically want you!”  Or “Of course I don’t need you; I can take care of myself quite well.  I just happen to choose you above absolutely everyone else to be in my life, to share life with you, and to bring you as much joy as I can for as long as I can”.  Let me suggest that these represent healthier, and stronger, and more likely to be real, as well as healthful forms of love. 

The “I can’t live without you” statement may represent weakness, a possible destructive addiction to a person, and a general psychopathological state devoid of any true real love.  The “I choose you and I want you” rather than “I need you” kinds of statements, from this mental health professional’s viewpoint are far more desirable.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question
What do you think of the ancient, love lore teaching that says “If you love someone set them free much as you would a bird held in your hand.  If they return to you your togetherness is meant to be.  If they do not return to you that too is meant to be.”?

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