Your Spouse Can't Fulfill All Your Emotional Needs, And You Shouldn't Expect Them To

by Annie Reneau
Getty / Pekic

I was 21 when the movie Jerry Maguire came out. I hadn’t had any very serious relationships at that point, and I had little knowledge of what long-term love looked like. So I admit, when Tom Cruise delivered the famous line “You complete me,” the hopeless romantic in me melted a bit. I wanted to find that kind of love.

Now, at 42—and in the twentieth year of a happy marriage—I find the “you complete me” line naively silly at best and totally dysfunctional at worst.

The idea of being someone’s “everything,” or their “other half,” or the one who “completes” them may make for a fantastic love song, but it strikes me as a rather unhealthy expectation in real life. No one person can fulfill all of another person’s emotional needs. Even if you consider your spouse to be your best friend, you still can’t expect your “one and only” to be your one and only source of emotional support.

For one, that’s a lot of pressure for a partner. What happens when they’re struggling themselves and don’t have enough in their reserves to tend to your needs? What happens if tragedy strikes and you find yourself without them? Furthermore, if they’re fulfilling all of your needs, who is tending to theirs?

Psychologists and relationship experts discourage the idea of looking to a partner to fulfill your needs for good reason. In reality, the only one who can truly meet your emotional needs is you. Looking to someone else to fill your emotional cup will almost always lead to disappointment. Other people can help lend support to that endeavor, but ultimately, happiness and contentment can only be found within yourself.

Partners should ideally be whole people who complement each other, not partial people who complete one another. We need to drop the notion that another person should be assigned the ability or responsibility to make us whole.

That’s not to say that the two people in a relationship should neglect one another’s needs. In fact, each should make it their goal to be a giving and emotionally present partner. I try to anticipate when and where and in what way my husband might need support, and he does the same for me. But that’s not the same as expecting one another to fulfill our needs. I expect my husband to be present and loving. I don’t expect him to be able to fix my issues all the time.

If we don’t know how to fill our own cup—if we rely solely on our partner for emotional fulfillment—we’re setting ourselves up for a devastating fall if something should happen to them. It’s not something most of us want to think about, but tragedies happen. Obviously, most of us would feel extraordinarily sad to lose our spouse, but we shouldn’t feel like we’ve also lost our own selves completely if that happens.

Also, the unfortunate truth is that marriages can fail. We can probably all think of examples of awesome couples we had thought were invincible but ended up getting divorced. Nobody plans for that to happen, and we work hard to try to ensure that it won’t, but no relationship is guaranteed. And if your marriage dissolves, you’ll need solid coping skills and a wide, strong net to catch you and help you bounce back.

That’s yet another reason why it’s important to have other friends and loved ones who can help lend us support, and to spread out our emotional needs among more than just our partner. Part of taking care of ourselves is knowing how to utilize various resources. Those resources might include regular self-care habits, a cadre of caring friends, and even a professional therapist.

Getting mental health support is especially important if we feel like our partner is the only one who can help us cope with life. Learning how to complete ourselves is a gift that will serve us throughout our whole lives, no matter what comes our way.

I adore my husband and I’m infinitely thankful to have him walking through this life with me. There’s nothing wrong with turning to your beloved when you’re feeling down and need a boost, and it’s totally natural to look to your partner first when you’re going through some kind of struggle.

But don’t expect your spouse to carry you, to be your everything, or to continually fill your emotional cup for you. It’s not fair to them to think they should “complete” you, and ultimately, it’s not fair to you either.