Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Marriage Problems Center on Dependency

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Marriage Problems Center on Dependency

Article excerpt

Dear Open Mind: Over the years, my wife and I have had our share of difficulties. These rough times haven't been caused by tragedies like deaths, money problems or affairs.

The problems have more to do with the way we get along together. I finally started seeing a marriage counselor; my wife has not yet agreed to go with me.

My therapist and I are concentrating on my role in the marriage, but in regard to my wife the term "dependent personality disorder" has come up. Can you give me in- formation on this condition?

Let me start with a definition of dependent personality disorder and then tell you why you should ignore it.

A personality disorder is a longstanding, pervasive and inflexible pattern of behavior that creates distress or dysfunction.

A dependent personality is someone who has a tremendous need to be taken care of, and therefore may be excessively submissive and compliant.

Why do I say ignore it? Because once we label someone, even if they fit the textbook definition, we tend to then categorize all their behavior according to the label.

"You didn't do the laundry? That's because you're a dependent personality." This obviously reduces complex human beings to mere caricatures.

In addition, making a diagnosis of someone we live with easily lends itself to misuse. During arguments, a diagnostic label can be hurled as a weapon or an insult, thus injuring the other party. Conflicts are then furthered, rather than resolved.

It would be a mistake to place too much emphasis on deciding whether your wife is or isn't a "dependent personality disorder," or to assume that the answer to that question can solve your troubled relationship.

I would encourage you not to reduce your wife's behavior, or the problems in your relationship, to labels. Diagnostic definitions are not a shortcut for the hard work of resolving relationships. I therefore encourage you to continue the hard work of understanding your role in the marriage.

Phyllis Terry Friedman, Ph.D.

Director, Psychological Services Center

St. …

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