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Question

My husband requires constant attention from others. If I get busy in the house or with the children, he looks for attention from a neighbor or anyone he can find. I try to build his confidence by being positive and mentioning his many gifts. He tells the same stories to anyone who will listen. They are impressive stories, but I find that they have been embellished each time I hear them. Why does he do this instead of focusing conversations on the other person?

Answer

It’s exhausting to be in a relationship with someone who takes up all the space and leaves no room for other’s contributions. I don’t believe people like your husband do this intentionally. However, good intentions don’t make it any less painful. Let’s talk about how you can live in a relationship with a husband who can’t see anyone else around him and requires constant attention.

In my experience, people who require constant validation and attention generally have attachment wounds from previous relationships. This could be from family members, friends, or romantic partners. We all have an inborn lifelong need to matter to someone else. Most of people find this security in their homes or in their marriages and don’t need the world to endlessly reassure them that they matter. However, when this breaks down and an individual doesn’t have the security of knowing they matter to someone else, it sends them on a lifetime safari of searching for security.

Unfortunately, this security isn’t going to come through dazzling people with stories or receiving endless praise. Most people with these types of wounds feel deep shame and believe they’re worthless. They’re faced with the dilemma of hating themselves or spending the rest of their lives trying to build themselves up. Most choose the latter and never find it. Brené Brown suggests the way out is to be honest and own the pain of feeling unworthy of love. She says, “You can walk inside your story and own it or stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”[i]

This is why your husband’s stories are getting more embellished and all of your attempts to build him up feel like a dead-end. Outside validation isn’t going to fix what he needs to work on internally. I’m not suggesting you stop noticing his strengths, it’s just that this approach isn’t going to address his deeper wounds.

Individuals with these types of wounds don’t handle feedback very well. Again, it triggers that dilemma of hating themselves or building themselves up. Most people don’t hate on themselves, so they build themselves up by defending themselves and project flawlessness to avoid accountability. As the wife, you’re in a difficult situation. He’s sent the message that it’s your job to validate his existence on a regular basis. However, you can’t succeed in that role.

Most people get their security first from their parents and then from Heavenly Father and the Savior as they grow and mature.[ii] That deep security of knowing they have worth and value allows them to see others instead of constantly needing to put themselves first.

It’s challenging because my guess is that your husband is wounded, but likely doesn’t know it. He needs emotional, spiritual, and relational help to heal these attachment wounds so he doesn’t have to spend his life living off of the compliments of others.

I recommend you have patient, gentle, and compassionate conversation with him about the impact this pattern is having on you personally. Don’t speak for how this might affect other people. Only speak for yourself. Let him know how it appears that he has an insatiable need for validation and attention that isn’t getting met by your efforts. Share with him your suspicion that there may be a deeper longing for security that you can’t meet. See if he’s willing to explore this further through education and professional help.[iii] Your husband needs to move from attention-seeking behaviors to attachment-seeking behaviors.[iv] The former will leave him feeling unfulfilled, but it may be all he knows.

Even if he decides to accept your influence and seeks help, it can still be exhausting to live with someone who has these attention-seeking behaviors, so make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. Recognize that you’re not responsible for paying attention to him at every moment. You don’t need to apologize to others for his embarrassing behavior. You don’t even have to stick around if he’s deploying a well-worn story for the hundredth time. Feeding his wound will drain you because it will never be enough until he stands inside his own story and gets the help he needs.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recovery. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT


[i] This quote can be found in her DVD special https://www.amazon.com/Hustle-Worthiness-DVD-Brene-Brown/dp/B006X7NS2Q

[ii] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/media-library/video/2009-11-0050-the-reflection-in-the-water?lang=eng#d

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2169321/

[iv] https://thechildpsychologyservice.co.uk/advice-strategy/attention-seeking-vs-attachment-seeking/