Why do you 'always' need to be in a relationship: Our need to belong

From birth to death, relationships are at the core of human experience. Humans are social animals with a powerful need to relate to other people.

Belonging to a group enables people to survive physically and psychologically.

by Elia Strange

i love you

Human infants rely on others to feed and care for them, because an infant’s survival depends upon other people. They are born with an innate predisposition to look at faces, and they are also equipped with an ability to form emotional bonds with their parents or other caregivers.

Throughout life, we seek companions, friends, and lovers.

It is not enough just to be near other people; we want to have close ties to people who care about us.

Some researchers (Baumeister & Leary, 1995) proposed that the need to belong is a universal element of human nature, similar to hunger and thirst. Because social relations are so central to human life, it is not surprising that the major sources of personal distress are loneliness and social rejection.

If you feel that you always need to be in a relationship in order to feel happy, have a look at 3 types of attachments below. The chances are – your relationship with your parents reflects your relationships with others.

Attachment in children and adults

Infants become emotionally attached to the people with whom they interact most often and more lovingly. These usually include mother and father, although it can be with anyone with whom the infant has a regular contact.

This attachment in babies means that: 1) the infant responds positively to specific people, 2) feels better when they are close, and 3) seeks them out when he or she is frightened.

Mary Ainsworth and her colleagues (1978) identified 3 major styles of attachment between infants and parents:

1) Secure Attachment – when the parent is generally available and responsive to the child’s needs.

2) Avoidant attachment – when the parent is generally unresponsive, or even rejecting. Infants may initially ‘protest’ this lack of attention but eventually become ‘detached’ from the caretaker.

3) Anxious/ambivalent attachment – when the caretaker is anxious and does not respond consistently to the infant’s needs. This child may be vigilant for threats and feel anxious or angry.

Adult romantic attachments are also similar in form to the three types of infant attachment. Several studies have found that adults, like children, can be categorised as secure, avoidant, or anxious/ambivalent.

These studies showed that a majority of American adults (59%) were currently securely attached, roughly 25% were avoidant, and 11% were anxious/ambivalent.


Based on the previously mentioned research, it is identified that people belong to 3 major groups:

1) Secure adults those who are comfortable with intimacy and see themselves as worthy of receiving care and attention from others. They find it relatively easy to get close to others and seldom worry about being abandoned.

Their most important love relationship is especially happy, friendly and trusting. They tend to share ideas and feelings with a partner, and describe their partners in positive terms – as caring, fair, and affectionate, and as having good marriage.

2) Avoidant adultsbeing somewhat uncomfortable getting too close to others or trusting their romantic partners completely. They describe their most important relationship with emotional highs and lows, jealousy and fear of intimacy.

Avoidant adults tend to: 1) deny their attachment needs, 2) focus more on work than relationship, 3) place value on independence and self-reliance. They are less revealing to their partners and are more likely to engage in casual sexual encounters. Compared to secure adults, they tend to describe their parents as more demanding, critical and uncaring.

3) Anxious/ambivalent adultsseek intimacy but worry that others won’t reciprocate their love; describe their most important love relationship as involving obsession, with emotional highs and lows, and extreme sexual attraction and jealousy. They also tend to describe their parents as more intrusive and demanding, and their parents’ marriage as unhappy.

Securely attached people tend to have more satisfying, committed, close, and well-adjusted relationships than do avoidant people.

Our childhood relationships with caregivers provide us first experiences of attachment and can have important consequences for our adult relationships.

Your Past and You

From my observation, I have noticed that most people who have a strong need to be in a relationship, could be divided into the following categories:

a) You had ‘bad’ relationship with their parents, particularly in adolescence. If you can recognise yourself here, then it might mean, for example, that you had regular strong arguments with your parents, or even tried to leave home when you were a teenager.

Your need to be in a relationship gives you a feeling of security, stability, and safety. However, you need to be particularly careful when finding a new partner. The chance is very high that you will repeat the relationship style of your parents in your own newly developed relationship.

If the relationship between your parents was good overall, then there is no need to worry. If it was ‘pretty bad’, then try to look for a 'good' relationship amongst your friends and relatives and use it as an example. Try to notice their behaviour towards each other and learn their ‘methods’ and ‘secrets’ to successful relationships instead.

b) You had a ‘good’ relationship with your parents overall. Then you have a need to be in a relationship because sub-consciously you want to feel safe and secure as when you were small and protected by your parents.

Particularly if your parents had a good relationship with each other, you feel this might be the key to your own happiness too. So you may go from one relationship to another in a search of that ‘ideal’ and fulfilling relationship, and this search may continue all your life.

You need to understand that all relationships require some (or a lot of) work from both partners. What you see as an ‘ideal’, usually involves a lot of compromise, forgiveness, and caring from both parties.

Always try to focus on positive moments, whether you live with someone already, or still searching for the 'perfect one'. And bear in mind that ‘ideal’ is not perfect either, as any little nuisance or trouble in a relationship may lead to its total collapse.

c) “Your parents weren’t there for you”. This would strongly represent the anxious/ambivalent attachment that was discussed earlier.

You need to understand that your need to be in a relationship in order to be happy is coming from your own insecurity and uncertainty about your future. If you feel that your romantic relationships are never happy and fulfilling, or if you always struggle to find a suitable partner, I would strongly advise you to have a few sessions with a counsellor or a psychotherapist to help resolve your past issues (particularly with your parents).

When you talk to a counsellor (or a psychotherapist) about your problems (e.g. past issues), they will help you to understand that your current behavioural patterns are based on your past and your relationship with your parents/caregivers.

Another advice I can give you is to write down all your previous relationships with your partners and friends. In the ‘plus’ column write down all the positive things you liked about that relationship. And in the ‘minus’ column write down all the negative things regarding that relationship.

After you have done with all of your previous relationships, see if you can spot the pattern in your ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ columns. See if you have any phrases that repeat over and over. Did your previous partners and friends were ‘too demanding’ or ‘too weak’ for you?

What does it tell you about your own character?

Do you put your expectations (for an ideal partner) too high or are you drawn to this type of people for a particular reason?


I hope now you can see how your ‘past’ influenced your ‘present’ relationships. Can you see how your parents' relationship between themselves and with you repeats itself in your own present life?

Can you see that if you had caring loving parents who gave you enough freedom to explore your likes and dislikes (in your childhood and adolescence), then your present relationships with others would be reasonably happy ones, and you would feel more confident about living/being on your own as well.

On the other hand, if your parents were ‘limiting’ your freedom or ‘weren’t there for you’, then as an adult you would probably have a strong urge to be in a relationship because only then you can feel safe and secure.

Other articles you might be interested in:

How to be happy in this 'unhappy' world

6 Ways to stop your irrational thinking

How angry can you get? (Fun quizz)

7 Reasons for our unhappiness

Why am I lonely

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