In my office I meet a lot of wonderful people. They often come to me because they are in a destructive relationship they aren’t able to get out of. Although they know pretty well that the relationship is not good for them. The combination of their nonfunctional behavior with partner’s destructive patterns create toxic codependent relationship.
Codependency doesn’t only happen in a romantic relationship. It can occur in any type of a relationship, including family, work, friendship, community etc. Although in this article I write from women’s perspective men find themselves in this type of relationships as well.
Why are we attracted to the codependent relationships?
Destructive behavior is learned. Typically we find ourselves in dysfunctional relationships because we come from dysfunctional family, where we haven’t recited enough nurturing.
In general people who are raised in a dysfunctional family environment are used to chaos, unpredictability, fear and drama. Being in such a love relationship feels right to them because of familiarity. As adults we are compelled to recreate similar situation throughout our lives, in an unconscious drive to finally change the outcome and brake the pattern.
As a child you were unsuccessfully trying to please your parents in a hope that they will finally give you the love you need. In a codependent relationship you are a slave to the same dynamic. You are willing to wait, hope, plead, change and help just to maybe someday get a love form your unloving, avoidant, addicted, uncaring and inappropriate partner. The more he refuses you the more you want him.
Even though often we see the real problem in our relationships, we still look for excuses and “reasonable” explanations. An often occurrence is blaming his past for all the problems. We are determined to save him from his own demons through our love. Sex is one of the primary ways of trying to bringing him back to health.
We stick to the same partner because we want to prove we are not like “the others” and we would never leave him. We are much more in love with his potential “what it could be” then we are in touch with the real situation.
Also we can be addicted to the emotional pain that is a part of the codependent relationship. Consequently we find a good man who treats us well boring.
Codependent dynamic in relationship
A common theme in these types of relationships is that the beginnings feel like we have known each other for a long time. We fall head over heels in love with each other and everything is starting to happen really fast. “On my first date with him, I felt it in my guts, I met a soul mate. I did everything to stay with him, even loose myself in the end.”
There are different dynamics in relationships that reflect codependency:
- One of them is passive-controlling behavior were one person is submissive, can’t make decisions and tries to please their partner. Other is controlling, makes all the decisions and tries to change their partner.
- Some find themselves in a role of a rescuer. That is especially evident in relationships where one of them is addicted because the rescuer makes everything instead of the partner. Partner can remain irresponsible, negligent and addicted. At the same time the rescuer focuses so much on other person and avoids taking responsibility for her own actions. We avoid our own pain, emptiness, fear and anger. We use our relationship as a drug to do that.
- Another occurrence is that both partners are having people pleasing behavior. It feels like they are glue to one another in a great harmony without any fights in relationship. Both of them can’t really function without the other. There is no place for individuality.
Bringing focus back to yourself
The way of breaking the cycle that started in our childhood is bringing the awareness back to ourselves. It takes a long time before new, healthier ways of living feel right instead of forced. Despite all the chaos in this types of relationship they can be pretty hart to end untill we don’t take time and do some serious work. There are some areas which are often problematic amongst people who find themselves in codependent relationships. Focusing on them play the important role in psychotherapy:
- Fear of being alone: Our fear of ending up alone is so big that we rather stay in codependent relationship. If the relationship somehow ends we tend to find another partner right away or even before the old relationship ends. The fear of being without a man can be so severe we experience some of the same symptoms as during drug withdrawal. “When the relationship is over I can’t sleep, I start to shake and feel cold. I get depresses and neglect my kids. The fear of these symptoms makes me rather stay in the relationship that I know is not right for me.”
- Deep feelings of emptiness: We stick to the relationship just to avoid the emptiness we feel deep inside. We believe that when we will be with someone the emptiness will go away and the life will have the meaning again. Sadly most people in codependent relationships feel alone and empty most of the time.
- Low self-esteem: We don’t see our self as someone worth of love, success and happiness. We believe that we need to earn love. Perfectionism goes often hand in hand with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you can’t feel bad about yourself. On the other hand everything that is not perfect brings feelings of guilt and feels like people will stop loving us.
- Poor boundaries: We don’t develop the feeling for our own as well as for other person’s boundaries. We can’t say no just as well as we have trouble hearing the other person’s boundaries. Setting boundaries would put the relationship at risk or it would mean that it needs to end.
- Control helps us feel safe and secure due to the little control we’ve had during our childhood. Some mistaken control as being helpful. With controlling others close to us we are not facing our own pain. We can also find ourselves on the opposite side of the spectrum and we are the controlled one. Which can feel safe at first but soon turns to drama. Self-blame also give us feeling of the control. By blaming ourselves we have a hope that we will eventually figure out what we are doing wrong, correct it and stop the pain.
- Care-taking: We put others ahead of ourselves. This can be the role we have learned while emotionally and/or physically taking care of incompetent parent. We lean towards people pleasing behavior but at the same time can be offended if somebody doesn’t want our help. This is the only way we know how to show love and hope for love in return.
- Obsessions: The root of obsession in fear. Fear of being alone, unlovable, unworthy, ignored or destroyed. We hope that the man whom we are obsessed with, will take care of our fears. We are occupied with thinking about him or our own mistakes in the relationship.
- Denial: We are in denial about the problematic relationship and our own responsibility for it. What all unhealthy families have in common is their inability to discuss root problems. Which is reoccurring in romantic relationship.
- Intimacy: We have trouble being in healthy intimate relationship. We fear true intimacy because we feel that if person would truly know us they would reject us. We take control of that through controlling how close we get to others.