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Codependency Can Mean Someone Gets Lost & The Relationship is Lopsided

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Codependency is a murky business. Codependency is always a part of every love affair. Codependency is a part of love & yet it can swallow love whole & make it disappear.

 

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The beginnings of love are so enchanting for all of us. Your partner can do no wrong, they are absolutely brilliant.

Emotional dependency can be a healthy activity & a part of a healthy relationship as long as both partners are still individuals. I went to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia which is a museum of medical history. There was a life-size cast of Chang & Eng born in 1811 with their liver joined. It was so crystal clear that Chang was the accommodating partner who developed a curvature of the spine while Eng stood tall. There was a lopsidedness in their relationship that lasted a lifetime. I read a biography & it wasn’t surprising that Chang also became an alcoholic to neutralize his unhappiness. (On a sidenote they married sisters & had 21 children).

Too much codependency is a pattern I often see repeated over & over again, that always ends up with the overly catering partner in my office crying & feeling betrayed. So how does this happen?

Let’s begin with a definition of Codependency. It’s when one person gets comfort from catering to every need of their partner & the other partner adores being on a pedestal. There is a range to codependency so it can also mean way, bigger & more problematic that one person is manipulated & controlled by the other. In both instances the one who caters or the one who is manipulated gets lost about who they are & what they want.

They lose track of themselves because there is no balance between their own needs & pleasing the partner.
They are so much in “love” it feels right to give everything or they’ve been trained or manipulated over the years to ignore themselves. This can even begin in childhood, and then the legacy continues in future relationships.

Codependency is complicated because it’s also a part of normal relationships. Codependency can be about the good parts, thank goodness because I don’t want to do the taxes, figure out how to make all the wires behind the t.v work or if I have a bad day and I really want to talk to my guy who’s been by my side more than 45 years.

So how do you know when there is a lovely amount of codependency or there is a lethal amount that will kill off a relationship?

I was a part of a group of 4 couples that cooked gourmet meals for over 15 years (I was the only woman who did not cook). I still remember a lovely evening outdoors with the four couples after a delicious meal. I don’t remember how the topic of nights away from each other came up; but I do remember how surprised I was that a couple that had been together over 25 years had never spent a night apart. Guess which couple got divorced?

I’m saying some measure of separateness, some sense of differentiation can be a good thing balanced by the lovely emotional dependence of being together. It’s not an either/or situation, both are good things that balance each other out. The yin & the yang. But if one person is standing tall & the other so curved up in their spine that they look like they are erased then there is a problem.

FIVE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER TO SORT OUT CODEPENDENCY. IS IT A PROBLEM OR A STRENGTH IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP?

The first question I would ask is: Do Both Partners have a Voice?
Second: How Lopsided is it? Is it 70/30, 80/20 or 90/10 those percentages may be in the danger zone.
Third: What’s a bearable amount of lopsided & What’s an unbearable amount of lopsided to you?
Fourth: Does one of you feel invisible? (which would be the one who caters too much) OR
Fifth: Does one of you feel bored, as if too much goes your way & you crave a more interesting relationship? (the one who has all their needs met but there is no challenge)

Things don’t have to be 50/50, that’s not what I’m saying. You have to decide what works for you.
And Don’t “want to be with you everywhere” as in the Fleetwood Mac song except in the exceptional love beginnings of relationships.

The part that is just so sad is when the one who caters too much to the more self absorbed partner is so shocked when they get dumped. They did everything right, how could this happen? Well, the self absorbed person is off looking for greener pastures because the simple truth is constantly being catered to can be massively boring.

Over & over again people stumble into the office with their pain. They are stunned because this is the last thing they expected after throwing special birthdays, bringing coffee to the bed in the a.m and spending weekends doing what the other partner wants to do. They are confused & feel completely lost without their partner by their side. They don’t know who they are because their focus has entirely been the other person.

They have to find ways to find themselves again. They participated in being erased because they found comfort in meeting all their partners’ needs. We all do kooky things for emotional comfort. It’s a hard world and everybody has to find emotional comfort as best we can. Entirely devoting all your time & energy to someone else is just one way that doesn’t work well.

So how can someone who feels lost begin to build a new world?

You have to begin to define your own wants to reduce how other focused you’ve been. You have to build your identity by paying attention to what you are curious about, what interests you? How do you want to enjoy an afternoon, just for you?

You have to learn how to be angry. Anger is a useful tool in the emotional toolbox. What is the purpose of anger?
There is a purpose & it doesn’t have to be nasty or ugly. Anger is a way to say “I’m important too.” Anger is a way to be more self protective. Anger is a way to maintain boundaries. Anger is something that deserves greater understanding of how it can be useful.

You have to shift your focus from care-taking others to a more balanced picture that includes being self protective.

You have to have the courage to find out what is meaningful to you, what is important to you; separate from anybody else. This is something everybody in a relationship needs to do. You are far more interesting when you are an individual. It’s your job to figure out how to spend your time on the planet, no one else’s.

When you abandon your responsibility to define yourself it’s a problem for you & your partner. In fact, the psychologist & author David Schnarch, in his book Passionate Marriage proposes that codependency leads to a lack of sexual intimacy. He believes that a healthy sexual relationship demands both people be individuals. So it’s important for everybody to know who they are separate from their partner.

When you are a more whole individual you bring more novelty home in who you are & what you have to offer.

Codependency gives you a false sense of comfort, because it seems certain & you know what to do. The truth is that routine & predictability only keep your fears at bay. It doesn’t mean you are safe. Relationships require attention & work.

So if sex is missing consider it a warning sign and don’t cop out of talking about it.

You have to check in & ask how things are……..Ask what’s missing? Don’t fall into pretending everything is fine because it appears that way. Think about all the hard conversations people keep to themselves because they are afraid to say the truth out loud.

** My challenge for you today is to consider how emotional dependency is a good thing for the two of you & think about whether or not you balance it with a healthy separateness. For example would you go to a movie alone that your partner isn’t interested in? Would you go to a social event because you wanted to but your partner was out of town? Do you engage in activities that are important to you whether or not they matter to your partner? Make a list of ways you are separate & ways you are together, do you have entries about both? Ask yourself if you constantly focus on your partner’s needs or do you shuttle back & forth, including both of you? The balance does not have to be 50/50 but I believe not less than 65/35 so ask yourself what is the balance that works for you.

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