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We were born dependent. First, we were one with our mother in her womb. Then birth separated us from her. We had to start breathing on our own. As we grow up, we learn to move on our own, to feed ourselves, to make our own decisions and live our own destiny. Little by little, we are learning autonomy however we still long for the primordial desire of fusion with our own mother. Our parents did the best they could but they passed onto us their own deficiencies so we arrive to adulthood in a state of incompleteness. Love acts as a powerful spell because we feel incomplete and we are desperately looking for a better half to fill our void.
Falling in love is the subconscious drive towards completeness. Without this incentive, most of us will simply not have the courage to work on our shadows (mostly transgenerational). This is why intimate relationships are so difficult but also so rewarding. Shadow, more than light, is the foundation for the powerful attraction between lovers. Because we are all so afraid to change, nature gave us the perk of sex to incentivize us towards evolution. Nature gave us the ability to experience the ecstasy of integration at a physical level so that we may want to experience it at an emotional, mental and spiritual level.
I re-read recently the story of Orpheus. He was a demi-God, a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion. Even he could not bear the loss of his wife Eurydice. After he failed to retrieve her from the kingdom of Hades, he wandered randomly as a hermit and inconsolable, he fell prey to the Thracian Maenads. Romantic love is by far the most fulfilling experience here on earth, but it is also the most fragile. It is dependent on the free will of another human being because without genuine reciprocity, it is not a relationship. Even when both lovers are connected, many external events or people may disrupt their passion: parents, status or financial issues, visa issues, ex partners or children, illness. When it is not something external, even if they love each other very much, they may face incompatibilities that they may be unable to solve such as a different attachment style, power struggles, ineffective communication, different vision for life or preferences, or children conflict for recomposed families. And even when everything aligns, death may take away one of the lovers leaving the other one in utter despair.
Until we are able to love ourselves and experience autonomy, we are limited to be in codependent relationships. These relationships will still help us to grow and develop but a great deal of suffering is typically associated with them. The great attraction between the lovers is proportional to their own lack and incompleteness. These relationships have amazing potential as the partners commit to grow and to do their inner work. But they will feel miserable if they resist their own expansion. They both need to realize their own incompleteness with humility, and support each other personal growth.
From my personal experience, I would like to describe the characteristics of such relationships.
At the base of the dysfunction is always the lack of SELF-LOVE. Because we do not love ourselves, we feel dependent on our romantic partner to experience love. This weak sense of self will manifest in the following forms:
- Inability or unwillingness to give space
Even the most compatible partners will have some areas where they diverge. They may not like the same type of food, enjoy different set of activities or may want spend time with different people. People who are insecure will interpret mistakenly the unwillingness to join in an activity as a sign that they are unlovable so they will put pressure on the partner to stick together even if this means that one of them will miss out on something important for him/her. This will build resentment on both sides. Other times, we may not be in an emotional state to provide adequate support to our loved one. In this case, it is best to recommend that they see a good friend or a therapist. Unfortunately, the partner will interpret this as rejection or abandonment. Of course, giving space should be more the exception than the rule otherwise there may not be enough compatibility to hold the relationship together. At the same time, it is natural for conflicting needs to arise in the course of a relationship; so giving space to each others to meet these needs separately will release considerable pressure.
We all have weaknesses so we cannot be trusted in all areas. If you do not trust your partner to take the garbage out every Monday night because he is often distracted, then it is fine to give him a gentle reminder because history has proven that he is likely to forget. However, if we cannot trust our partner in aspects that are fundamental to us in the relationship, we should either work on our trust issues or exit the relationship. Without this underlying trust, there cannot be a relationship. Here are some examples of what could be a deal breaker for a couple but it varies from relationship to relationship and I highly recommend that the lovers discuss them clearly before fully committing to each other: sexual infidelity, emotional infidelity, physical or emotional abuse, circumcision of the children, caring for aging parents or stepchildren, providing financial support, regular sexual intercourse, emotional intimacy & affection. What may be a deal breaker for one couple may be insignificant for another so communication is key. The first step however is to know your own boundaries and love yourself enough not to violate them, even if this means letting go of the relationship. We can only trust our partner if we can trust ourselves.
- Projecting a false persona
Because we believe we are unlovable, we create a false persona in order to get that love we are desperately starving for. This however is a recipe for disaster. This is very common with men. Where they are in the courting mode, they perform lots of actions that they would simply not do in an established relationship: offering thoughtful gifts, organizing breathtaking dates, spending more money than they can afford on their beloved, being ultra gentle and considerate. Then, once their object of desire gets attached to their false persona, they relax and a less attractive personality surfaces. Inevitably, the lady feels duped and this is not a healthy foundation for a relationship. Being yourself from the start will limit the number of dates you may be able to get however what is important is the quality of the relationship and not the quantity. Here are some examples of not so innocent white lies. We may pretend we like some activities or food we dislike, or we exaggerate our wealth, success or sexual performance. It is just a question of time for your mate to know you intimately. If she or he fell in love with a false persona, she or he will surely leave once she or he discovers your true self because this is not what she or he signed up for. Ensure to only display behaviors or attentions in your courting phase that are sustainable over the long run not to disappoint your loved one down the road.
- Over reliance on the relationship for important needs
A mistake that many men providers do after getting married is to rely solely on their wife to organize their social life while all their energy is focused on work. If for any reason, their wife leaves them or even dies; they are left alone or completely unable to take care of themselves emotionally. The same applies for financial needs if one partner gets used to a certain lifestyle with the inability to earn money on their own. Too much dependency creates insecurity and a tendency to compromise oneself for the benefit of the relationship because we feel incapable of sustaining ourselves outside the relationship. It is healthy to be attached to someone special and it is natural to grieve when this person disappears from our life but we need to know that we have the ability, resourcefulness and the resilience to bounce back given enough time to heal. This certainty takes self-love. Unfortunately, life is unpredictable and tragedy can strike inadvertently. A certain level of dependency is healthy in a relationship so that both partners can focus on their strengths however not to a point where a person is unable to function at all without their other half. Where there is too much dependency, breakups end up being much more difficult than necessary and the abandoned partner may become revengeful and obsessed with terrible consequences.
- Fixing the other person
People with lower self-esteem may feel ashamed about who they are but do not have the strength to face it. It is less dreadful to keep focusing on other people’s flaws and keep fixing them. As they focus on their partner’s weaknesses, they get distracted so that they may not see their own flaws. They resent aspects of themselves but their ego cannot admit it. So they keep projecting their deficiencies onto others. They find compliant tormented souls that are well too aware of their imperfection and actually enjoy the constant reproaches because this reminds them of their early abusive family environment where they were repeatedly put down. Constant nagging is a relationship killer. We have to put at least ten times more pressure on ourselves for positive change than our partner. Let us inspire them with our own example. And when we share constructive feedback, it is best to address it vulnerably in the first person (i.e. I feel unloved and taken for granted when you make plans without including me)
- Constant self-promotion
People who believe something is wrong with them have an ego that needs to hide and repress their perceived imperfections at any cost. They do not believe their value can speak for itself so they use every opportunity to express how good they are, how much they are doing for the other person, how successful they are, how much money they have, how educated they are, how good of a parent they are, how good of a cook they are, etc… When you are certain of your own value, you are happy just being and there is no need for self-advocacy. And if people are unable to see your value unless you are claiming it, you may have an inflated sense of self or it may be time to renew your circle of friends.
In the second category of characteristics of codependent relationships, we do not trust the universe to bring someone even more special after we complete the healing of a painful breakup. So we resort to manipulation to keep our partner chained to us at any cost and there are many forms of CONTROL we can exercise:
If we keep denigrating or criticizing our partner, it will lower their self-esteem. They will lose their self-confidence and they will not believe that anyone else will be able to love and appreciate them. They should just be comforted that we stick around for them. This is one of the favorite tools used by narcissists. The recipient of such abuse needs to remember that if there is genuine love & attraction, there is mutuality so one partner is not entitled to feel superior. It is likely that the two partners are replaying the abuse of their childhood whether as a victim or a perpetrator, which are two sides of the same coin.
This is one of the indications of possessive love. While it is natural to have sensible expectations on one’s partner, jealousy is the irrational fear of losing the object of love of which we have become dependent. So we need to limit them (as well as their well-being and personal growth) when we should be the ones working on our limited beliefs and insecurities. We forbid them to interact or even to appreciate beauty from people of the opposite gender. We punish them emotionally through stonewalling, anger or withdrawing affection when our jealousy is triggered.
- Power play and emotional blackmail
Every partner in a relationship typically has assets that are desired by their significant other. It may be money, beauty, sex, fame or skills. It is natural for lovers to benefit each other as long as giving comes from the heart. Manipulation comes from our transactional mind. This is the type of actions that the transactional mind will take. We purchase a nice bag for our wife before we ask her to go to a wild bachelor party in Las Vegas with our best friend. We give her a nice massage to get sex afterwards. We buy her beautiful flowers because she is suspecting that we are having an affair with a colleague. We let our husband have sex with us so that he will stop stonewalling us. It is best to express one’s needs and concerns directly instead of resorting to manipulation. When the relationship stops feeling fair, we can communicate about it in a vulnerable way rather than punishing them without any explanation. They will probably not understand, and it will make things worse. When we do something in a transactional way, it would feel off from our partner’s perspective. She or he would feel objectified and then resentful. We will then feel unloved, confused or rejected, not understanding why our partner is always dissatisfied. It is a no win situation.
- Peer pressure
We are wired to accept as truth what the majority thinks. A manipulator will often draw family members, colleagues or friends that are already loyal to them to prove a point and show they are right. Someone who is sincere will be patient with their loved ones and use logic to share their perspective, or draw from experts’ neutral opinions. For this reason, a couple should be weary to live with family or community members especially if they will automatically side with one party in case of a conflict.
A good relationship takes maturity, experience and SELF-AWARENESS. Here are some of the difficulties that couples may face unintentionally because of their lack of wisdom and personal development
Our intimate partner is our closest mirror. As such, we often interact with the person in the mirror, which is ourselves, instead of our lover. If we make a list of what annoys us in our partner, we will find undoubtedly aspects of us that we have repressed and judged severely. A lot of the attraction we feel for our partner comes from the fact that they express naturally what we have repressed in us. Unfortunately, instead of bringing these aspects back to the conscious mind for positive manifestation, we irrevocably repress or shame these aspects in them, reproducing in them our own fragmentation. Never forget that your intimate partner is for the most part your repressed self, and as such they have invaluable lessons to share with you if you can pay close attention.
- Needs’ conflict
We may have a tendency to impose our needs over our partner’s needs or on the opposite, put their needs before our own. Both approaches are not sustainable. People can only repress their important needs for so long. First, it takes a commitment for spouses to understand their important needs and communicate them clearly to each other. Then they should creatively think on how to meet all of their needs creatively. Partners are intimately connected so dissatisfaction in one will immediately surface in the relationship to impact the other. By helping your significant other to get their genuine needs met, you are helping yourself to enjoy a more harmonious relationship. And an affectionate relationship will dramatically improve your quality of life and personal happiness.
- Double standards
“Do as I say but not as I do” is the opposite of positive inspiration. It does not work with children and works even less with our partners. In a relationship, double standards can be allowed and will not build resentment only if both partners are consciously aware of them, and it feels fair to them. There are some double standards that may be customary, such as a woman waxing but not her husband. It may be accepted for one spouse not to contribute in cleaning the household if they are the one that brings in all the income. All these agreements have to be made consciously and not assumed because this is the way we were raised. There are some other double standards that may be more problematic. In recomposed families, one spouse may want a lot of focus and attention on his/her own children while feeling very uneasy around his/her partner’s children. They may want to be the center of attention of his/her partner while providing little care for him/her. Or they may want all of their social time to be spent with his/her friends and not their significant other’s comrades. This is the fastest way to lose credibility. The Golden Rule of treating others as oneself is found in many religions and cultures for a reason.
- Idealization followed by demonization
This is unfortunately common to so many relationships. At the beginning of a relationship, we can only see the positive in our beloved but give it a couple of years, and we can only see the negative. Then the break-up happens, and we make them literal monsters. People do not change that much and chances are that the person we adored is the same one that we now detest. We just applied a different filter. We shifted from the awareness of our own inner greatness revealed by this person to the projection of our own ugliness. The person you love is just as imperfect as you are. If you were with them, it means they were your match for the time being so demonizing them is nothing different than criticizing yourself. It is best to acknowledge with humility and truth their qualities and shortcomings, and realize that they have a lot to say about you too. Let all feelings of disappointment, anger, sadness and betrayal run inside of you because this is important for your healing, but once these emotions have run their course, strive for objectivity and truth. Forgive them in order to find peace within yourself.
Expectation is the other relationship killer. As an example, we have had a long day and we expect our spouse to take care of us when we come home. It is likely that your spouse will have had the same hard day and has the same expectation. This inevitably will lead to a dispute. We always need to come back to the relationship with the intent of giving. If we are unable and we need to receive, let’s express it authentically and vulnerably. Let your partner have the freedom to not support you if they are too drained and not in the right state of mind to do it. As a general rule, you should have 10 times more expectations of yourself than your partner. This will help you receive with gratitude all the little things they do to improve your life.
It is now easy to see why these types of relationships are the source of so much struggle and suffering. Love feels like a curse. Our loved one drives us insane but we cannot live without them. We are so afraid to be abandoned, or of their emotional reactions that we make a lot of compromises that hurt our personal integrity. As life’s pressures increase with children, financial & professional challenges, or illness, the dysfunctions in the relationship appear even more clearly. The relationship acts as a magnifying glass for our traumas, and our own shortcomings. The only solution is to be introspective, evolve, improve and grow in self-love and self-awareness. Then we will be able to transform our relationship or attract a new one that feels good.
3 thoughts on “Moving from a dysfunctional codependent relationship to a conscious one – Part I”
This is a great look at codependent relationships. Thank you!
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WE SPEND OUR LIVES LEARNING THIS. No gum drops or rose petals.