Every dysfunctional romantic relationship is dysfunctional in its own way, to paraphrase famous thought. And most of these unfortunate relationship dynamics could be prevented or mended, if approached with a conscious effort and willingness to work on them.
However, psychotherapist often meets with clients at the point when they are entirely exhausted by the problems that were left to wreck the relationship day after day. We already talked about communication problems among love partners in our earlier post; we will now discuss a more multilayered, less apparent at first glance, but that much more devastating issue that occurs in some relationships – codependence (instead of a healthy interdependence).
What is a Codependent Romantic Relationship?
Codependence is a term that was originally used to explain a common type of relationship dynamics observed between addicts and their close ones, as they often enable the addiction in various ways. Similar depiction was applied to some families with a physically or mentally ill member. Nonetheless, after observing similar patterns in relationships where no addiction or illness is present as well, psychologists begun using codependence as a general notion. Codependence now describes a syndrome of behavioral, emotional, and thinking habits in relationships that are one-sided and debilitating for both man and woman involved. We will provide more detail in the following paragraphs, as well as some advice on how to deal with codependence if you recognize these patterns in your relationship.
When describing codependency from the standpoint of the codependent partner, it could be briefly summarized as a feeling of “I can’t live without him/her” in its extremes. This is a romantic notion, but in healthy relationships it is more of a metaphor describing mutual happiness and fulfillment. Nonetheless, in case of codependency, one partner literally reduces their life to the relationship, gradually depriving oneself of their interests, social contacts, hobbies, plans, needs… He or she becomes a rescuer, a supporter that sacrifices everything to make their partner happy (although, by the very definition of this kind of relationship, it never works, leaving both partners utterly disappointed and resentful). For example, you might find yourself ceasing contacts with your acquaintances and friends over the years, feeling that it was easier to do that than to withstand your wife’s silent disapproval. Or you quitted your hobbies, because they led to arguments in the relationship – you don’t go fishing anymore because you would need to be out of home for hours or days at a time, and you can’t stand the look in her eyes when you get home. You might have a number of rationalizations as to why it is the right thing to do. And we agree that a marriage or a relationship is among the most important aspects of one’s life, but there is a subtle difference between being defined solely as someone’s partner, and being a fulfilled individual in a healthy marriage or relationship.
Another especially devastating characteristic of codependent relationships is the fact that the codependent partner’s emotions and self-perception become heavily reliant on the loved one’s actions and feelings. Partners in every relationship empathize with one another, but in codependent relationships, one partner is like a leaf in a tornado of the other’s mood-swings, subtle or open criticism, and (often rather selfish) needs. If you find yourself feeling like you are not in control of how you will feel or think about yourself, but your other half has all the power over you, you might be in a codependent relationship.
How does this come to be? Most commonly, a dysfunctional family of origin sets the stage for the later codependence in adult relationships. Even though women who fall into the role of a codependent partner are more commonly mentioned in popular literature, men are equally exposed to the risk of engaging in such behavior. However, similar to many other psychological problems and dilemmas, men are often reluctant to speak up about their hardships. Nonetheless, this merely deepens a problem, endangering both partners in such relationship. The codependent partner gets drained out of their physical and mental health, ambitions and friendships, but the other partner is also robbed out of the opportunity to flourish into a healthy, strong, and independent person.
How to Help Your Relationship, Yourself and Your Partner
Continuing with the same behavioral and thinking patterns in a codependent relationship is likely to lead into a constant feeling of being constrained, resentful, and psychologically and socially impoverished. Controversially, even though the partners in such relationships tend to be extremely dependent on each other, spend most of their time together, and know everything about each other, emotional intimacy problems eventually arise due to constant frustrations on both sides. The codependent partner fears their loved one’s reactions and changes behavior to evade conflicts, never feels relaxed, dreads making mistakes, and finally ends up avoiding intimacy altogether. In the end, codependency may leave behind a wrecked marriage and family, and drained partners who did not grow as individuals during their relationship.
In order to tackle this enormously complex problem, it is of utmost importance to approach a therapist. The defining characteristics of codependent dynamics between partners make it extremely difficult to change the maladaptive patterns without an expert’s assistance.
Typically, the nature of a codependent relationship will convince the partners that nothing could be done if both don’t work on it together. Nonetheless, even if one of the partners does not want to engage in a therapy, one that does could deal with the codependency in great extent, and should not avoid asking for professional help with this endeavor.
Codependency reaches into the deepest layers of psyche, and controls the person’s profoundest fears of being abandoned, feeling unworthy, and being unloved. This is why meetings with a psychotherapist will offer a safe place to examine all those emotions and anxieties, and address them one by one, which will result in a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life and relationship for everyone involved.
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