Is Your Relationship a Codependent One?
I recently had a conversation about codependency with one of my clients. He brought it up and asked me directly about it, which some guys do from time to time. Sometimes men recognize that the dynamics in their relationship isn’t getting the results that they want and they own up to the fact that life brings whatever you work at and they want to work at not living in an anxious type of relationship. This particular dude had a friend tell him about his own codependent nature and apparently described it as emotionally manipulative and even emotionally abusive. There’s a lot of ground to cover in that regard and the shortest answer that I can give is that yes, it is often those things in at least small degrees. But here’s a basic breakdown of what I told him.
- Codependency is a term that made it’s origins in addiction. The codependent is the person that enables that addict or alcoholic and thereby keeps them sick. They’re super easy to spot. They’re the ones driving the alcoholic to the liquor store or the meth addict to their drug deal while passing themselves off as some kind of hero when they are in fact keeping the other person addicted and sick.
- The definition of this set of behaviors has been expanded to people that are emotionally enmeshed. Basically, you have two people where at least one of them in the relationship is the appointed caretaker and they hold themselves responsible for how their partner feels, behaves and the like.
- The emotional enmeshment results in at least one partner constantly trying to “fix” the other. They get extremely uncomfortable when their partner is unhappy in any way and goes to work on providing a remedy. They want their partner to feel better so that they can feel better.
- It creates an unhealthy dynamic where partners become overly responsible for how one another feels and acts. The caretaking partner thereby can become subversively controlling because they want their partner to feel and act certain ways all the time in order to manage their own discomfort. This is where the manipulation and potential abuse comes in.
Negative Emotions are Normal
We have put too much value in feeling good and happy and too many people believe that something is wrong if we’re not feeling good or happy all the time. Even the medical and pharmaceutical industries support this bullshit when in reality, life brings us many reasons to feel sad, anxious or any other variety of uncomfortable feelings. We need to deal with the discomfort. We need to process it, understand it, work through it and grow along the way.
While it certainly can be a nice gesture to try and cheer our partners up, we might actually be doing them a disservice by denying them of their need to work through difficult things. Life is tough and it brings many challenges and we don’t do anyone any favors by going to great lengths to avoid this inconvenient fact. But this is where I will continue to make the argument that we want our partners to feel better primarily so that we can feel better. Too many of us have been taught the lie that if our partner experiences any type of unhappiness than we have failed them. Unfortunately, too many people seriously avoid anything uncomfortable when discomfort can often be healthy.
Fix yourself first. Learn to live with discomfort. Learn how to let go of the lie that your partner is supposed to be happy all of the time. Stop trying to fix them when they need to work through some things. You’re probably not a therapist and even if you are, it’s not appropriate to be your partner’s therapist. Speaking from experience, good therapists don’t fix people, good therapists help people fix themselves. If a therapist doesn’t empower an individual to be their own hero then they probably have their priorities wrong.
The fact is, enmeshed couples feed off of each other. It becomes a two-person feedback loop. Ask yourself, honestly, how do you feel if you come home to your partner and how do you feel if you find that they are distant, withdrawn or otherwise unhappy? Do you suddenly feel worried that it’s your fault? Do you feel worried that you did something wrong? Do you feel an immediate need to fix them? If this describes you then you’re likely enmeshed and possibly codependent.
Codependent relationships tend to be chaotic. Couples struggle to find long term stability which makes the relationship less durable. Frustration and resentment tends to build and the good things that hold two people together slowly depletes. In short, these relationships don’t tend to last in the long run. Emotional enmeshment has to be resolved, so here are some tips to get you started in a better direction:
- Communicate with your partner about this. Talk to them, bring it to the table and create some honest dialogue. If you’re afraid to have an honest conversation about it, you may have a bigger problem.
- Learn to be uncomfortable with uncomfortable emotions. It’s both okay and even healthy to experience sadness or express frustration. Sometimes we need to work through things.
- Adopt some mantras to reinforce the new belief system that you’re trying to adopt. Repeat something to yourself over and over. Here are a few examples: “It’s not about me,” “I don’t have to fix everything,” “It’s okay to be not okay,” etc.
- Confront the bullshit beliefs about what it means to be a good partner. Good partners support and empower their partners instead of fixing them. Say to yourself out loud, “that’s bullshit!”
- Learn to accept the idea that it’s normal for life to bring sadness, hardship and discomfort. Learn how to take it in stride and build your personal resilience by managing your beliefs and expectations.
- Approach your partner with empathy and compassion when they are down instead of a fixing type of approach.
Ultimately, strong, secure and distinguished men don’t run from discomfort. They run towards it. Get involved in your own personal men’s work. Maybe you need to confront your fears, maybe you need to experience your own rite of passage. The journey is difficult but a life of confidence, happiness and freedom are waiting for those that put in the work.