From the time we are old enough to walk and talk people in our lives are always asking us, what we want to be when we grow up. The world is full of 5 year olds who want to be a Doctor, Princess, Movie Star, Mom, Dad, husband, or wife. The list goes on for miles, no one says I want to be in a codependent relationship, I want to be taken for granted, and I want to put someone else before every one of my own needs until I no longer exist. Yet, this is a place where many of us will find ourselves at least once in our life.
New relationships are thrilling; they keep us up at night getting to know each other, sharing our hopes and dreams with one another. We live to see the other person happy, and hope that they will share in this desire to see us happy. All too often however, we find that this is not the case. But how can you tell when you are headed down the road to codependency in your own relationship? First you need to know what it looks like to be in a codependent relationship. Go back to the days of your childhood, and ask yourself today, what do you want out of your life? Who is the leader of your life’s focus? If you have to ask yourself what your partner wants from you, or how your actions will impact your partner then you may be headed down this slippery slope.
EXAMPLE: A friend asks you if you want to come over and hang with the guys during the big game this weekend. Do you accept the offer? Decline because your partner wouldn’t approve? Or hesitate to answer because you aren’t sure what your partner would think? Obviously, in a healthy relationship this would not be a big dilemma; sure you may want to check with your partner out of courtesy but that should not be your only thought and concern. In the beginning of a codependent relationship this desire to check in with your partner is much more indicative of a problem. You become unsure and uncomfortable about making a decision without talking to them, you don’t care about your own interests, and instead they are replaced by the NEED to ensure that your partner will not be upset because you aren’t there with them every moment. As an adult always having to ask your partner for permission to do what you enjoy is not healthy, and should be cause to start reexamining your relationship.
This is just a small example of the type of control you’ll find in a codependent relationship. The signs continue to escalate in most of these relationships. One partner is always in a position of pleasing the other, in an effort to maintain peace in the relationship. This results in one partner controlling every aspect of the relationship, either through actions or direction and the other partner falling into the shadows. Soon, both partners are unable to function as an individual and now rely on the presence of the other to appear normal.
EXAMPLE: After having a new baby the wife suffers from postpartum depression. Left untreated she finds comfort in a nightly drink, this quickly escalates to drinking throughout the day and her husband finds that he is constantly making excuses for why they can’t have friends over, or why they don’t want to have dinner with family. He is aiding her compulsive drinking, keeping it a secret and attempting to make the relationship appear normal to outsiders while at home he is merely trying to keep things under control. This caretaking is an effort to cure the situation and reduce the amount of drinking his wife does, but instead it enables the wife to continue to drink unchecked. This vicious cycle is one of quick destruction for both parties, rather than getting help for his wife, the husband has fallen into the position of caretaker and will eventually become exhausted with the situation and resentful of not only his wife, but his child, his home, and even his career.
This is a perfect example of how a codependent relationship evolves, it involves two codependent people not just one partner. The wife is drinking too much and depends on her husband to cover for her both inside and outside of the home and relationship. The home is falling to disrepair, the kids need attention, and the wife is to inebriated to function properly in her daily life. The husband having taken up the position of her caretaker begins to associate with this position so completely, that without her to care for he has lost direction and is unsure what to do with himself. He withdraws into her world and they are now trapped in a negative relationship that both are afraid to leave for fear of not being able to survive on their own.
Some of the most innocent behavior can turn into a codependent relationship, if one partner is a home body and the other is a social butterfly. There needs to be a mutual compromise for both people to participate in each other’s interests as well as the agreement that you do not have to be with each other 100% of the time. It’s when one party never goes out any more because their partner doesn’t like crowds, or the other spends every night out with her partner and his friends rather than being home enjoying some quiet down time that a problem begins to surface. Change is possible, but it will require a lot of work from both parties.
Take a look at your relationship, what do you do for your partner? What do they do for you? What do you EACH do for yourselves? This needs to be in balance. No one wants to be in a codependent relationship, it’s not the image we have of happiness that we want for ourselves, and to teach our children. Knowing the signs to look for can both prevent a codependent relationship from starting, as well as aid you in healing a relationship that has already spun out of control. Ask yourself what the last thing you did for yourself was. If you can’t think of an answer that doesn’t involve your partner then you may need to take the time to reevaluate your relationship and plan a path to healing….together!