It’s not just how we communicate our love but how we respond in our relationships. Our choices to act in response to negative behaviors have often been attributed to the fault of our partners and feelings that they need our help or rescue.
After recently experiencing a break-up, I have spent some time re-engaging with my network, and multiple encouraging voices recommended reading the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. This book would be the tipping point in making sense of my most recent experience, and I now recognized a blind spot.
My journey, however, began with an episode of the ManTalks Podcast with Connor Beaton. His guest was Terri Cole, and they were discussing boundaries and her new book, Boundary Boss. My ex made a comment about me not having healthy boundaries when we were in the defensiveness and self-justifications stage of our behavior after a long-awaited trip back home and her introduction to the family.
COVID dating could’ve been a challenge last year, but online dating sites, Facetime, and UberEATS changed what was possible when getting to know someone. After years of researching aspects of relationships and attending events to address fears and insecurity, navigating a changing landscape of what we could do and where we could go was simply part of the journey. Camping trips to Baker Lake replaced air travel. The living room was the dance floor, and conversations about what we liked to do in “normal” times, like attend live concerts or sporting events, were all we could do to reveal what our typical actions were like to the other.
Discussing a study I’d come across of 36 Questions to Bring You Closer Together, and reading Devotions for Dating Couples, was a promising start. We found our routine to develop a new normal in which we could discuss our values, recognize our differences, and develop healthy communication in our relationship. Still, I knew nothing about codependency.
What is codependency? In Codependent No More, Melody says, “the heart of the definition and recovery lies not in theother person-no matter how much we believe it does. It lies in ourselves, in the ways we have let other people’s behavior affect us and in the ways we try to affect them.”
Terri Cole defined it as “overly invested in the feeling states, the decisions, the circumstances, and the outcomes of the people in your life, to the detriment of your internal peace, maybe your financial well-being, maybe your physical well-being.”
Processing the change in my relationship status, I continued to journal and practice meditation and read books like Thinking, Fast and Slow and There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, and started training for a half marathon, which eventually was canceled because of the Delta variant of COVID-19. I have had many conversations with my trusted circle and am to a point where I feel like it’s time to change my focus and move on. Some action has to come from these conversations because I keep coming back to points of codependency.
Suppose you’re not clear or familiar with something like codependency. How could you be aware of negative codependent behaviors and the commonly believed good intentions behind them that may negatively impact relationships?
Being dependable is a good thing in relationships, but like all things, there is a balance. How much do you give to your partner, and how much do your wants and needs remain a priority?
After finishing Codependent No More, I can already feel that this will be a relationship game-changer. Like, Awaken the Giant Within, The Laws of Human Nature, Mindset, Flow, Messengers, You Are the Placebo, and Thinking, Fast and Slow. This feels like an immediate significant resource to share.
What I didn’t know or recognize
When I realized that I’d demonstrated some aspects of behaviors I was learning about, it wasn’t about my ex anymore. I had demonstrated codependent behaviors too. Outside of The Five Love Languages, when it comes to developing relationships or dealing with negative habits and experiences, I hadn’t read much on other areas of relationships that could use some development.
This experience has been a struggle to admit that I felt insecure. I’d questioned my confidence when we were together, and behaviors I thought were dependable were enabling. To process my codependent behavior and understand my contribution to that behavior in my relationships, I begin by journaling,
What am I dealing with?
I’m afraid to offend with __.
I don’t want ___.
I have a boundary ___.
Gary Chapman wrote in The Five Love Languages that “our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of a reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.”
There is a process to progressing a relationship, and my deal breaker came down to timing and that process. Interestingly, something I read in Codependent No More was how “a second, more common denominator seemed to be unwritten, silent rules that usually develop in the immediate family and set the pace for relationships,” in the chapter defining codependency. A “common thread runs through all stories of codependency. It involves our responses and reactions to people around us.” How have I demonstrated this, and where have I experienced this became questions I wanted to answer.
On the website of Medical News Today, it says, “It is important to know the difference between depending on another person — which can be a positive and desirable trait — and codependency, which is harmful.”
Some of the examples they share of codependent behaviors describe both dependable and codependent behaviors. For example, “Two people rely on each other for support and love. Both find value in the relationship.” That is good.
What’s not good? When “a person who relies upon a codependent does not learn how to have an equal, two-sided relationship and often comes to rely upon another person’s sacrifices and neediness.”
Going Forward to a Healthier Relationship
I record parts of podcasts using the Voice Memos app on my iPhone as a “note-taking” process and revisit helpful content and practical recommendations that would be beneficial to review from time to time. Relistening to the ManTalks Podcast a few times, it started to make more sense, paired with reading about codependency. Terri Cole points out in describing codependency, “The major driving factor is that it’s a covert or overt bid for control. Because we don’t want you making that terrible mistake. Because we know you’re better than that. Because we don’t want you going back with that stupid girlfriend or stupid boyfriend because they were terrible for you. Because we know you could be doing more with your life. Because we know that you’d be better for you if you were healthy, so you need to lose 20 pounds. It’s the fear.” From there, I began my next step forward.
At times, it may feel frightening, the uncertainty that follows when you become vulnerable and start doing this type of work. But in the words of Albert E.N. Gray, and one of my favorite speeches, The Common Denominator of Success, “it is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one. If you doubt me, just think of all the things you are willing to go without in order to avoid doing the things you don’t like to do.”
I don’t need someone to blame. I realize I would give my opinion unsolicited, telling my ex what she could or should do at work when she was promoted into a management position. I recognized “a need” for the communication and management skills I’d been reading about. Wrong. I don’t know what she needed to experience in her journey.
I can benefit from learning to recognize behaviors that can introduce the Karpman Drama Triangle and say more of, “‘ Sounds like you’re having a problem. What do you need from me?'” Better yet, “‘I’m sorry you’re having that problem.’ Then, let it go. We don’t have to fix it.”
Another I also found helpful to re-read were the words of Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., in her book Mindset, which says, “the belief that partners have the potential for change should not be confused with the belief that the partner will change. The partner has to want to change, commit to change, and take concrete actions toward change.”
It’s time for forgiveness and letting people move on to be who they are. We can alleviate some of the burdens we tend to carry, and I’m learning that life is too short to carry unnecessary weight. We are responsible for ourselves.
What are you asking me to do?
Codependency doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. Working together is the best way for humans to survive and thrive in society. I believe learning about codependency is doing work to develop a healthier relationship with our partners and ourselves. I’m enjoying learning about these behaviors I don’t know about and realize I’m not alone in the struggle of being human. The difficulties I’m experiencing, someone else has experienced to some degree, and someone else will share some similarities. But after one book and a few online searches, where do I go from here?
The website of Mental Health America. A resource rich nonprofit, “commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal.”
”Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through which co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns. Treatment also focuses on helping patients getting in touch with feelings that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to allow them to experience their full range of feelings again.” Mental Health America website
There’s fear, painful history, and emotional baggage that we carry and leave unaddressed, and I’m curious about how that impacts our behavior and motivation. It will benefit me to be mindful of what I learned from Melody and a handout she references in Codependent No More about moving on; “releasing, or detaching from, a person or problem in love. We mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically disengage ourselves from unhealthy (and frequently painful) entanglement with another person’s life and responsibilities, and from problems we cannot solve.”
Mental Health America suggests “the first step in changing unhealthy behavior is to understand it.” That journey will vary for me than it will for you reading this. Since each experience is different, what we need won’t exactly be the same. Writing this has been part of my process to understand. If you can, take a minute to reach out to a member of your network you have a healthy relationship with or do an online search for a resource or podcast that you can privately engage with and begin your journey to understand any aspect of a relationship you struggle with. Sometimes, it’s not just timing.
P.S. I recorded this video for my virtual family reunion this year and wanted to share it with you. Be well.
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