Melodie Beattie brought the concept of codependence to the forefront of our consciousness in the 1980’s with her bestseller “Codependent No More.” Codependent relationships may be defined as a type of dysfunctional relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency, the most common theme is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and identity. Although it is not always immediately obvious how the co-dependent in the relationship is also getting his or her needs met, there is some perceived secondary gain at stake which makes it difficult to seek to change or leave the relationship.
At the other end of the spectrum is the outright abusive relationship, which may involve physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or verbal harm or some combination of all of these. The use of power and control is more overt and may leave marks that have to be “explained away” when noticed by others.
It takes an average of seven times for someone to leave an abusive relationship, not because the person necessarily “wants” to stay, but feels they “should” stay. The codependent or abuse victim may believe her partner or she herself “cannot survive” without being in that relationship. A key relationship principle that can help change this destructive dance is: “If something is not good for both of us in the relationship, then it is not good for either of us.” In other words, for an interaction to build a healthy relationship, it must benefit both partners in the long run. If the only person benefitting is the one in control, ultimately he too will lose out on the true intimacy of a mutually balanced partnership. True intimacy can never be built in an atmosphere of fear and powerlessness. Allowing someone to treat us in an abusive or controlling manner also allows that person to be the worst version of himself, which never brings the peace and fulfillment that being our best self brings. Selfishness only leads to greater unhappiness, and relationships based on inequality can never be truly satisfying and deeply intimate. Intimacy only grows in an atmosphere of safety and trust.
Some signs that you may be in an unequal relationship include the following:
Feelings of uneasiness or fear about your partner’s requests or reactions
Feelings of being suffocated, trapped, controlled
Avoiding conflicts due to fear of repercussions
Filtering or withholding thoughts and emotions from your partner
Feeling manipulated when your partner treats you nicely; wondering “what does he want in return?”
Fearing criticism or rejection over the way you handled something
Avoiding being alone with your partner
Allowing your mood to be dictated by my partner’s mood: “I can’t be ok unless you’re ok”
Not feeling free to make plans with friends or spend money without permission
The choices we make in intimate relationships are ideally guided by a desire to express love and kindness towards our partner, rather than out of fear of consequences should we somehow “get it wrong.” Just as in a graceful dance, partners take turns leading and following, supporting and being supported. One partner should not be the only one moving her feet to avoid being stepped on. Both partners take turns moving their feet to participate in the dance of the relationship.
If you are concerned you may be in a codependent or abusive relationship, reach out for help. The moment we value ourselves enough to request support we begin to change the dynamic of that relationship in a positive direction!