Codependence is when two or more people fulfill a need for each other that strengthens a dysfunction between them.
You’ll often see this kind of dynamic between several different types of people:
- The Rescuer and the Addict
- The People-Pleaser and the Abuser
- The Highly Sensitive and the Insensitive
There are many more types and they all have a complimentary nature to them. Recognizing them is usually fairly easy as well. Just look for someone who seems to give a lot to the relationship but never receives enough. Toxic relationships such as this almost always build resentment because the giver becomes tired of always trying to satisfy the needs of the taker.
It’s the perfect imbalance of love and energy.
No matter what type of codependent relationship it is, the theme is usually the same: The dysfunctional behavior of one person supports the dysfunctional behavior of another.
Important: If you are hurting someone you care about due to codependent behaviors, and you’d like to change that about yourself, sign up for the life-changing Healed Being program over at healedbeing.com).
If you are currently in a relationship with someone who is codependent and is hurtful to you, listen to my podcast Love and Abuse to help you navigate through the difficulties.
In this article, I’ll be writing about codependency and the effect it has on our relationships, our love, and all the connections we have in our life. This is in regard to any relationship, not just romantic.
Codependency is something that has played a huge role in my family but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized there was a term for it. Once I learned about it, I realized that codependency, in a nutshell, allows dysfunction to exist and continue.
In fact, because of codependency, the addict will stay addicted, the clingy person will stay clingy, the jealous person will stay jealous, and so on. It is a creepy shadow that lurks underneath everyday interactions. It typically stays unspoken, or at least, not expressed clearly enough so that changes are made.
There’s a lot of passive aggression, silent anger, and sadness that can embody codependence. And almost always, it erodes a relationship to the point where trust and love are completely obliterated and all that’s left is fear and anxiety.
Codependency is a self-perpetuating machine. In other words it continues indefinitely until something changes. Similar to perpetual motion in physics, this kind of movement cannot continue indefinitely unless it is drip-fed energy of some sort. Like when you stand a bicycle upside-down, you can spin the front wheel and it may seem to spin freely. However because of friction, the wheel will eventually slow and come to a stop even though it appears to be spinning without resistance.
The people involved in a codependent relationship get their needs met over and over again but the person that is mostly the giver can get tired and soon not have enough energy left to give to the other person, let alone to themselves. From that point on the relationship gets stale and painful and requires more energy to sustain itself.
Like spinning the bicycle wheel when it slows, a codependent person will give more of their own energy to the other person depleting themselves of life and happiness. The relationship will continue to “stay in motion” at the expense of one or both people’s energy and will do so until one of them breaks the pattern.
As time goes on more friction develops and eventually the players in the game will simply wear out to the point where they just… exist. The meaning that was once felt goes away and soon one or both people will have no more energy left to give. Or if they can muster it up, the energy they put toward the relationship is fueled by fear, anger, sadness, or a number of other emotions. The relationship becomes self-sustaining because it’s consistently being fed bad energy. It’s unsatisfying and causes resentment to build day after day.
By the time you’re done reading this article, you’ll know exactly what codependence is, if you’re inadvertently co-creating it with anyone in your life, and what steps you can take to start changing things for the better. If you already know you’re in a codependent relationship then you probably know how challenging it is to stop the behavior that keeps codependency alive.
As much as you may want someone else to stop or change what they’re doing, it’s possible your actions allow what they’re doing to continue. In other words, you could very well be creating a situation where the other person is more free to be the way you don’t want them to be. Your behavior, as much as you think it’s helping, could be what’s giving them a free pass to continue doing what they’re doing.
This isn’t always the way, of course. You could have a highly-functional, inter-dependent relationship and still have dysfunction show up in one or both of you. But there is sometimes a not-so-obvious system working in the background covertly allowing, and even precipitating that dysfunction. It’s this system that both people feed into that keeps the wheel spinning.
If that sounds a tad convoluted, not to worry as we’ll be diving into all of this in a moment.
As I was preparing to write this article, I came to the realization that I might have actually perpetuated a codependent relationship with my wife. This codependency became one of the components of the breakdown of our marriage.
In previous articles and episodes of The Overwhelmed Brain, I talk about how I would get triggered by my wife’s emotional eating. Her reaching for junk food triggered fear and sadness in me because I wanted her to come to me for emotional support, not food.
Now that I think back on my marriage, I remember that when I would get triggered she would also get triggered, then feel guilty about making me feel bad. Though perhaps she felt guilty about eating junk food or something else entirely.
When she felt guilty, she typically ate more junk food to help herself not feel so bad. In a sense, my emotional reactions were triggering her emotional reactions and facilitating her addiction.
This is a codependent relationship!
The same thing can be said about my mom and stepfather. When they lived together, there were so many things that were dysfunctional and it only got worse and worse over time. I remember when I was living in Oregon, she would call me and tell me about the times she had to shovel the snow in the driveway because he would be too drunk and too busy sending money to scammers on the internet.
He never had to lift a finger in fact, because she cooked and cleaned, shoveled the snow, and even went to the store for him to pick up cigarettes and alcohol. She did everything he didn’t want to do merely to “keep the peace”. In other words, enable.
Enabling is when you create a situation where a dysfunctional behavior can continue. His dysfunction was his drinking addiction. If he drank, he would be too drunk to do anything around the house, so my mom felt like she had to do it. If he passed out and wouldn’t wake up, she would call an ambulance and he would go to the hospital.
If he ran out of money, she would give him more so that he could continue to be helpless and needy. The more needy he was, the more my mom would do to fulfill those needs. She did it reluctantly because she didn’t want him to lose his temper. But because she did it at all, she was creating a situation that would absolutely never change.
She could not stand to be around him and just wanted him to leave. But why would he leave when all he has to do is sit around and stay helpless while she cared for him? The codependency of this situation is that she got her needs met by keeping his needs met. Her needs were to keep the peace in the home so that she wouldn’t be any more fearful of him than she already was.
Instead of leaving herself, she realized that keeping the peace in this way was a solution, even though she absolutely hated the situation she was in. This is what happens in codependent relationships a lot: One of you dislikes or hates the situation you are in, but you continue to feed into the codependence to assure that it never ends.
The relationship gets worse and worse, and will continue to erode as long as one person is feeding into it, and the other is receiving. The tricky part for my mom was that she thought that by being passively or actively aggressive towards him, that he would eventually see that he was hurting her and change his behavior. But in the end, all it did was make him want to drink more.
Whenever he would say something to her in his drunken state, she would retort with a hurtful or angry comment hoping he’d see how upset she was and pull back. But when you’re in a self-perpetuating machine like this, the cycle of give and take actually feeds into the negativity and dysfunction and gives it more power to continue existing.
For instance, the last I heard he had left the state and broken almost all of his dependencies on the family, but was contemplating moving back which is triggering a lot of the same fears in the family as when he lived near them previously.
My family is afraid that he’ll move back and ruin the more peaceful environment his leaving created. After he left, several members of my family changed. Some were depressed and now they aren’t. My mom was angry and scared all the time, and now she’s not.
His absence created a wave of peace that rippled through the entire family. But if he moves back, and the family has not learned to honor their personal boundaries, the situation may end up reverting back to the way it was. He will act helpless and needy, and the family may give in to his needs.
This may not happen too. For example, my mom is very adamant about him never returning to live with her, but some other member of the family may choose to put him up. Which means if he’s around, then he will probably attend family functions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, causing a divide in the family. Some will attend, others won’t.
It’s incredible how one person can change the entire dynamic of a family isn’t it? One person can be a vortex of misery, and their presence can shape the experience and emotions of so many people.
This is what happens in many codependent relationships. It’s not just the the two people in the codependency, it’s everyone else that’s affected both directly and indirectly. When my mom held a codependent relationship with my stepfather, no one wanted to come over her house. This saddened my mom, because she wanted to see members of the family, but they couldn’t stand being around my stepfather.
Codependence can destroy relationships; It is the slow and subtle erosion of love and family. When he left my mom, the codependence was still around for about a month and a half, and he wasn’t even there!
That’s how strong it is. The person doesn’t even have to be there for it to exist. But, absence does make the heart grow stronger in the case of codependence. Once one of the players is gone, new thought starts to seep in slowly but surely.
These new thoughts are the building blocks to what could be a brighter, and much different future for the once codependent person, assuming he or she has learned from the past and built stronger personal boundaries. Because without those two things, the dysfunction could start all over again, either with the same person as before, or someone entirely different.
Codependence is when two or more people develop a dependency on each other to support a dysfunctional relationship. An example is when someone fulfills the needs of an alcoholic that support his or her alcoholism.
In other words, the alcoholic runs out of money and can’t work because of their condition, so the spouse gets a job and supports the alcoholic. This makes it easier for the alcoholic to stay unemployed, continue drinking, and rely on their spouse to take up the slack.
The person who takes up the slack so that the other person can continue to be unhealthy in some way is called an enabler. An enabler does just that: Enables. Or to be more descriptive, an enabler makes it a lot easier for the dysfunction to exist and persist. There is a positive definition for enabling too, but in this article, we’re focused on the not so positive aspect of enabling.
An example of an enabling behavior could be where an alcoholic throws a glass which smashes into hundreds of sharp fragments. Because the other person knows the alcoholic will eventually get hurt from the sharp glass, they clean it up for them.
This essentially keeps any accountability for the alcoholic’s actions at a minimum. The less accountable the alcoholic is, at least in this example, the more he or she is enabled to continue to behave badly or even worse next time.
I’m not only picking on alcoholics, so I apologize if you are recovering and aren’t like the person I am describing. I’m referring to anyone who behaves in an unhealthy way, whether they’re an alcoholic, drug addict, abuser, or even the less prevalent ones like those who are obsessive, jealous, or clingy and needy.
I’ll be mentioning alcoholics every now and again because that is who I have the most personal history and experience with. But, back to my point.
As long as someone is there to clean up the mess of the dysfunctional person, the dysfunctional person is getting all of his or her needs met, and not being made accountable for their behavior. Every time something similar happens in the future, and someone else is there to help or clean up the mess, the dysfunction continues.
I’m seeing patterns in my stepfather that are really odd now that he lives alone a thousand miles away. He’s sending messages to different members of my family with all kinds of fabricated stories, looking for someone to take care of him. He is not used to living alone and is learning that no one is around to clean up after him and bail him out of everyday challenges.
I think he soon realized after he moved out that with no one would be there to pay the bills and shield him from his own foolish behavior, he doesn’t know how to survive. He’s been in a codependent relationship with my mom for about 44 years, which equates to my entire life.
She used to protect him, make excuses for him, clean up his messes, and do everything else just because it wouldn’t get done otherwise. Everything she did for him gave him more time to get lazy and drink.
One of the most common types of codependent relationships is when one person has an addiction or some sort of unhealthy need or behavior, and the other has a need to be a supporter or savior in a way. This arrangement is typically one-sided. In other words, both people have needs, but one gets them fulfilled, while the other does not.
The needs of the most unhealthy and needy person usually get met time and time again, whereas the needs of the rescuer are not. In the beginning of this kind of relationship, this dynamic actually works well. A rescuer thinks he or she can nurture the one who needs rescuing. And the one getting rescued loves the attention, and may even find that being nurtured encourages them to clean up and become healthy again.
It’s very common for the beginning of this type of relationship to work wonderful for both people because they feel as if they found the perfect match. However, what the rescuer ends up finding out is that a person cannot be rescued most of the time.
Or if the unhealthy behavior such as addiction or neediness does stop, it may come out in other, destructive ways. This is important to understand, because what appears to be ideal at first, can turn sour pretty quickly. A helper / rescuer type of person expects the other person with dysfunction to improve over time. But what can and does happen often is that the dysfunctional person gets used to the treatment he or she is getting, and gets more comfortable believing it’s going to stay this way.
I don’t know if “comfortable” is the right word, but they do get used to being treated with extra care because of their dysfunction. When a dysfunctional person gets comfortable, and the rescuer continues rescuing, there are three scenarios that could result. Let’s talk about those next.
The three scenarios that could result from an ongoing codependent relationship are:
1. The person with the unhealthy behavior, habits or addiction can improve, and he or she can start healing because there is a support structure in place. This can be beneficial, as the roles of each person can balance out so that the helper can be more neutral and the person healing can become more empowered. This result is favorable and has a chance to help the relationship grow and evolve.
2. The person with the unhealthy behavior might stay where they are knowing that they no longer have to take care of many of their typical daily activities. They may take full advantage of the opportunity they have, relying on someone else to take care of everything that they would normally have to do on their own. Someone like this will not change, and will probably get deeper into their dysfunction over time.
3. The person with the unhealthy behavior stops the unhealthy behavior but replaces it with something else. Typically, bad habits and addictions have to do with suppressing emotional pain of some sort, so once one crutch is removed, another takes its place. I’ve seen drug addicts turn into sex addicts, or smokers turn into emotional eaters. This situation will have the same result as number 2, because there is no evolution of the situation as it will become a similar or worse situation than before.And the biggest problem with this scenario is that if the person with the unhealthy behavior changes because someone else wants them to change, they may never get to self-empowerment, which means they will likely just find another addiction or unhealthy behavior.
Self-empowerment is the fastest, longest-lasting method of eradicating dysfunction. In other words when someone with an addiction has finally had enough, and is sick of being sick, self-empowerment has a chance to kick in and become the impetus for change.
It’s like when you’re a teenager and you think you know how the world works and don’t like to do what you’re told. I realize not all teenagers are like this, but you know what I mean. A teenager might get advice to say, stay out of that abandoned building, but that’s basically an invitation for them to go inside that building as fast as possible.
The fact that someone else wanted them to stop gave them the motivation to do it. Whereas, if they were never told to stay out, and maybe someone mentioned in front of them casually, “I would never go in that building, the floors could give way and I’d end up breaking my neck!” the teenager might contemplate the risks of going making it possible for them to come to a decision on their own about what to do or not to do.
This is self-empowerment, coming up with the decision on what to do on your own, without necessarily being told what to do.
But when it comes to the three results I just mentioned, the unfortunate truth is that most codependent relationships will never see result number 1, where the unhealthy behavior stops and the relationship, and the individuals inside that relationship, evolve and grow. Instead what you’ll normally see or be a part of yourself is number 2 or 3, because the system feeds itself. Person A gives what Person B wants, and vice versa. It’s a dysfunctional balance that creates a well-oiled machine, even though it’s an unhealthy balance.
But as long as one’s needs are met and the other is willing to fulfill those needs, the system is flawless. The dysfunction continues and even strengthens. And, the codependent helper continues to give and support the other person more and more as needed. It becomes draining for the helper, but it seems like they’re helping and the other person is improving, so they keep doing it.
It’s sad. I watched this for years and years with my mom. In my 20s, she was annoyed, frustrated and embarrassed by my stepfather’s behavior. In my 30s, she hated and wanted him gone. In my 40s, her hatred grew so strong she would blatantly say it to his face. Yet, because she always thought he would change, she chose not to do anything to help herself out of the situation.
And that’s such an important key point I want you to take away from this discussion today. I mean, we’re going to talk about some steps to help you break from codependency in a moment, but this one important point must be taken to heart:
Accept the fact that the other person will never improve or change who he or she is.
This doesn’t mean it’s absolutely true, but you have to come to an acceptance of this in order to make decisions from a place of clarity and confidence. One of the main things codependents do is expect the other person to get better. More times than not, they don’t get better, and sometimes get worse.
Again, not always the case, but it’s a matter of accepting that it will be that way. Because when you come to accept this as a fact, you will take action instead of play the waiting game.
What kind of action? You will make it clear to the other person what you want and don’t want in your life. If their unhealthy behavior is something you don’t want to be around for months or years to come, then you make a choice. You come to terms with the fact that the other person will never change, so that you can change what you need for yourself.
Now, what if the other person does change? Great! If that happens, ask them why they did it. Did they do it for you? Or, did they do it because of some sort of self-realization and self-empowerment? Where the motivation comes from is important.
Self-empowering decisions typically stick more than decisions made because of someone else. In other words, you are more likely to stay with someone who changes from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. When change is requested of you, it’s harder to comply. When it springs up from inside you, that is powerful.
I’m not just referring to the helpers in a codependent relationships, I’m referring to those with unhealthy behaviors as well – the other side of the codependent coin. If you have a dysfunction, whether it’s an addiction or other unhealthy behavior, you can also help your relationship by telling your partner not to accommodate you. I realize this is a tall order, especially if you have grown comfortable to someone always supporting you. But if there’s any part of you that wants to change, it has to begin with self-initiated changes.
A conscious decision to make changes means making hard decisions that will make your life better in some way.
I remember when I was 17. I was using a power tool to drill through some metal. As a teenager, I took a lot of risks. One of those risks was not wearing safety goggles while using power tools. As I’m sure you might expect, a tiny sliver of metal shot into my eye and landed on my eyeball. I nearly flipped out.
I tried getting it out by crying but that didn’t work. I didn’t want to rub my eyes because that could bury it further. So I made a very difficult decision (it’s a little strange but I’ll share it anyway): I asked my older sister if she would remove it in a way that I couldn’t possibly interfere. What I mean is that she needed to make sure I couldn’t resist.
What I did was lay on my back and told her to sit on my chest and lock my arms under her legs so I couldn’t move. By putting all of her weight on my arms, it would be extremely difficult for me to resist. The reason I wanted her to lock me down like that is because I wanted her to stick a Q-Tip on my eyeball and I knew that I would respond by being trying to stop her. I knew myself well enough to know that I would resist her attempts at removing this sliver. If I couldn’t move my arms however, I wouldn’t be able to stop her.
It worked! She put her full weight on my arms, forced my eye open with one hand, and used a Q-Tip with the other one to move the sliver. The metal sliver stuck to the Q-Tip and she was able to extract it from my eye.
I remember resisting a little bit but it didn’t matter. I was relieved when she was done and so grateful she agreed to do it. Looking back now it was probably stupid to use a Q-Tip but it worked and my eyes still work great today.
The reason I tell you this story is because sometimes when we want to change for the better, we have to rely on someone else to help us get there by making hard choices for ourselves. I knew I would resist someone poking me in the eye, so I got an agreement from my sister that she would not submit to my resistance no matter what.
In fact, I think I even told her, “No matter what I say, don’t stop.” And she didn’t!
I was fortunate to have someone in my life agree to do something for me that would improve my life, even against my own defenses.
If you are addicted to a substance or exhibiting unhealthy behaviors and want to improve yourself, see if you can get the support from the people around you to help you change, even if you resist. It may be the hardest thing for them to agree to, but if they do it, it could be what improves your life or even saves it.
Let’s conclude this article with some practical steps you can take to start releasing yourself from a codependent relationship.
Codependency is like adding gasoline to a fire. The fire rages on, never getting extinguished because someone is always there to make sure to douse the flames with more fuel as needed.
Codependency is also typically weighted heavily to favor one person over the other. There is one who is much more needy and helpless than the other. These two states are usually prolonged by the person who wants to help, and will usually help more and more not knowing they are getting nowhere. And because there is an unequal balance in the relationship, or the lack of a fair give and take, resentment builds in the helper – and helplessness builds in the person with unhealthy behavior.
But there is hope!
There are steps both of you can take to start releasing the grasp that codependency can sometimes have. Truthfully however, it’s very likely that only the helper will want to be free of their role as the person in need (the “taker”) has usually grown much too fond of being supported.
Think about it this way: If you woke up every morning to a full body massage, your meals served wherever and whenever you wanted them, and got all your desires met, would you want to give that up?
I’m not saying it’s like that for the dependent person, but giving something like that up can be just as difficult because it’s the way of life to which you get accustomed.
When I was on unemployment many years ago, I remembered how hard it was to look for work because I was already getting paid. But I was smart enough to know that it would end, so I sought and found work as soon as possible. But not everyone does that. Some people will take advantage of the free ride as long as it’s available which makes codependence one of the hardest types of situations to break out of.
So what can you do if you’re in a codependent relationship?
Here are some suggestions:
- Figure out how you contribute to a bad situation to keep it “bad”. Just our existence in any relationship influences that relationship.
When someone in your life is needy in any way, or needs help more often than not, are you really being helpful by giving them tools they need to help themselves? Or are you giving them a band-aid each time to allow their neediness to continue?
I have a friend that asks for money from everyone he knows so I knew it was only a matter of time before he asked me. When he approached me, I realized if I gave him money he would ask me again and again from this point forward. So I made the hard choice and said “no” to him, telling him that our relationship was too important to put money in between us.He was at first surprised I said no, because it was, after all, it’s “only five dollars!” But I think he was okay with it after I told him I didn’t want any weird feelings between us.
I said “no”, to stop any type of dependency that might have developed had I said “yes” instead. It was a tough moment but I knew it was for the better. It was for the greater good of our relationship (as dramatic as that sounds).
- Remember that codependence does not end until you do something completely different than what you’re already doing.
Most people in a codependent relationship will do more of what they’re already doing, thinking that it will help the situation. But what it does is only increase the threshold of toleration.
If the helper does more for the needy person, the needy person will see that more of their needs are covered, allowing them to stay in that needy place. That’s just how it works. After all, when you learn that all you need to do to get your needs met is to stay needy, there’s no reason to change!
The idea is to sometimes do the opposite of what you think will work in a situation. If you’re a helper, and you help the needy person be less accountable by taking up his or her slack or giving them a proverbial band-aid whenever they need one, you are only exacerbating the situation and prolonging the codependency.
If however you give them a tool to help themselves, they may reluctantly use it, or even be repelled by it. It’s sort of like giving an alcoholic the number to Alcoholic’s Anonymous instead of another drink. It could go either way… they may call the number or they may be very upset at you for not giving in to their needs. But if they do use the tool you hand them, they may be on their way to healing.
You do have to be careful here. A needy person can be highly dependent on a helper to the point that if anything changes, he or she will react aggressively. Which leads us to number 3.
- Prepare your escape plan if you feel too buried in the codependency or live in fear.
I realize that most of the suggestions I’ve given you in this article are geared toward the helper, but that’s usually the person that can step into empowerment first. The needy one has a much harder time because of what they’ve become accustomed to which is why the helper really can’t help them most of the time.
The needy one is used to getting bailed out, not taking responsibility, and not being accountable so that makes it nearly impossible to help them. It’s almost like taking the bottle away from the baby. The baby wants what it wants.
The codependent’s needs can be so strong that it will feel like you are taking a big chunk of their life away when you stop drip-feeding them your helpfulness. But if you know or live with a full-grown adult that is capable of taking care of him or herself and they rely on you for most of all of their needs, you will eventually get burnt out and crash anyway. And if you don’t crash, you may end up living a dull existence hoping things will change one day.
This is the common, flawed thinking that many people stuck in a codependent relationship hold on to: Someday the other person will change.
It’s true that someday they could change. But it doesn’t mean you have to stick around until it happens. I’m not saying to leave the situation necessarily but I am saying that it’s a good idea to start considering an escape plan. Start doing some “What if?”s to visualize scenarios like “What if this person never changes? What will I do?” or “What if this person doesn’t change by December 10th? Should I end the relationship?”
Start asking the ‘What ifs’ and play out the scenarios that unfold in your head. This will get you into forward thinking mode where you can start taking some sort of action towards a resolution and way out of the codependency.
Your way out could be by having an enlightening conversation of how tired you have become and that if things don’t change you’ll have to leave. This kind of up-front talk will bring realizations to the forefront and let everyone involved know that this codependence needs to end one way or another.
And there’s nothing wrong with leaving a situation and returning, assuming everyone has grown and healed from an event. When my wife started to leave when we first met, it threw me off and I suddenly knew I either had to grow and heal or I’d lose her. I didn’t know she was serious until her actions proved how serious she was. For you, it might take packing a suitcase or having a conversation like you’ve never had before – that’s if you even want to leave.
I’m sure there are codependent relationships that exist where both people like the arrangement. If that’s the case and you both enjoy your situation, then I guess there’s nothing you need to change. Just be aware if that scenario is fairly recent (and you haven’t been with each other long) you’re less likely to see issues just yet. Typically, codependent situations that last for years build resentment on only one side so check in and make sure what’s true for you.
That’s why I like the ‘What if?’ game. When you visualize “what if?”, you figure out how you’d respond in the future instead of focusing on what you hope will change now.
- And finally, remember that tough love can be the most powerful, rewarding, and sometimes difficult and painful healing tool you can use.
You know what tough love is right? It’s when you do something for someone’s own good because you love them enough to know that even if they hate you for what you’re doing, it will help them to have a better life.
That’s a hard pill to swallow I realize. The other person may not necessarily hate you, but it’s possible they could. Tough love is when you know what needs to be done with someone, and you do it, knowing they may resent you for it in the moment. It could take weeks or years for them to forgive you or not be upset with you anymore, but if their life got better as a result, then you are giving them the most unconditional love you could possibly give.
Taking a step towards tough love means that you love the other person enough to want them to be happy even if they are mad at you. It means you want the best for them even if what’s best for them doesn’t include you.Tough love is about giving them the tools they need to grow and heal whether you stay connected with them or not.
I remember when I was a child, I did something my biological father didn’t like. He took off his belt and told me that this was going to hurt him more than it hurt me. Then he whipped it against my backside several times causing me to cry in pain.
His belt came off only twice in my life but I guarantee you whatever I did to get that discipline in the first place, I never did again. In the moment I hated him. But the next day, I was fine. I learned what not to do. I’m not promoting corporal punishment or child abuse here but I am emphasizing the power of tough love. The disciplinary steps my father took may not be agreeable to many people, but they were a form of tough love that emphasize my point clearly. I didn’t like him or the punishment at the time, but later I loved him. And I stayed out of trouble.
What tough love does is create accountability. It shows the consequences of one’s actions. In fact, tough love is really just honest love, and the most compassionate kind of love you can show to another human being. If you can show so much compassion that you risk the other person hating you when you have nothing but their well being in mind, it’s practically self-sacrifice. That’s a bold statement to make but to think of someone else’s health and well being at the expense of losing them as someone close, and to take the steps that could very well lead them to a better life, is a sacrifice in some ways because most of us want to be loved. Or at least liked, especially by those we love.
And the only caveat to tough love is not knowing whether what we choose to do for someone else is even the right thing to do for them. Sometimes we think we know best, but sometimes we don’t. So when you get in a situation where you’re not sure what to do, just remove yourself from the equation altogether.
As long as you don’t play a role in the codependency, the other person will either find someone else, or have to learn to be resourceful. So whether you actually take action to get them help in some way, or take no action and simply don’t be part of the codependent process, you’re still showing them a form of love and support. But this type of love, where you remove yourself from the equation, can actually lead to healing and growth.
In this article I talked about how codependence is a two-way street. Typically one person has more needs than the other and almost always it’s a dysfunctional way to live because one person is a source of energy and the other is the zapper of that energy. The problems start when the energy source, or the helper, has little left to give so they become a shell, running on empty and no longer able to fulfill the needs of the zapper.
In the beginning of the relationship, the energy source enjoys helping the energy zapper but the zapper gives back by fulfilling the need of the source who enjoys helping people. But for how long does someone want to help someone else who experiences the same problems day after day?
I had a friend that complained about the same things every day. He ignored all the suggestions I gave him and continued to keep complaining about his problems. By participating in conversations with him, I was fulfilling his needs. This was more of a dependent situation, where he came to depend on me as someone he could vent to but never listen to.
This can be draining. To hear someone tell you the same problems over and over again, without them ever taking bold steps to change their life can grow old. I thought my advice was great but he didn’t change his behavior. It is possible my advice was terrible. But either way I saw no massive steps taken on his part to make any changes. All he really wanted was for someone to hear him complain.
There are people that enjoy when others complain. And when my friend finds someone that likes to hear those complaints, the codependent relationship will form and they’ll get along great. At least in the beginning.
The key to a codependent relationship is the inequality of give and take. If you give and give and all they do is take, it is unhealthy and will usually grow old fast. I’m not referring to caretaker scenarios where there are different responsibilities and expectations. I’m talking about functional people that can make choices autonomously. People who can get by in the world without too much assistance.
If you are in a relationship where both of you can give equally, there’s usually a good chance that the relationship can grow, evolve and thrive.
Remember, codependence isn’t only about helping someone out while they’re down and out, it could also be one person submitting to any need of another when they don’t really want to, but do so in hopes the other person will change.
Hoping someone will change is okay, but for how long? My advice is to set a deadline in your head and stick to it. Hoping or waiting for someone to change typically grows tiresome, and you may need to get out of the situation until they feel empowered to change on their own.
If they do change on their own, then think carefully about the “what ifs” before getting back into the situation because those “what ifs” will help you paint a picture of what will or could be, and how you’ll handle it. And remember to think about the “what ifs” about being out of the situation permanently too. After all, what if you decide not to go back… is there a chance that you could be happier?
I don’t want to break up any friendships or romantic relationships, I just want you to live with the least amount of stress possible and create the life you truly want and deserve.
In every relationship I’ve ever had, there’s been an imbalance of dependence on one another. I enjoyed when the helper supported me and my neediness, I’ll admit it! It’s a hard pattern to break, especially when you don’t know it’s a problem.
Codependence is the subtle erosion of love and connection. It’s the process of degradation that, while you’re in it, you won’t be able to see the long-term effects. If however you are observant, you can tell where the situation will eventually lead. And knowing where it’s going to end up may help you take action before you are stuck in a situation that seems impossible to escape.
I’m not saying all codependent relationships are terrible, but they aren’t exactly ideal. Take notice where you are taking the slack up for someone else or where they are taking it up for you. You could prevent the erosion and resentment that builds and start rebuilding a solid foundation once again.