What it Means to be in a Codependent Relationship

People often think about the word ‘addiction’ when the phrase codependent relationship comes up. And although issues with addiction can create such a relationship, the codependency dynamic can exist at any time that one person is supporting another person in an unhealthy way.

Generally speaking, the partner who is in the caretaking role is providing emotional, financial or physical support; putting someone else’s needs above their own. And the partner on the receiving end, lets them – pulls at them even, creating the space for poor boundaries and the need for the caretaking partner to feel overprotective of their loved one.

When we are in a codependent relationship, we can often recognize that what we are doing for our partner is unhealthy, but our struggle is in letting them struggle. As a result, we begin to eventually feel resentful; feeling weighed down by the responsibility, with little of our own needs being met.

Recognizing the signs of codependency is the first step; creating much needed boundaries while beginning to honour your own needs through self-care are good follow ups. Creating change in a codependent relationship can be very difficult, as the dynamic can create a strong hold and very often, professional help is required.  Codependency threatens the very nature of a healthy relationship which is our ultimate goal; one in which we feel generally satisfied and support is reciprocated.

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Giving Up or Acceptance – What’s the Difference?

In yesterday’s post we looked at the danger of complacency in relationships; today’s post features the question about the difference between giving up and acceptance.

When we are faced with an issue in our lives, I like to say that our choices are one of three – change it, accept it or leave it. Most people will attempt to change it first, and if that doesn’t occur, the process begins of exploring whether to accept it or to leave it. When this comes to the issue of complacency in relationships, there tends to be a lot of gray in that decision. Is complacency enough to leave a relationship? Some might say a definitive yes; others will look at the variables that need to be considered with such a decision such as whether or not there are children involved, the age of the kids, financial considerations, the strength of an external support system and so forth.

When we decide to stay but we have “given up,” it tends to be with resignation and underlying resentment. Feeling forever unsatisfied with our partner’s indifference, we can end up feeling trapped, lonely and pervasively sad about the relationship (hence further contributing to the complacency).

When we decide to stay but our decision is one of acceptance, it is with a different focus. There is some grief to go through, as the sense of loss to a full, healthy relationship is felt. There is a shift to self-care as the understanding grows that what you can’t get from your partner, you must give to yourself – planned outings with friends, an increase in hobbies or interests, continued quality time with the kids. There is the decision that despite the complacency, you will not shut off completely from the relationship; this may seem counterproductive, however we can lean into our own sense of values to continue to be kind.

When we decide to stay and give up, we are choosing self-defeat. When we decide to stay and accept, we are choosing self-growth. There is a big difference 🙂

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The Danger of Complacency in Relationship

Sometimes we can become complacent in our relationships; without realizing it, we can end up underappreciating our loved ones or taking our partner for granted. The honeymoon phase may be over, but rather than the relationship falling into an easy exchange of healthy bids and affection towards each other, the relationship begins to feel empty or stuck.

Knowing what causes complacency is a good place to start in trying to address it:

  1. Indifference. This one is a silent killer of relationships. Sometimes it comes from having an Avoidant Attachment Style, sometimes it comes from lacking true appreciation for the power of a healthy support system – it can also come from the tendency to lean into narcissistic traits. When one person is indifferent to the relationship, there is often very little the person on the receiving end of that indifference can do. The indifferent person must undertake some much-needed soul searching to get to the deeper layers of why they are using indifference as a way to protect themselves.
  2. Being too comfortable.  Being comfortable in a relationship is a good thing – it means we feel settled and secure. Being too comfortable means we are not giving enough thought into keeping that relationship in good working order. In order to keep complacency at bay, we need to keep reciprocity at the forefront of our minds, making sure that we continue to feed the health of the relationship by initiating time spent together, affection, words of endearment, and acts of kindness.
  3. Giving up. Sometimes when we give up in a relationship it is due to the change we wish to see but never do. It is a way of acceptance that the other person is not going to change, and that ‘giving up’ is the only thing left to do. This doesn’t always mean that the relationship ends, but rather elements of the partnership shift; sometimes the act of giving up will inadvertently feed complacency.
  4. Anger. If we use anger as a  go-to emotion, we run the risk of using it instead of trying to deal with more vulnerable emotions such as sadness, guilt or fear. Anger prevents us from truly understanding our loved one’s feelings; over time, the anger reinforces denial and defensiveness which feeds complacency.

When we understand complacency, we can begin to also see the danger it carries along with it. The goal of investment helps us to keep our relationships in a healthy place; ones in which our security and safety is being supported by a deeper, more satisfying love.

Tomorrow’s post will explore a bit more in depth the difference between giving up and acceptance in a relationship we choose to stay in.

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Should We Be ‘Friends’ With Our Children?

We live in an era where we are conscious of our children’s needs; long gone are the days of “children are to be seen and not heard.” We want our children to have a voice, we wish for them to be happy, and we desire to know them as individuals. As they age, we can be tempted to befriend our children; we love who they are becoming and the closeness we feel to them can bring us to the friendship line.

When we become friends with our children, we run the risk of:

  • creating in them a confidante. Children are not equipped to handle our marital issues or family drama and are not meant to carry the weight of adult’s problems.
  • creating in them a mediator. Children are not meant to carry messages back and forth to the other parent; it puts them in an awkward position of seeing their parents’ emotional reactions.
  • creating in them a secret keeper. This creates turmoil, inner angst, and can create long lasting effects.
  • moving towards pleasing our children instead of needing at times to say no. We may love our children and want to know them personally, but we are still their disciplinarians and their protectors – being a friend to our child automatically blurs those lines.
  • creating a parentified child. When children feel that they are taking care of you, the power differential has shifted, placing too much responsibility on someone not mature enough to handle it.

Whether they are four or forty, we will forever be in the parental role with our children. They will come to us at various times in their life and just need us to be mom or dad. And we can love, support, and be close to our children as a parent – let your friends be your friends, and let your kids be your kids; they are forever roles.

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Simple Yet Difficult Statements and Why We Need to Use Them

Why is communicating so difficult? We tend to feel very nervous when we know a conversation with a loved one is necessary; defaulting to avoidance and convincing ourselves that this issue at work or home is not important or will go away. Sometimes it is that we can’t say sorry, or we hesitate in telling others that we love them.

Statements that are simple, yet effective at strengthening relationships include:

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I love you.”
  • “Can we talk?”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “You were right.”
  • “I need…….”

Perhaps we weren’t taught to use those statements growing up and now they feel foreign, perhaps we are in a relationship that isn’t safe for us to use these statements (see yesterday’s post!), perhaps we hesitate to use them due to our own indifference to the relationship. Despite the reason, the root cause it seems, lies in our fear of vulnerability and susceptibility to rejection. Using these statements requires humility, and an inner sense that even if they are not responded to, we are strong enough to say them.

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A Reminder About Intention

How many times have we heard someone say “That wasn’t my intention.” It may come in the form of a joke that unintentionally hurt someone; or a comment that felt critical. It may be a realization when healing that someone who hurt you didn’t intentionally do so, but rather it boiled down to capacity. I often hear clients say “They didn’t know better,” or “They did the best they could with what they had.”

Intentional hurt is obvious; it’s tangible. When someone purposefully says something to sting, we feel it immediately. We know the bullies on the playground.

Unintentional hurt is often more difficult to process – we know how we feel, but we are also less inclined to say something; we may lean into excusing the behaviour because we ‘know they didn’t really mean it.’

Whether something is intentional or not, it is less about the intention and more about the effect. And if we realize that we have unintentionally hurt someone, it is our responsibility to apologize – sincerely. Saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology. Saying “I’m sorry I hurt you,” is.

And we can find our kind voice in saying to someone else, “I know it was not your intention to hurt me with that comment, but it did and I need you to know that.” You may not get the response you were hoping for (an apology), but you can reward the effort of telling someone how you feel; of recognizing your own importance.

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The Price of Indifference

Sometimes we don’t care because we are depressed. Other times, it can come from an inability to properly access feelings or from rigid thinking. It can also be created as a protective layer due to childhood emotional neglect. We see it as a side effect to addiction. In any case, what results is an air of indifference; leaving those in relationship feeling dismissed or disrespected.

What is the cost to indifference in a relationship? For the person who is indifferent – isolation. They may be able to sustain relationships, but they will become stagnant or underdeveloped, leading only to a certain level of closeness. People will love them, but will also report feeling a lack of full investment.

And for the person on the receiving end of indifference? Isolation. An underlying feeling that they can’t truly count on that person; leading eventually, to questioning the validity of the relationship. Indifference erodes the relationship in a slow and painful way.

We are much better served when our focus in on connection. When we work from the position of being invested in our relationships, through both word and action. When we recognize our shortcomings and work hard to repair them. When we decide we won’t carry the weight of that indifference and adjust accordingly.

Investment instead of indifference – a worthy goal.

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Relationship Behaviours That Are Not Cool

Being in relationship is an invested process. When we begin to examine relationship issues in therapy, I often speak about the fact that our behaviours either feed the health of the relationship, or its dysfunction. The following list are things that feed the dysfunction of the relationship and will lead to issues of mistrust, unease, and general dissatisfaction:

  • Dismissing your partner’s feelings.
  • Extreme reactions (of any kind – they lead to mixed messages and drama, both of which are harmful)
  • Love bombing – also on the extreme continuum; love bombing is all or nothing. One minute you are lavished in love, the next, you are being accused of something, mistreated or ignored.
  • Blaming your partner; for your actions, for their actions – it is the underlying and consistent tone of blame that harms the communication process.
  • Gaslighting – rewriting events to convince your partner they happened a certain way.
  • Using guilt to control; including threatening to hurt yourself.
  • Jealousy; leading to constant, unfounded accusations.

All of these behaviours exist on a continuum. The more extreme they are constitutes for emotional abuse. The same abuse principle applies if you recognize many of these behaviours in your relationship. Abusive behaviour is never okay.

Seek help. Move on if necessary. Work towards a relationship where the health of it is being fed by both partners. After all, relationships are an investment 🙂

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Understanding the Capability of Intimacy

There are times when we struggle to understand someone’s inability to be intimate; in their levels of affection, in their daily investment in the relationship, in their level of being attuned to our needs. As everything exists on a continuum, as does intimacy. Our ability to be intimate with others, to be vulnerable and open correlates directly with our level of feeling safe. If we don’t feel safe in that position, we will maneuver, avoid, step around, shut down.

The level of safety that someone has for intimacy has been formed by many factors – temperament, experiences from childhood and repeated relationship patterns all can play a role. Traumatic experiences, even in adulthood can also greatly affect our level of intimacy. When in relationship with someone it is important to remember that not everyone can be at the same level at the same time. If there is too much of a difference, or the two people become stuck, it may be time to take space, seek professional help or move on from the relationship, depending on who and what that person represents to you.

And other times, it is acceptance we strive for – knowing that the person is giving us the best of themselves, even though it might not always feel like enough. In either case, we are best served to remember that our ability to be intimate directly correlates to what feels safe. This can help soften and support the process of growth.

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It Doesn’t Stop at Marriage

Healthy relationships are about investment. In the article “23 Damn Good Pieces of Marriage Advice All Couples Need to Read” by Fatherly, we read the advice given by therapists and relationship experts as to how to keep a marriage healthy. Here are five that resonated with me:

  • “Remember your commitment. When there is a foundation of caring and love, then you can trust at all times that you will get through whatever difficulties you are facing.” -Janet Zinn, LCSW
  • “Be flexible. Unexpected events, expenses, and situations come up in relationships. If we are too rigid, we resist facing the unexpected. A couple’s ability to ‘go with the flow’ – especially when it’s dramatically different from what they expected – gives them the opportunity to learn new skills and, more importantly, get to know each other in ways they might never have known before.” – Janet Zinn, LCSW
  • “Go on date nights. It’s so important to have evenings where you don’t worry about diaper-changes, spilled popcorn, or public tantrums. Go have unencumbered fun.” – Andrea Amour (dating coach)
  • “Stay in tune with self-care. Successful couples know that they need to take actions of self-care. This affirms that it’s important to work on the relationship you have with yourself.” – Thomas Gagliano, author of ‘The Problem Was Me.’
  • “Pay attention to the little things. Small gestures carry a lot of weight, and for couples who have mutual respect, those small gestures are second-nature. A simple love note, a slightly longer hug or kiss goodbye can make your partner feel validated and appreciated.” -Dr. Fran Walfish, family psychotherapist.

When we invest in the health of the relationship by purposefully being intentional, we have created the foundation of a good marriage. It is far less about saying “I do” than it is about committing to that both in attitude and action.

To read the full article (full of great advice!): https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/damn-good-marriage-advice/

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