by Marti Montoya
Only now, in mid-life and with scrappy knees from the relationship missteps, tumbles and crashes, do I count myself lucky in love. With age can come wisdom … but I’m also a counselor, privileged to be a student of human behavior. The tools of the trade are powerful and have helped my clients, and I’ve applied the tools to my own aid, helping me explore the baggage I carried into my intimate relationships – and understanding what fosters healthy love.
Uncovering our unconscious drives and habits helps us see that past experiences – and our responses to them – can repeat themselves, until we get intentional by healing past wounds and learning new ways of thinking and behaving.
In past relationships, I often found myself questioning if I should stay or go; you know, “Is this person REALLY right for me?” Looking back, I recognize my uncertainty about committing was because I was having relationships for the wrong reasons. I was codependent and let my unconscious fear of abandonment, and drive to feel needed, choose in matters of love. Codependence isn’t always the cause of failed relationships but I’ve found that the codependent way of thinking and behaving leads to dysfunction which can be mild to severe, depending on more factors than I can cover here.
In a nutshell, codependence can get us into trouble because it involves catering to another’s needs at the dismissal or under-valuing of our own. Being codependent, we’re “other-focused” which, until we’re aware of this tendency, will draw us to our polar opposite: people who are “self-focused”. The relationship is one-sided, where the “other-focused” partner tends to the other’s unmet emotional/psychological/daily living needs without mutual consideration – for obvious reasons – from the “self-focused.” We create a dependency with our intense focus on fulfilling a need in the other. It’s like job security for relationships. It’s validating to feel needed but it’s only a temporary fix to a long-standing problem of low self-esteem and fear of abandonment. Bringing these to our conscious awareness is the first step in healing.
The codependent relationship is ripe for conflict. When we attempt to get our emotional needs met or seek more equality, we run into defiance and dissent from our partner. If we try to set boundaries, we may feel guilty and selfish. Conflict is healthy if we’re skilled at navigating it but typically a codependent lacks such skills and is overwhelmed with feelings of hurt and anger while the partner may be defensive – or offensive – and entitled.
Codependent behavior can look so much like being a helpful, thoughtful, caring person but the codependent person will give until they have no more to give, then feel hurt from lack of recognition, appreciation, or reciprocity. There is also a need to control and we may learn to get needs met through manipulation and passive-aggressive behaviors. Wondering if you’re codependent? Click here to find out more.