Hey lovebirds. It’s Valentine season and my mind has been circling around and around, contemplating how my experiences have shaped my beliefs about how I’m supposed to conduct myself in relationships. I wanted to explore the difference between being in a healthy relationship and being in a codependent relationship.
For several years of my life, I felt if I depended on another human then I was acting codependent. This could happen to a person from any walk of life, but I feel certain is even more prevalent for people who have been through things such as trauma, abuse, and experience as a single mother.
Once a person has gone through such hardships and survival, self-sufficiency becomes key. Dependency becomes weakness. Furthermore, if you had children with a partner, separate, then enter into another relationship – some people don’t consider the new union as a family.
I asked my psychologist friends to weigh in, and here are some takeaways to consider about your relationship or entering into a new relationship.
Dr. Todd Snyder, a licensed clinical psychologist, is currently working as a productivity coach for entrepreneurs, but has an extensive history as a marriage counselor.
“The difference between relying on your partner in a healthy way versus codependency is easy to decipher. It’s simply a matter of one question – does this form of depending on one another make both you and the relationship healthier overall?”
The core of codependency goes back to addictions. Let’s say a person is an alcoholic, and it’s causing problems in life like job loss, family members bailing them out, not having money, driving drunk, etc. Then imagine their partner is picking them up, paying their bills, and covering for them. Now, it is codependent because the savior is dependent on alcohol even though they haven’t had a drop. They have shielded another person from experiencing the hardships of the world because of love. But, neither person nor the relationship is healthier.
My personal therapist and mother of three, Megan Diémé, spoke specifically to mothers.
“Obviously as mothers, the level of dependence or reliance our kids have on us is natural and changes as they get older. However, I often ask clients of their partners, ‘Do you feel that your partner is relying on you at the same level as your child?’ or ‘Do you feel that you could be away for two weeks and the household can be managed responsibly?’
“Although this level of codependence may be common, it is taking a toll on mothers and can lead to strains in your relationship, Depression, anxiety, and the concern that children will also be raised with similar expectations of their partners. What we need to strive for in our relationships is interdependence. This means both partners have a healthy balance of tangible responsibilities and are equally dependent on each other emotionally, but also have the ability and resources internally and externally from the relationship to manage their mental health.
“There is still a level of independence and freedom within the relationship to be their own person. This does not mean that everything will be 50/50. There are obviously certain times and circumstances that call for the balance to shift. Although I am referring to an intimate relationship, codependency and healthy interdependence can be translated to a variety of relationships including parent-older child/adult child, siblings, friendships, etc.” – Megan Diémé
Finally, I asked my friend and child psychologist Dr. Drew Palacio for his thoughts. He brought in the element of self-esteem which can be tarnished by some of the life events I mentioned in the intro; abuse, abandonment, trauma. A low esteem can make you overly concerned about what others are thinking about you, which is an indicator of increased likelihood for codependent relationships.
“Codependency signifies a relationship where one member, due to overt or covert deficits of self-esteem, engages in an unhealthy relationship with another because they have a need for approval. These relationships may be manipulative, coercive, abusive, and illusionary in the interpersonal reciprocity received by the ‘codependent’ member. Thus, a codependent person may aim to placate partners, ignore relational difficulties, or remain in that environment in order to satiate that need for support.”
Clearly, codependency is defined in several ways and cannot be well discerned by a mere simplistic assessment. As I read through these words, I saw both health in my love life and friendships, and honestly some concern and red flags as well. It feels good to be mindful of their warnings and tips.
But, this all started with the thought of romance and Valentine’s, didn’t it? It was an exploration of discovering it is OK to depend on another. It can be the most beautiful, rewarding thing in life if you do it right.
I just got back from my grandpa’s funeral. He and my grandmother married on February 7, 1952, 70 years ago. You know… I almost thought of going it alone. I thought about being my old self-sufficient person and not bothering my partner to take off work. I started this article, decided to ask him to be there for me, and he was steadfast and near the entire day.
I was dependent, and healthy, and he depends on me, too. I used to think love might not be all that special, it’s something most people do after all. My opinion is starting to change though, and I’ll leave you with the intro to the mushiest movie I allow myself to fangirl over, The Notebook.
“I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.” – Nicholas Sparks