One of the most painful moments for a codependent is when he or she realizes that a relationship is not going to work out as imagined. Facing the end of a relationship is stressful for most people, and it is normal and natural to do whatever we can to keep a relationship going. But a codependent (and particularly one who is also a love addict) will typically go above and beyond what most people will do to help a relationship succeed, giving far more effort, time, energy, attention, and other resources than their partner does.
They often end up feeling angry, resentful, exhausted, lonely, and bitter. Sometimes they become martyrs, complaining about how much they’ve done and how little they are loved, appreciated, or getting in return. And every now and then they will do really desperate things to try to control the outcome.
When the relationship finally fails, they are overwhelmed with grief and guilt, and may spend a great deal of time obsessing about what they could or should have done differently. Sometimes they beg their partners to try again, or begin seducing them back with loving words or actions, or by being sexual or helpless. All of these behaviors are desperate attempts to get things to work in their favor.
Here are some of the things I’ve done to try to keep a relationship from ending:
- Begged or pleaded.
- Became inconsolable.
- Threatened my partner’s future by saying things such as “you’ll be sorry”; “you’re making a terrible mistake”; “you’re going to regret this”; and “you’ll never find anyone like me.”
- Tried to make my partner feel responsible for and guilty about my future by saying things such as “I’ll never be able to love again”; “I’ll never be happy again”; “I don’t know how I’ll go on”; “What will I do without you?”
- Became depressed (once I even became suicidal).
- Came up with things we could do differently, over and over again, so the relationship became on-again, off-again rather than ending with dignity/
- Refused to speak up for what I wanted in the relationship and instead allowed my partner to make the decision about whether the relationship was going to work.
- Became seductive in the hopes that sex could keep things going.
- Said I was pregnant when I was not in the hopes that a pregnancy could keep things going (I planned to say I had a miscarriage later).
- Kept myself financially dependent on my partner so I could not leave the relationship.
It’s humiliating to admit that I’ve done these things. And it’s very important in recovery to take a hard and honest look at our behavior so we have a hope of stopping the madness.
The reasons for being this out of control are completely understandable.
Codependents have an overdeveloped belief in their own power to produce results in other people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. This is one of the fundamental symptoms of codependency.
In all fairness, this “belief” isn’t always conscious. It originates in (where else?) childhood experiences, where we came to believe that we had the power to make our parents happy, angry, sad, or ashamed because of our behavior.
Did you ever hear your parents say something like “you’re making me so angry” or “you’re making us look bad” or anything else that might have given you the impression that your behavior or even your very being had the ability to change the feelings, behavior, or opinions of other people? I got messages like that frequently, and often not explicitly, but implied.
My behavior in church, school, or public places would make my parents proud or embarrassed. My compliance with the rules of our religion had the ability to save my entire family or ruin everything for eternity.
Without realizing it, I grew up subconsciously believing that I had a great deal of power over others. All I had to do was be good and do the right thing, and everyone would be happy, loving, and stay together forever. Sounds simple enough, right?
Many codependents also have abandonment issues, having been neglected or abused in childhood. When the fear of relationship abandonment creeps up, they will do anything to keep it intact, even if the relationship itself isn’t very fulfilling.
Anything at all is better than being alone, or so we tell ourselves. This is where love addiction and codependency begin to overlap. Love addiction is a subset of codependency where the need to be in a relationship takes on addictive characteristics.
Codependents lack healthy inner boundaries. The inner boundary contains us, allowing us to share our reality appropriately. It allows us to consider whether our words, tone, manner, intensity, intention, and content are appropriate.
When our inner boundary is too rigid we hold things inside and don’t share at all. We have a wall up and nothing can get out. When our inner boundary is too loose or nonexistent, we spew on others, giving far more than they need or want, often causing harm.
When the other person in a relationship fails to respond to our needs, treats us disrespectfully, ignores us, is dishonest or hides themselves from us, cannot or will not be open and vulnerable with us, blames us for their problems, will not be responsible for their behavior, or simply tells us they are no longer interested in a relationship, the best thing to do is accept the truth of that person’s words and actions and do things that show care and concern for our self-esteem. Developing healthy self-esteem is the first action toward recovery for a codependent regardless of their relationship’s status.
When someone in recovery talks about self-love, it takes a while before the words develop into more than just a concept. Here is what has worked for me to bring the idea of self-love into practice:
Take a moment and see yourself as you were when you were a child, maybe 3 or 4 years old. See that little child standing in front of you. See how small he or she is, how sweet and innocent. This child has curiosity, energy, enthusiasm, ideas. He or she has fears, pain, anger, shame. He or she feels love, joy, excitement, passion.
If he or she could talk to you, what would he or she say? What would he or she like to do? What does he or she need?
Find the child within and pay attention. Give him or her what he or she wanted so badly when he or she was actually little. Take off the mask and cape you’ve been wearing trying to save a relationship and tend to your inner child. Isn’t it time that someone finally loves him or her?