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The Relationship Tipping Point…

July 14, 2013

From Independence To Codependence

Most of us have some healthy relationships where we act and treat each other like independent, autonomous beings.  These are the relationships with no hidden agendas, no power struggles, no emotional charge, and no “‘fixing” required – they just work.  In these exchanges we relate based on mutual interest, common understanding, and shared experience. By and large, we all know what this way of relating is like.

Almost all of us, however, also know what it is like to have codependent relationships, where feelings of obligation, guilt, neediness, and control arise.  Codependence especially plagues sexual and familial relationships, but it can creep into any type of relationship, especially ones that involve cohabitation or otherwise forced regular contact.

Noticing when these tendencies arise is key to managing them.  Do you notice when codependent impulses or responses start to surface within yourself?  What does it take in any relationship to trip your default question setting from “How can I be of service to this person?” (most people’s default setting for neutral strangers) to “How can I get my way with this person?” (the quintessential subtext of all codependent relationships).  Noticing these shifts in yourself first will allow you to solve relationship problems when they are small.  Here are some signs of an emerging codependent dynamic:

When you want to tell another person what to do. This is the primary symptom of codependence, the desire to control. When do your feelings change from wanting to receive understanding and sympathy to wanting to dictate someone else’s behavior?

Feeling like they “should have known better”.  When you start to become overly sensitive to how another person behaves because you expect them to know what pleases you and what doesn’t, it is a sign that you are seeking to get your way with them.  As an independent person, it is up to you to communicate your needs and persuade others to help you meet them where they are able.

Deferring decisions.  When you find yourself so reliant on another person’s input that you can’t make personal decisions on your own,  or have the sense that none of your decisions are entirely personal, that is a sign that you are abandoning your sense of self, that rewarding feeling of self determination and individual freedom that makes people in codependent romantic relationships nostalgic for the single life.

Conflation of wants.  Not being able to tell the difference between what you want and what another person wants is also a symptom of a surrendered self identity.

Needing permission.  Closely related is the feeling of knowing what you want to have or do but feeling like you need someone else’s permission.  An independent person can make their own decisions, taking all of their priorities into account, including the feelings and needs of others.

Covert activity.  A reaction to the perceived need for permission is sneaking around. You may think you can have your cake and eat it too, but sacrificing your personal integrity undercuts your sense of self worth, which is a feedback loop that tends to spiral downwards.  It also diminishes your respect for the person you are deceiving and creates emotional distance.

Avoidance. When you find yourself avoiding certain topics or even certain people altogether, it is a sign that you are actually letting what you are avoiding control you, and probably building up negative emotional charge.

Blame.  Blame is the nemesis of agency, and each instance is a tiny surrendering of self determination.

What about checking in?

Checking in means notifying or conferring with someone you have a close relationship with.  Notifying is strictly non-codependent; it’s saying “Hey, I’m going to do XYZ, and I want to be sure you know.” It is an act of consideration and accountability.  Conferring, which involves asking for input, is healthy if it is truly a cooperative decision making process, but codependent if it is merely a form of permission or approval seeking.  If you have already made up your mind and are asking for permission or approval, all you really need to do is notify. If you are truly conferring, you should be open to making a decision based on the other person’s input.

Two questions are relevant. The first is, “Do I really know what the other person’s input will be, and am I just hoping that it will be different?” If your answer is yes, then you have enough information to make your decision without conferring (though you may still choose to notify). The second is, “Am I more interested in learning about this person’s needs in this situation, or in deciding on a particular outcome?” In the former case, cooperative decision making is called for; in the latter, only notification is needed.

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