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Codependent Relationship

What is a Codependent Relationship?

Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including romantic, peer, family, friendship and work. There is a clear distinction between thoughtful, caring, loving behaviour or feelings that are normal and healthy to those that are excessive to an unhealthy degree by putting other people ahead of yourselves.

A healthy relationship is ‘inter-dependent’ – when partners take care of themselves and each other. A mutually satisfying relationship is where people give,receive and rely on each other equally. Of course, there will be times when one person will carry a bigger load but overall all parties contribute equally to the relationship.

A codependent relationship occurs when personal boundaries between individuals are broken, unhealthy or don’t exist. Codependent people focus on pleasing and accommodating others instead of focusing on themselves. They have a diffuse sense of self, characterised by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance or control patterns.

Codependent people are constantly in search of acceptance; they like to feel they are “needed”. They often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of a rescuer, supporter and confidante. They often depend on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs.

Codependent relationships are fraught with resentment, anger, criticism and pain. Here are some signs of a codependent relationship:

1. You minimise your needs and preferences.

2. You enable the other person’s unhealthy behaviour and they enable yours.

3. You feel guilty when asserting yourself.

4. Your mood and self-respect are dictated by the other person’s mood and behaviour.

5. You feel devalued or disrespected by the other person.

6. You tolerate mistreatment or abuse from the other person because you love them too much. You feel frustrated / angry but you don’t speak up. Instead you rationalise your behaviour between fights or flight; keeping your feelings to yourself.

7. You repeatedly tell yourself that if you hang on long enough, the other person will change, see the light, and finally love you the way you deserve. You tell yourself that it will be worth it at the end but in the meantime you are living in hell.

8. You feel as if you can never stop the other person from hurting you but you put up with this treatment because you think that you might even deserve it. You are in denial of the bad times and hope that the good times will make them go away, which won’t happen

9. You have mixed feelings about the person on a regular basis. You simultaneously love and hate them. Or you feel empowered yet disempowered by the relationship.

10. You’re depressed or sad for no reason. You cry uncontrollably for no reason. You have gotten so out of touch with your emotions that you can’t identify your feelings anymore.

11. You feel ashamed and embarrassed about what’s really going on in your relationship.

12. You start to develop addictions that you did not have before.

A codependent relationship can impact on your identity and well being and have an unhealthy short-term and long term consequences. By giving up your own needs to over cater the needs of the other person can result in you being burned out, exhausted, resentful and neglectful of other important relationships.

Recovering from codependency requires you to examine the way you see yourself, how you value yourself and how you respond when others treat you with disrespect. You can start your codependency recovery by setting clear boundaries about what is acceptable to you; communicating respectfully and effectively about your feelings and expectations of your relationship to the other person. Find happiness as an individual.

Healthy relationships involve speaking your truth, being vulnerable, asking for help and receiving support.

For further reading: Codependent No More by Melody Beattie and Facing Codependence by Pia Melody.

A Loving Relationship Requires Work

How to Build a Loving Relationship?

It’s easy to fall in love but to keep your love alive and enduring requires work. According to John Gottman, the guru of healthy and happy relationships, we need to be aware of our negative behaviour patterns, which Dr. Gottman called the “Four Horsemen of Apocalypse”:

Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong i.e. “you always…” “you never….” “you’re the type of person who…” “why are you so…”!

Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her. Insults and name calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”. Hostile humour, sarcasm or mockery. Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip.

Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack.

Making excuses (external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) – ” It’s not my fault….”; “He/she made me do it…”

Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own; ignoring what your partner said.

Disagreeing and then cross-complaining – “that’s not true, you’re the one who…” “I did this because you did that…”

“Yes…. but” – start off agreeing but end up disagreeing.  Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying. Whining “it’s not fair.”

Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict.  Partners may think that they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness: – Stony silence; monosyllabic mutterings; changing the subject; removing yourself physically; silence treatment.

Healthy solutions:
Make specific complaints & requests. When you said/ did this, I felt….; I want….

Conscious communications: speaking the unarguable truth and listening well

Validate your partner (let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes.

Shift to appreciation (5 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative. Take responsibility: “what can I learn from this?” and “what can I do about it?”.

Re-write your inner script (replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimisation with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating).

Practice not to be on the defensive (allowing your partner’s comments to be what they really are – just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of your own perception / stories that you are making up.