Love means giving until it hurts, right? Wrong. A healthy relationship nurtures your self-esteem and actually inspires you and your partner to grow. If either of you become too demanding, or constantly please or appease, then it’s a co-dependent relationship.
A co-dependent relationship (sometimes called ‘relationship addiction’) isn’t based on mutual love and respect, but neediness and control. It is emotionally stifling and ultimately destructive. Here are signs to watch out for—and why you deserve so much better.
1. You have taker-caretaker roles.
Takers love controlling people. They always need to be the center of attention, and will use a number of emotional tricks. They can be domineering, critical and dominating. They use words and even body language to back someone into a corner: nagging, yelling, sarcasm, or even just one silent but effective scathing look of disapproval.
Caretakers will try to appease the taker, backing down in an argument or apologizing for the other’s behavior to other people. ‘Oh, he doesn’t really mean it that way, he’s just really irritable today. Must have had a bad day at the office…’
However there are also subtle forms of being a taker. For example, a passive-aggressive taker will sulk, or resort to guilt or emotional blackmail to make the other person feel bad. ‘Oh, don’t mind me, I know you’re too busy to care about my problems. I’ll be fine, by myself, really. I’m used to being alone.’ This will push a caretaker to drop everything to comfort or support the resident drama queen.
2. Repressed emotions
Conflicts are normal and expected in any relationship. But in a healthy relationship, you can say what you think and feel, because you know that you are respected, and that you are loved unconditionally. You are also confident that your bond is bigger and stronger than any problem you will encounter. You can reach a compromise, or ‘agree to disagree,’ and not feel that you are loved any less.
However, in a co-dependent relationship, emotions are used as weapons, and conflicts are perceived as threats. Takers see any opposition as a kind of betrayal— and will make their anger and disappointment very obvious. Co-takers, on the other hand, will run away from conflicts because they’re too afraid to speak up. They can spend entire lifetimes bottling up resentment and frustration, and sometimes lapse into a ‘victim’ mentality. ‘He never listens to me. My opinions don’t matter. He doesn’t care about what I feel,’ they’ll say—but never actually do anything to change the situation.
3. An exaggerated sense of responsibility
One may wonder why anyone would ever agree to take on the role of a martyr. You can’t be a victim unless you allow somebody else to treat you badly. And usually, this happens because of a misplaced sense of duty or responsibility. ‘He needs me, I’m the only one who understands him.’
Sometimes, the co-taker has a strong desire to ‘rescue’ or ‘save’ somebody. ‘If I stick around long enough, I can convince him to change.’ Or, ‘My love will help him become a better person.’ That can even lead a co-taker to cover up for the taker’s addictions and problems and even be the first to defend his actions. This is a common problem for physically and emotionally battered women. ‘No, he’s really a good guy. I just said something to set off his temper. He said he was sorry—and I know he means it.’ When they do get angry or fight back, they feel guilty. ‘I should be more forgiving.’ Or, if the husband hits her once again, ‘I shouldn’t have made him so mad again.’
People who suffer from ‘relationship addiction’ also have a tendency to confuse this pity for love and to look for people they can ‘save’ or ‘help.’ This can lead to a lifetime of getting into unhealthy, co-dependent relationships. Then they wonder, ‘Why does everybody I love end up hurting me?’ It could be because they seek people who are incapable of loving anyone at all—except themselves.
4. Strong need for approval
Takers are addicted to attention, but co-takers are addicted to approval. They take an odd sense of satisfaction and comfort in giving so much to their partners—even if the relationship is already imbalanced.
For example, a wife will wear herself out working the whole day, then running the house and taking care of the kids, while the husband sits on the sofa and enjoys being waited on. Why? Because she likes feeling needed. She gets a sense of power and satisfaction from being ‘indispensible.’ But she also constantly needs to hear affirmation, and becomes upset if the efforts aren’t recognized or rewarded.
Over the years, this family dynamic worsens. The husband gets used to not pitching in the house, but hates how his wife is so clingy. The wife gets burnt out from doing everything, and is resentful that her husband ‘takes her for granted.’
5. Fear of being alone
When you’re in a co-dependent relationship, you stay not because you love the other person, but because you’re afraid to actually leave. Somehow, your subconscious would rather be in a bad relationship than no relationship at all. So, you make up all sorts of excuse to ‘make it work’ and actually run away from opportunities that make you more independent and empowered. The other person may be stifling you, but you are also holding yourself back.
Now look at all these qualities of a co-dependent relationship. Does it make you feel better about yourself? No. Does it nurture your potential? No. Does it boost your self-confidence? No. And does it help your partner? No. When you condone another person’s negative behavior, and accept an abusive relationship, you are actually saying: ‘It’s okay if you’re this screwed up. It’s okay for you to hurt other people. It’s okay for you to lose self-respect and the respect of other people.’
A co-dependent relationship is not love. You know what love is? Saying ‘I deserve better!’ and walking away, or telling your partner, ‘You need to get help!’ That’s when you both begin to grow and take a step towards true happiness.