Over the years I have encountered many people who have been in relationships with high conflict personalities or in a relationship with those who can be diagnosed as a borderline or narcissist. The relationship is chaotic, toxic and abusive. When asked why they continue in a relationship like this, the answer is usually the same; they answer by saying “because I love them.” I am going to have to respectfully disagree, this isn’t love. But I also don’t necessarily think it’s my place to tell them so, mostly because they often aren’t open to hearing it. I can’t possibly count the number of times I’ve seen these types of relationships. Caretaking and codependency are in are large supply and their reasons for remaining in the relationship are stated as “because I love them.” I am going to talk about these relationships in a codependent context because I frequently find that high conflict people get into long term relationships with someone who is highly codependent. A lot of people disagree with me but please read on and allow me to explain.
What is love?
Love is a big word and we use it across many contexts. People say they love their partner, sports and food but these are obviously different kinds of love. You don’t love ice cream the same way you do your partner. When it comes to relationships, romantic ones, what is love? Ask yourself right now, what is love? When you were 11 years old, what would you have said love is and what a loving relationship is like and how does it compare to what you think now? A lot of people would universally agree that love is about respect, positive regard, caring, knowing when to help and when to back away. Love is about doing nice things for each other, seeing the good in that person and forgiving them for their mistakes. Love is about supporting each other and lifting each other up when we are down. Love is about hard work and sacrifice. Love is about loyalty and perseverance. Love is also very much about compatability. Which warrants another batch of questions. What is compatibility? In a relationship sense, compatibility is about fitting and working well together. Compatibility is about being a good team.
I also want to address the attraction factor. There’s a lot of research out there about attraction and a wise man once said that attraction is not a choice. You either feel attracted to someone or you don’t. I constantly see people who are codependent that feel strong levels of attraction for people who have a lot of problems. In fact, when these relationships are new they are usually a lot of fun and quite passionate. But as we have learned, the first few weeks of a new relationship are always the most exciting. We all get intoxicated with this drug called infatuation. But unfortunately, infatuation is not love. Research has also shown that attraction and infatuation are not a predictor of compatibility. Attraction may be strong but that does not make two people compatible. And if there is no compatibility, then real love cannot be cultivated.
Codependency is not love
I am going to argue, strongly, that caretaking and codependency aren’t love. Just because you do a lot of things for people doesn’t necessarily mean that you love them. I also want to argue that bringing caretaking and codependency to a relationship does not create a healthy dynamic, it is not the foundation of loving, lasting relationships. I am going to also argue that codependency has a way of drastically decreasing the chances that love can exist between two people. If we think of a relationship between two people, any people, as a separate person or entity, then we can start examining what types of things are healthy and good for it and what types of things are toxic to it. The relationship is healthy when loving things are given to it. The relationship gets sick and eventually dies when it’s given a steady diet of poison and abuse. For people who are codependent, they often allow the steady flow of poison to come in. There’s little accountability given to the person who is high conflict in nature. Love isn’t giving someone a free pass on bad behavior. Love isn’t removing consequences and accountability from them, it actually keeps them sick and prevents them from learning from bad behavior. Lessons that they still haven’t learned and lessons that although are painful, will help them become a more functional and healthy person. Love is not removing obstacles and hardships. Love is standing by someone when times are tough.
Even though this article is mostly about codependent type relationships as it relates to high conflict personalities, I also want to illustrate how codependency isn’t love by talking about addiction. It’s extremely common for people with drug and alcohol addiction to have someone in their life that is also codependent. If you have ever watched the show “intervention” you can spot this person almost immediately. The person that enables the drug addiction is the person that is codependent. Giving the addict money that they know will probably be spent on drugs or alcohol, is an example of this. Sometimes the codependent removes consequences such as keeping them from getting evicted or covering bail when they get arrested. It’s extremely difficult for the addict to get clean when there is someone enabling them this way. I once saw an episode of “intervention” in which a man who was addicted to crystal meth had a daughter that would drive him to his drug deals, so that he could get his drug. Her reason, she had said, was that he was going to get the drug anyways but in this way, she knew that he was safe.
This is not love. Putting a person in harm’s way, ensuring that they get to and from the place that is keeping them sick and killing them slowly is not love. Perhaps what is most troubling about codependent people is that in circumstances like this, they see these types of choices as heroic. They are keeping the addict safe, they are making sure they stay alive. People who are codependent often feel resentment because they are not getting more positive recognition for their ‘heroic’ behavior. Again, this is not love. Love is allowing people to make their own decisions, love is letting them go and letting them fail. Love is allowing them to fall on their face and then offering support when they attempt to pick themselves back up. It would be nice if being codependent to someone actually helped them but I have yet to encounter a case where it has.
This is a topic that deserves a lot more time and effort to explain in detail. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others and be sure to check out my other articles on high conflict personalities and caretaking. You can always stay in the loop by subscribing here on my website and get my articles as soon as they come out. If you need help in this area, I hope you will give me the opportunity to help how I can. Drop me an email or give me a call!