In my first article about codependency and love not being able to co-exist in the same relationship, I argued that acts of caretaking are opposite of true acts of love. I frequently encounter this type of relationship cycle that is a continual problem and concern but is difficult to pin down. There are a lot of ideas or beliefs about why so many relationships fail, but in my professional opinion as a therapist, the main reason is that so many relationships have caretaking and codependent components to them. Too many people come into relationships with the idea that it is their job to fix people, or to make people happy or to somehow repair the other person’s issues. It creates a seriously unhealthy dynamic that seems to doom the relationship to inevitable failure. Relationships aren’t meant to absorb messages like, “I’m upset, it’s your fault, and you have to fix it.”
Many people go into a relationship with a white knight mentality, like they have some kind of mission or purpose in rescuing another person from a hard life and emotional problems. Let me be more specific: I frequently see people who have caretaking and codependent tendencies get into relationships with people who would classify as high conflict personalities, many of which may have a personality disorder.
The Myths of Caretaking and Codependent Behavior
I have a little bit of a confession to make. When I was a young adult, in my early to mid twenties, I brought caretaking and codependency to relationships. Since that time, I have fortunately realized that was not going to bring the kind of love and relationship that is healthy and good. I seriously cannot understate the freedom that awaits those that break out of codependent cycles. I know the road of codependent desperation; it’s a miserable one. But the reason I walked down it was because I perceived that I had low value. The myth that I believed was that if I could bring a person of high value into my life, then not only would I be happy, but my personal value would automatically increase. I bought into the idea that I needed another person to complete me or somehow make me whole. I also believed that if I could somehow save, fix or rescue another from a difficult life, it would create relationship bliss. There are at least three major myths in this one.
- That a person who was struggling emotionally and personally broken, could “fix” another person. There’s a metaphor that I love here. I’m a lousy swimmer. When I try to swim I mostly just splash around and nearly drown in the process. If someone was drowning and I jumped in to save them, the problem would double in size. Not only would we have one drowning person, when I jumped in, we’d have two. So it wouldn’t be smart if a person that can’t swim to jump in and try to rescue someone else who is drowning. You catch my drift.
- That a person should be “fixing” other people. People are responsible for their own journey. I had to realize that it was actually quite wrong of me to assume that I should jump into another person’s life and tell them how to think, feel and act in order to improve their own situation.
- I believed that if I rescued, “fixed” or saved someone else, that they would love me endlessly and that would not only make me happy but it would increase my self-esteem somehow. The truth is, I absolutely cannot “make” anybody love me. They either love me or they don’t. Granted, I can be more lovable but everyone makes their own choices. No matter how lovable I am, someone can still choose to not love me. That’s a deep level of covert control efforts; “making” somebody love me. Even if I could do that, love happens when people choose into the relationship and both people have to do that independently and on their own accord.
But let me break it down in a complete sentence just to make sure we understand this at the core level. I thought and hoped that I could get someone else to think, act and feel a certain way so that it would make them love me so that I would be happy. Does that sound like a loving relationship to you?
But that’s really what codependency is. Codependent types of relationships are ones that treat one or both people as though they are broken and incapable and it falls onto one of the people in the relationship to “fix” them. This is paradox because it completely skews the relationship into a confusing hierarchy.
What I think can be especially insidious about codependent relationships is the fact that it tends to foster resentment in the relationship. The very nature of these relationships is such that power tends to be taken away from each other, people use passive/aggressive approaches when trying to get their needs met and very commonly, resentment builds because one person feels like they sacrifice so much in the relationship and get very little in return.
Love is built through clear communication, compromise and personal empowerment. Couples who are truly in love are ones that support each other and push each other to be better. Successful couples are ones that work to create a system that practices an equal level of reciprocity. Equal levels of give and take. But some people are unable to give much in relationships while others aren’t able to receive much. This is the nature of caretaking relationships; relationships that are not able to allow love to co-exist. If you’d like help taking your life and relationship to the next level, call or email me to set up a consultation.