Many people stay in self-defeating relationships too long because they are they are afraid that they'll be alone or that they are responsible for the happiness of their partner. They may say they want out—but they end up staying. Other people may actually be successful in leaving the relationship but inevitably repeat the same or similar self-destructive pattern in a new relationship. The adrenaline rush that they experience when they feel passionate toward someone can be addictive. For many people, the reason behind excessive emotional reliance on a partner is co-dependency—a tendency to put other's needs before their own.
Recently, I asked a client this question: "What is it that stops you from getting what you want out of a relationship?" Her answer was: "It's too hard to go through a breakup and to be alone." My response went something like this: "Maybe it's time to examine your fears and the ways you might be self-sabotaging." I often realize that my clients aren't always aware that they may be excessively dependent on their partner to feel good about themselves.
So what can you do if you are paralyzed by fear or unable to risk leaving a relationship that is unhealthy for you? The first thing that you need to do is acknowledge it. Fear doesn't go away by itself—you must stare it in the face—it tends to morph into something else. If you sometimes find that you sabotage your own needs in relationships, there could be many reasons. However, codependency symptoms are common for people who grew up in a dysfunctional home—especially if you took on the role of a caretaker.
According to codependency expert Darlene Lancer, most American families are dysfunctional—so you're in the majority if you grew up in one. She writes, "Researchers also found that codependent symptoms got worse if left untreated. The good news is that they're reversible."
Fear doesn't go away by itself—you must stare it in the face—it tends to morph into something else.
As strange as it may sound, for many of us, conflict in relationships is comfortable because pain is what we know. For those people for whom this is true, the fear of getting hurt emotionally may cause them to flee a healthy relationship or engage in some form of self-protective behavior by staying in an unhealthy one. Dealing with an unavailable, distant, or inappropriate partner is their wheelhouse. A partner who wants nothing more than to be with them and make them a top priority is a foreign concept.
Do you find yourself falling into one or more of these codependent relationship patterns?
Nothing erodes self-esteem quicker than an unhealthy relationship. Many [people] remain in dysfunctional marriages because they are convinced that this is what they deserve.
Many of the people with whom I work describe themselves as independent, loyal and conscientious. These individuals are hardworking, trustworthy, and self-reliant—and pride themselves on these traits. They often feel self-assured and autonomous—confident they can take care of themselves while others can't. The truth is that in spite of these wonderful characteristics, many of these people find themselves being attracted to troubled, distant, or moody partners at some point in their lives.
I sat down for a session with Jessica* one afternoon. An outgoing and lively twenty-something, she has found herself in an on and off again relationship for seven years with a guy she just can't seem to successfully break away from. Over the course of my time working with her, I have learned that Jessica never wants to be responsible for a relationship ending. And when her partner, Jackson*, doesn't treat her well, or devalues her love, she wonders why she wasn't worth fighting for. Jessica dreams of a boyfriend who offers her love, security, and respect. But she says whenever she runs across a man who could potentially give her those things, she isn't attracted to him. All she knows is the cycle of inadequacy and mistrust.
Author Allison Pescosolido writes, "Nothing erodes self-esteem quicker than an unhealthy relationship. Many [people] remain in dysfunctional marriages because they are convinced that this is what they deserve." In some cases, there is no need to end the relationship. In my work and life, I have learned that relationships can heal if people change. But in order to heal from an unhealthy pattern of codependency, it's important to regain control of your thoughts and make your needs a priority.
Steps to reclaiming healthy love in your life:
Take a moment to consider that you might be attached to the feeling that being in love brings pain. If so, you might be self-sabotaging your chances of having a healthy relationship where you can get your needs met. Your fear of being alone or taking a risk, for example, may be preventing you from finding the love and happiness you deserve. Maybe you're blocking out the opportunity to love someone who can meet you half way. Author Karen McMahon writes, "By focusing on your healing and personal growth you will energetically transform your life and begin to attract others (friends, bosses, companions) who are your emotional equals."
*Names have been changed to protect privacy