What did you feel when you first read or heard the word “codependent?” Before I even read the definition, I knew it would be about me. Codependency ran in my blood. From a mom who asked “how high?,” when my stepdad said “jump” to a dad who spent his whole relationship begging for any sort of affection from various stepmoms. The moment that first dopamine hint of being “picked” and “chosen” by an object of my affection hit – I was hooked. It was better than any high from any drug, better than any pride from any accomplishment, it validated me in a way I hadn’t felt before. I couldn’t grow until I figured out how to take “love” off from the impossible pedestal I put it on and figure out how to validate myself. And, to be completely honest, I am a work in progress. In my deepest throes of codependency, I wish I would have asked myself:
What is the balance?
Every relationship has a balance. You vent to friends, they vent back. You buy coffee, they buy dessert. You DD one night, and the next time they have your back. Do you have balance in your relationship with your significant other? One way is to look at your texts, for every 1-3 texts from you, do you get 1 from them? Yikes. Do you make dinner one night and they take you out the next? Ok. Are you the only one buying a card on valentine’s day? Questionable. If the balance is way off and you find yourself making endless excuses, it might be because it is more important to have the validation of “being in a relationship” than to be in a beneficial, fulfilling one.
Is your mood separate from your significant other?
It’s ok and normal to have empathy – to feel bad if they are upset and to occasionally bicker and get under each other’s skin. But how much of your mood relies on them? If they had a bad morning, are you still stuck in it halfway through your work day? If they made a weird comment, are you obsessing about it 2 days later? If they had a rough day, are you bending over backwards, cancelling plans, and making arrangements just to make them feel better? If you feel like you can’t rest and you won’t feel ok until they do, maybe you need to dig a little deeper into this codependency thing.
Are you wanted or needed?
And do you know the difference between the two? If your significant other would just fall apart without you – that’s not your significant other, that’s your child. Look, I get it. It feels good to be needed. I’m a codependent adult child of an alcoholic – needed is all I know. Needed I can do. Needed is much safer than wanted. If someone needs you, they won’t leave. But usually, the things that are the scariest are the most worth it. If you need to be needed – get a dog. Find a lover who doesn’t needs you, but wants you.
What do you do when they are gone?
Who are you when they aren’t around? That dopamine love hit is addicting and it can be hard to do the things you know you need to do to be your best self – clean your house, go to yoga, get brunch with your friends, spend a night in reading that book, have a long conversation with your sister or a friend. Why would I go for a long walk tonight with my audio book when I can be validated by my significant other? Trust me on this one: you need to go for the walk. The dopamine hit fades and in time you’ll either be desperately clawing at them for one or watching it fade. You need to be your own person first and foremost.
Are you looking out for number one?
Stay with me on this one, but does anyone remember the book How to Deal? Later turned into a film with Mandy Moore? There’s a moment in the book, a start of a (spoilers ahead) bad relationship. In it, the guy asks the girlfriend what her favorite ice cream is. She answers something like “mint chocolate chip.” He asks her second favorite, and she says something like “chocolate peanut butter.” He asks because if he ever gets her some, he might want a bite and he doesn’t like mint chocolate chip. Sounds innocent enough but it’s a big red flag. Are you always giving them the best plate of food? The best spot on the couch? Seeing the movie they want to see? Playing the game they want to play? Buying the home décor you think they’d like? Just being happy to be included? Look, I am not saying not to be nice. Relationships are always a give and take. But if you are *never* looking out for number one, then it’s going to be really easy for someone to make you number two. Leave the “I just want to be included” in high school and start cultivating the life you want to live.
Are those quirks, or are they flaws?
Those cute little things that make someone unique and loveable – are you using this as an excuse to hide their flaws? Someone not singing on key can be a cute and loveable attribute. Someone who just can’t do the dishes right, who always forgets to take the garbage out, who never folds their clothes – those aren’t quirks those are flaws. Is it just so cute that they drink too much and black out? Or that they got to high and forgot to finish something for work and you had to cover for them? If you find that you are constantly covering up and making excuses for them, you might be in a codependent relationship.
If these concepts are something you want to explore more, I recommend checking out the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. It was a life changing book for me and I try to revisit it every so often to make sure I am staying on track.