Whether we recognize or accept the fact, all relationships whether romantic or otherwise, have an element of what might be termed as ’the power balance’. Subconsciously, and sometimes very consciously, we all look to gain the upper hand in getting our needs met. We are a species that needs social interaction and part of that interaction is the interplay with different people. We will have a close circle of friends, family and romantic partner and social ripples heading outwards from that centre, ranging from potentially closer people, acquaintances and distant contacts. They all serve our needs and we ’battle’ to keep the balance of power in our favour. This is fine of course, when need-meeting goes two ways and the individuals concerned are autonomous and have an individual outlook and purpose.
The problem comes in relationships when the balance is out of balance, so to say. When one takes too much and gives little or nothing back and the other accepts this. When one gives too much and accepts that nothing is coming back and learns to live, or is conditioned to believe, that this is somewhat normal. The term ’relationships out of balance’ can really be used to describe any dysfunctional situation when two people try to connect. We have all known people who are willing to take anything on offer for their own good and don’t always feel the need to reciprocate. The classic self-centred individual often described in the ’narcissist-codependent dance’. We have all known that ’good one’ who is always there for others, never says no and never really finds true happiness. Clear cases of ’out of balance’ relationships.
However, what happens when two codependents find each other and attempt a relationship? Very often, codependents attract a certain type. Used to giving and sacrificing, they naturally tend towards partners who like to take and receive anything that is on offer. In short, it is the perfect dysfunctional fit. Codependents tend to be with partners who have self-centered tendencies. The equation goes that the more codependent you are as a person, the more self-centered the partner is. I have known codependents who are totally turned off dating people who are willing to give and receive, even healthily, because they like to do the chasing and be in control.
This is evident in the cases I handle and is easily identifiable. However, there are some cases where codependents become involved with other codependents without realizing it at first. Codependency develops on both sides of the relationship as it grows. The relationship, like two polarizing magnets, has a dynamic of pushing against forces that act as a mirror. Both partners compete to give and sacrifice, and frustration grows when neither is received.
Remembering that codependency is primarily about control, losing or being unable to control can be soul-destroying for a codependent. Having this control implies a desire for return, sacrifice, and the feeling that the codependent is indispensable to their partner. On the other side, the same procedure is expected. Something has to give, and it usually does.
What usually happens is that the relationship is headed for limbo. One partner invariably becomes counter-dependent, resisting attempts at control and manipulation by emotionally and sometimes physically distancing themselves. For the “chasing” codependent, this may mirror previous relationships in which they were the pursuer, and they increase their focus on their codependent object, attempting to compel and commit them. Life becomes extremely perplexing for the counter-dependent. They are not used to being chased, and while it may boost self-esteem in the beginning, it is not sustainable in the long run. So the tug-of-war continues, with neither party willing to confront the issues at hand, leaving the relationship in doubt and the participants exhausted. The truth is that if codependency issues are identified and present, they must be addressed before entering into a relationship. This is important work that is desperately needed. How many people are willing to do that? The relationship will be difficult to maintain and will most likely end in a break-up, resulting in additional problems.
This is one of the reasons why codependents are attracted to people pulling away, emotional distant, narcissistic or self-centred. They accept they will get nothing from it but at least they are in control of what is given. Codependents find receiving extremely difficult and awkward or will justify receiving only if it is ’return’ for what they have done. They use the drama triangle in order to keep control and while they will complain about not having their needs met, the cycle of fixing, anger and victimhood often drives potential partners away or they meet someone who will take advantage.
Two codependents in a relationship (and its not often it happens) will be a union defined by the need to control the other and is extremely likely to break down within a short time. Codependency runs on a continuum from co to counter dependency and two codependents trying to gain control of who sacrifices the most will not readily work. Codependents need that victim status to generally get their needs met and this comes best in a ’push-pull’ situation than a ’magnet-mirror’ arrangement, which is totally alien to them. The slide along that continuum will happen to one or both.
So what is to be done? When I come across codependents, many of them are either out of a relationship (claiming they will never have another) or have realised somewhat belatedly that the person they are with is not the right one for them and they are looking to leave, (often the biggest battle). For the ones out of a relationship, I suggest they don’t date or look for a relationship until they are healthy enough to do so because the likelihood is that they will fall into the same old patterns the moment they find the latest ’one’. For those in a relationship, it is helping them to make that difficult decision of whether to stay or go where the tendency is always to stay.
The paradox is that codependents can leave other codependents easier than they can an emotionally distant partner. This mirrors their childhood where they were forced to ’fight’ for validation or attention or indeed, had too much and were enmeshed with an over-protective parent. All of this dysfunction needs to be worked through and it is easier done when out of the demands of a relationship. For more specific details on treatment, follow the links below;
Subscribe to Dr Jenner's Blog via Email
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com