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Growing Beyond Co-Dependency

As I touched upon in “What is Co-Dependency”, we are all wired with the desire to have healthy relationships in our lives.  As a result, we need to make sure we bring our best we can be to the relationship process. A relationship can only build to be as good as the ‘least common denominator.’  The least healthy attitudes in the realtionship will dictate how healthy the realationship can be.  As a result, to really bring healthy relationships to life, we must be able to bring ‘health’ to our relationships.   One way in which we can do this is by focusing on good boundaries and learning about others and ourselves in relationship to them.

Rather than allowing others to own their own reactions to situations, co-dependent attitudes believe that another person should respond in a way defined (and usually desired) by us. In many situations, this desire isn’t necessarily “evil” in its motive – many of us want our family members to be happy and satisfied with life and with us – that isn’t evil in motive.  We desire love and nurturing relationships. We want our bosses to approve of us and like us. We want our neighbors to like us.  We want our parents/children to love us.  We want our friends to think we are wonderful.  None of these desires are wrong unless they get in the way of living life in an honest way where we are feeling responsible for other people. 

It is important that we learn to live life in a way that is true to who we fundamentally are and what we believe. We need to stop adjusting our presented-self to others in a way that we believe they want us to be – so that they are pleased with us.  To live our lives in such a way is to live in a falseness-of-self that will always come back to haunt us. We can’t “make” anyone feel, act, or be someway they don’t choose to be themselves…that is their choice (not ours) to make. Often times a person can get trapped in this cycle when involved in a relationship where he/she really cares about how the other person feels about him/her.

Remember back to your youth…as a teenager, we often would discover someone and develop a huge crush on him/her. We would wonder what they liked to do and what kind of things happened that resulted in smiles and laughter in their lives…we look for those things that made them “tick.”  Then, we might have tried to emulate this type of person so that the object of our desire would be attracted to us, too.  Maybe, if we were able to perform perfectly, dress perfectly, behave just so – this person might even fall in love with us.

We did our homework. We discovered what was important to him/her and then snared them in the trap of our charm. Weeks or months later, we possibly discovered that there were things about him/her that we weren’t all that wild about. Maybe we became sick to death of going shopping or having football games on t.v. every Sunday. We may even have tried to change them a bit…maybe bringing up other options for entertainment that were important to us – we encouraged them kindly (or forcefully) to just try and see how wonderful these things could be. We wanted them to change to fit what our real desires were – what was really in our hearts.  Instead of respecting who they were and living true to whom we really were – that person behind the persona of “perfect.”

Does this scenario sound familiar? Unfortunately, it is all too often the case in relationships – even past our teen years. The passionate infatuation stage wanes and we find ourselves tired of trying to be someone we aren’t and then wanting to have our partner “just love me for who I really am.” We may also attempt this same type of manipulation with our parents or other significant people in our lives. Trying desperately to gain approval, acceptance, love – it just doesn’t work. We cannot (nor should we even try) get people to feel things they do not want to feel – even love. (Sorry Cupid, those arrows really don’t work!)

The best we can hope for and actually what we should be striving toward, is being true to who we are in our hearts. That doesn’t mean to be blindly accepting of our behaviors (both good and bad). But rather to live true to our values, skills, personality, and all those gifts that enrich our personhood. We need to discover, learn and grow in who we are. Then, we bring our “best” self to the table of any and all relationships. If the “object of our desire” isn’t receptive – that may be quite sad (and sometimes devastating) – but it is his/her choice.  We shouldn’t try to manipulate this process. It is the best for all involved.

If we think about it logically and remove our personal feelings from the observations, it really makes a lot of sense. If we are respectful of others’ boundaries and desires as well as our own, the result will be good matches rather than manipulated partnerships. Everything will be out on the table with no surprises. We won’t be trying to change anyone and no one will be trying to change us. We will all be living in truth rather than wishing for what “could possibly be if he/she would change.” The result will be an honest connection between people who share common values, beliefs, convictions, interests, etc. Not only will we be loving someone as they are – we will be loved for who and what we are – “loved for being me!”

Posted in Co-Dependency, Relationships.

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4 Responses

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  1. Tessa says

    Excellent blog! Very insightful! I just have one question and I’m sure there are others out there who have the same question. Back to your statement “We can’t “make” anyone feel, act, or be someway they don’t choose to be themselves…that is their choice (not ours) to make.” I agree with and understand this statement at face value but often in my head things get turned around to go something like this: “My actions ’caused’ so-and-so to feel, act, or be … (fill in the blank). So while I’m not responsible for how s/he feels, acts, or is, my ‘actions’ contributed to it and I am responsible for my actions. So, how can we, the co-dependents of this world, work this out in our minds so that in the heat of the moment – the argument, the abuse, etc – we can have an appropriate response to our loved one that takes responsibility only for our actions – if necessary – and not for his/her response to our actions?

  2. Jackie Joens says

    I have to really understand the limits of my power. I cannot “make” anyone feel anything. I cannot! It is that simple. That is a fact that I cannot twist into something where I am giving myself more power than I actually have. Once I come to terms with this fact, I can then get a better handle on what I do have control over – myself! Self control is the only thing I can utilize my internal power to exercise.

    With that said, your point of my actions having an impact on others is valid and important to address. But even with this point, I can only focus on me. I am responsible for my behavior and my reactions. I need to live a life that is full of love, genuineness and integrity. If I do so, then I can feel good about bringing the best ‘me’ to the table. If someone then chooses that they don’t like what they see, then it is up to them to exercise their power and make a choice. However, (and this is important) it is their right to decide freely if they do or do not want to be in relationship with me.

    If I’m choosing to live a life of love (check out 1 Corinthians 13) by being patient, kind, not self-serving, etc…then I can (in good conscience) know that I am doing the best I can. If the object of my relationship interest is in a state of being loving and genuine as well, then we can both approach the potential relationship openly and honestly. If not, then they will probably be unhappy, upset, angry, etc.

    In all cases, my responsibility is not to make decisions regarding my actions to keep people ‘happy’ and/or me out of trouble. My focus is to stay true to my faith and my values, living my life true to integrity and honesty, with living love as the focus of my choices and behavior. God calls us to love Him above all others and then to love our neighbors. Love is the key – am I living my life full of love? If so, then other’s reactions to me are really their ‘stuff’ not mine.

  3. Kiki says

    I came across your page Jackie, trying to find ways to strengthen my relationship with my husband. Everything I have read makes SO much sense I want to cry…We had a very rocky past. He has lied to me many times in the past and been very unfaithful. He asked me to do the hardest thing I have ever done and I did only to be slapped in the face. I had no idea anything was wrong then I of course I ended up finding everything out. I feel humiliated. Nothing has ever hurt me like all the things he did over the course of a year. fast forward a couple years and here we are with a child together(I also have an older child whom he has been a father figure to since she was a baby), and a very unhealthy relationship. I knew we needed help. We both want it to work, there is just one thing that continues to stand in our way of moving on. I cant trust him. I am terrified of him hurting me again, jealous beyond words I obsess about him looking at other girls…he is an extremely outgoing and even flirty man. he thinks I overreact. How can I make him understand how this makes me feel without him getting defensive?? How can I let go of this jealousy and anger? I want so bad to not feel like this anymore! I know we both want to fix things, he said since we had our child he has realized his mistakes and only wants to be a family now, but I am still hurting so bad! How do we fix this?? He expects me to just “get over it” he expects me to just somehow know that he doesn’t do anything wrong anymore. If you could find the time to e-mail me I would be so gratefull…we dont have the money to go to counsilling or anything.

  4. Jackie Joens says

    I am sorry about what you are going through. It sounds as if you are in need of assistance – real time – not via a blog site or email. Not knowing where you live makes it difficult to know where to refer you, but I know many communities offer free (or reduced rate) counseling services through agencies and many churches have pastoral counseling and/or referral services. Please check into assistance through one of these sources. You need on-going help and assistance in sorting through your hurt. Until such time that you can find assistance, please know that there is nothing you can do to “make him understand.” We can’t “make” anyone do anything they are not willing to do on their own. I would recommend readings on abuse and healthy relationships. Henry Cloud, Lundy Bancroft, Patricia Evans are some authors I can think of off of the top of my head that address such topics in a healthy way. Please do not try to deal with all of this on your own – reach out for support and assistance. You are in my prayers!

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