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Clarifying the Complexities of Codependency

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

The pursuit of “The One” has been one of humanity’s most sought after goals throughout the ages. Years of literature, theater, and arts have compiled as humanity tried to attain the ideals of romantic love.

This is an ideal based on biological logic, the result of social humans. Two is better than one and the preferred model of achieving perfect unity with another complex human adds to the intrinsic value of romantic relationships. In romantic relationships exist the rule of “Give and Take”, the rule that allows individuals to rely on each other. Thus, lessening the burden of responsibility and achieving more than what could’ve been achieved alone. 

However, what happens when a person gives too much to another that they are willing to risk their livelihood for the relationship? Ideally, they are called romantic by society but in reality, they have got an issue called codependence. 

Codependence is when an individual lives their life through another; they place themselves in undesirable situations all for the sake of achieving validation through the romantic relationship. The term was initially derived from the dysfunctional alcoholic family setting. The typical drunk husband goes home to a worried but restricted wife who cannot leave her assigned role because to do otherwise would render her unfaithful. Thus, the system within the family turns for the worst as the wife – instead of leaving behind the husband or even criticizing his actions – enables the drunk’s behavior as something to be a part of his personality. Eventually, she begins to see this as a positive thing because the idea that “two is better than one“ is an unmistakable biological truth, or so society deems it to be. They, therefore, feel joy in living in suboptimal conditions even if things could be better and accept the idea that something is better than nothing.

While it is alright to place value in what a partner thinks of the individual, if it persists for a long time, then it becomes unhealthy. The codependent will do anything to achieve validation, such as perverse surveillance to attain the most optimal solution for the partner’s issues, enabling unhealthy behaviors to gain the partner’s favor, spending more time on the other rather than themselves under the belief that that is what a good partner must do. Unbeknownst to the codependent, these behaviors are ultimately manipulative as it takes advantage of the vague understanding of the “Give and Take” rule. Furthermore, society has perpetuated this image of the perfect partner as the emotionally available martyr who lives for their love rather than with them.

Society made codependence a complex issue that is hard to notice because of the values attributed to it, effectively enabling it to exist as it achieves benefits for the patriarchy. Take notice of how the role of the emotionally available martyr is mostly, if not always, played by women. Years of literature and theater have portrayed the woman as emotionally available and the one that is willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of the relationship. After Romeo’s impulsive suicide, Juliet was willing to kill herself for Romeo and society didn’t see this tragic tale as a warning that letting teenagers attain such an extreme view of love to be dangerous, instead, they saw a romantic tale between two star-crossed lovers. 

Although, looking at the current state, we can say that society has moved on from “Romeo and Juliet” into more progressive perspectives that shifted the issue of codependence from being exclusive to only women. Codependency is no longer restricted to one gender (although it continues to persist mostly for women living in conservative cultures) but has become an inherent issue within contemporary relationships as well. 

The feminist movement empowered women to look past the suboptimal ideal and strive towards a better system whereby women were not expected to act as martyrs in the context of relationships. The new trend effectively shifted the demographic of codependent relationships from that of mostly women to a combination of both. The current progressive epoch has increased our awareness on this issue. Yet, despite this increased awareness, why do people still struggle with codependency?

To answer this question, we need to look into the existing framework of romantic relationships, which are usually built on the general idea of having another person to rely on. As established earlier, the characteristic of reliance in a relationship can be used for manipulative purposes ensuring the existence of a suboptimal position. It also sets up a vague framework on what limitations exist since relationships are so innately complex. Nevertheless, by problematizing the framework of romantic relationships, it begs the question; Then what differentiates a healthy romance from a manipulative romance?

Georgetown’s Student Wellness & Counseling Center (SWCC) director, Dr. Mahnaz Mousavi, asserts that there’s no clear manual, rather there are only guidelines to achieve the ideal of interdependence. Interdependent relationships are what people ideally call a “healthy” romance; it is the ideal system. Any functioning system requires parts that keep their unique properties but are integrated. It is only when two individuals rely on each other with deep care and attention, while still maintaining their unique qualities and abilities to stand on their own two feet are they able to successfully follow the “Give and Take” rule. Consequently, interdependent relationships can become mutually fulfilling and may last longer.

To handle the issue of codependency is to first, identify the patterns in the relationship and assert whether the patterns serve the long-term benefit of both parties. Patterns in relationships can be described as the behavior’s preferred template for acting. These patterns dictate the logic process of minds and have an influence on an individual’s ability to choose. Healthy relationships have patterns that build on each other, not patterns that remove their individuality. Still, one needs to keep in mind that patterns vary and their intentions are unclear at first, thus, looking into the long-term helps a lot as it puts into context the patterns that exist in the relationship. 

However, with all the advice given on relationships, what needs to be emphasised is that all relationships are unique and complex. Generalizing the narrative of a pattern and correlating it to a prevalent issue might lead to more harm than good. So while relationships are a deeply personal matter, it still helps to gain a different perspective from experienced individuals as they are more capable of understanding the context of the behaviour and identify present issues. 

People don’t like being forced to do certain things or act in a certain way; suppressing personalities have never achieved long term sufficiency. Sooner or later, the suppressed individual will get sick of the restrictive role placed on them and might prefer an ending to the system that leaves both individuals worse off than before.

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