Many of our marriage stories start out the same- but what happens after we say “I do?” That is where things can start to change. You may have started to see your partner for who they truly were – and the more you saw – the more concerned you became. Today on the podcast, I am going to talk about codependent relationships and ways to recognize if you are in one, why it is important to free yourself and how I can help.
For most couples, the path to marriage is the same. You meet, you spend time getting to know each other. You fall in love. You realize that you cannot spend your life without this person, so you get married.
Once you are married, you see your partner for who they truly are…all of them. The good, the bad and the ugly. Now maybe you were aware of some of these things before you got married. Maybe you didn’t think they were a big deal, you thought they would change or that you could change them. But just about every couple enters marriage with an illusion of what life is going to look like with this person. Often that illusion is bliss. But reality is very different. Life happens. And reality isn’t quite what you expected most of the time.
Especially within the church, I think we often feel like *IF* we get married in the temple, that we are guaranteed a beautiful life. But the reality is that life is never easy. Marriage is not easy. We realize things about our spouse that if we had understood before we got married, it might have changed our decision. Or maybe it wouldn’t have, but it’s still really challenging.
One of the things that we probably didn’t understand is the intricacies of a sexual relationship. When you aren’t having sex before marriage, you really don’t understand it. And even if you were, marriage, kids, jobs, and life changes things. And while the prospect of being able to finally have sex with this person that you love – whenever you want sounds appealing, the reality is that it causes problems in so many marriages.
So, I was quite boy crazy all growing up. I can remember liking a boy for the first time in preschool. I liked this boy all through elementary school and would often ride my bike about 1-1/2 miles to his house just to ride by and maybe catch a glimpse of him quite regularly. I went to a different school in 6th grade and fell head over heels for another boy, and tortured him with my professions of love.
Throughout junior high and high school, I always had a boyfriend, even though I didn’t technically date until I was 16. Senior year proved to be lots of fun where I kissed 18 different boys in 9 months. Needless to say, I had a lot of hormones and really didn’t anticipate having any problems in a sexual relationship. But how could I? I was so young and had never actually experienced one.
I married for the first time when I was barely 19 (nine days to be exact) and was so excited to finally be able to have sex. But the novelty quickly wore off and it just wasn’t what I thought it would be. I remember sitting in the courtyard at my BYU Married Student Housing one night about 2 months after I had gotten married. I sat on this uncomfortable cement bench by the playground and just sobbed. A friend (who had only been married about a year more than I had) saw me and came out and talked to me. I remember asking her “why does he want it all the time?” I just didn’t understand this new dynamic. And it took me another 10+ years to figure it all out.
So, like I said, we don’t understand what married life is going to be like, and what our spouse is going to be like, and what our sexual relationship will be like once we actually tie the knot. I’m sure my first husband was completely baffled by my lack of wanting sex too.
I see this so much with my clients and their relationships. For years the higher desire partner, most often their husband, has insisted that his “need” for sex is so important, and that, because they are married, it is her job to fulfill this need for him. And while she really doesn’t want to, she gives in to prevent the backlash that she knows will happen if she doesn’t. Whether that is just irritability, or begging, or him getting downright belligerent or angry. It’s worth it to her to just “give it up” rather than deal with his reaction if she doesn’t.
This is a codependent relationship. And while there may be love there, it is not a loving relationship. It is not a good relationship for either party. Why? Because she resents him for his high desire. She thinks he should be different than he is. She hates the backlash if she doesn’t perform. She hates and is not attracted to his neediness. But, she does love him. She just wishes things were different. But every time she gives in, she leaves behind a piece of herself. And the more she does this, the more empty she feels. A shell. And eventually there’s nothing left to give.
And this dynamic isn’t good for him either. He feels entitled to sex since they are married. He feels betrayed. Like there was a bait and switch. He doesn’t understand why she isn’t like him and wanting it all the time. He doesn’t see his own unattractiveness when he’s being needy. He makes demands, gives ultimatums, threatens to watch porn or even leave if she doesn’t satisfy his needs. But at the same time, he begins to doubt his own worthiness of love. After being rejected time and time again, he also starts to lose pieces of himself and feels empty.
This is the dynamic I see over and over over in my practice. This is a codependent relationship.
How do you know if you have a codependent relationship?
- Are you persistently frustrated, upset, or angry at your partners inability to change?
- Do you believe that your relationship problems would be resolved if your partner would change?
- Do you feel like it’s hard for you to be happy, because of things that your partner is doing or not doing?
If you answered “Yes” to all three questions, you might be struggling in a codependent relationship.
The Core Myth of Codependency
“I need you to be a certain way so that I can be happy.”
People who have codependent tendencies put a great deal of energy into attempting to make their partner change into the person they want and need them to be. In doing so, they often become increasingly angry, anxious, and resentful.
People with codependent tendencies also, unintentionally, wind up taking the responsibility for change away from their partners and heaping it on to themselves. The more they seem to care about change, the less their partners do. Over time, this power imbalance leads codependent types to lose much of their personal power in their relationships, because how they feel becomes totally dependent upon whatever their partner is doing or not doing. (Hence the term, “codependent.”)
It is an exhausting way to live. It’s also ineffective.
The Core Anxiety of Codependence
“If I give up control, this will all fall apart.”
Codependency is full of fear on both sides.
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of failing
- Fear of what could happen if you don’t live up to the expectations
Through these fears, the dynamic continues. The couple both live in a constant state of negativity and fear, as if they are walking on eggshells, always trying to help but never sure if they can make things better.
It’s very scary for people with codependent tendencies to take a step back and focusing on themselves and what they need, and take responsibility for their own lives, instead of blaming their partners for “making them feel upset” and demanding that they take the responsibility for change. Why? Because it’s really scary to let go of the illusion of control.
When you dig down, deep into the core anxiety of codependence, it’s often not about all the bad things that could happen. (They’re usually happening anyway.) The scariest thing about stepping back from control is often the realization that your partner may never be who you want or need them to be. And that puts the security of the relationship on the line.
As exhausting and maddening as codependence can be, it often feels safer to be perpetually angry, but still committed to “the dream” of what your relationship could be, if only. Because as soon as you give up the illusion that you have control over your partner, you give up hope that you can harass them into changing. You have to accept the fact that they might not. Then YOU have some serious soul searching to do, about what you want for your life, and whether you’ll be able to find it in this relationship.
Often, couples finally come to me when things have hit a head and the threat of the end of the relationship forces them to seek help.
The way I describe it, is that a couple has been doing a dance for a long time. And they really don’t know how to do anything different. So they need some outside help to change the dance. But it’s often not what they thought it would be.
The husband wants the wife to come to me so that I can teach her to do the dance he wants them to do. And the wife is often resistant, but any dance is better than the one they are doing, so she complies.
But, I teach her to do a different dance. One that empowers her. Not the one where she just follows his lead. This is often frustrating, for both parties at first. He wants her fixed. But she isn’t broken. She’s just different. And the dynamic between them often gets worse before it gets better.
But I teach her a dance that empowers her. I teach her how to be an amazing dancer on her own as well as how to be a good partner. And then she starts to dance. And at first, it’s not what he thought it would look like. He might get upset because it’s not what he thought he wanted. But she now has the confidence to just keep dancing anyway. And then he gets to decide if he wants to do the dance she’s doing or if he wants to dance on his own or with someone else. But if he chooses to dance with her, then it’s beautiful.
Ok, enough of the dance metaphor. Really, I’m teaching her (and by teaching her, then she is able to teach him if he wants) how to get out of the codependent, walking on eggshells, bad dynamic that they’ve been in and find a new dynamic. One full of love of self as well as unconditional love for the other person.
Because the truth is, “You are only in charge of you, and you can only control yourself.”
You see, a good sexual relationship is a combination of a healthy sense of self; understanding yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, your beliefs and being confident AND a good relationship. That’s when sex and intimacy get really good.
But if you are constantly bowing to what your partner wants, and never getting what you want, you don’t have a healthy sense of self. You are codependent. And this is never going to help you have a good relationship. When this happens, there is always resentment. Usually both ways. Resentment destroys marriages. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
When a formerly codependent person stops attempting to control others, and instead starts taking responsibility for themselves and the quality of their life — independent from whatever their partner decides to do or not do — they immediately start to feel happier, more confident, and at peace.
It can be easy for people stuck in codependent relationships to think, “Why should I go to therapy or coaching, when my partner is the one with the problem??” However, relationships are systems: What you are doing does impact the situation. Gaining self awareness about your own patterns, and new alternatives, can help you get your personal power back and create a happier, and more stable life for yourself — no matter what your partner does.
Now, your marriage may not be as extreme as what I have described here, and that’s ok. But let’s not let it get that way either. I know that so many of you are finding this podcast and the things that I teach here helpful and it is changing relationships. I love the emails and DMs I get from listeners telling me so. But in my coaching program, this is where I teach you how to apply all of it so you can get amazing results in your life and in your relationship.
I’m now enrolling for my March 4 group in my awesome Embrace You! Group Coaching Program. It’s on Thursday mornings at 10am Mountain Time. And you not only get an amazing 12 weeks with me where I teach you all the tools and skills to help you create an amazing marriage and sexual relationship, but you also will get a full-year with me in my membership program as well. So I can continue to support you and help you succeed. If, this group doesn’t work for you, feel free to message me and see what other groups I’ve got coming up. I would love to see you in group coaching. You can find out more by going to AmandaLouder.com/groups