Couples who play together, stay together, as the adage goes.
Usually, this phrase is used in talking about working out together, like when couples hit the gym or do a race together. I know a family that all does karate together, both doing classes, practicing and going to tournaments across the country together. They are also filling up their basement with trophies together. It’s fantastic to see how much they bond through this shared experience with each member of the family learning, growing and succeeding while the rest of the family cheers them on.
What is Codependency?
- Codependence, when one person relies on the other for their identity, direction, and sense-of-self, can be common in relationships
- Codependent relationships are one where one person is the lead actor, and the other follows, rather than mutually supporting and celebrating each other’s individual and the couple’s shared success
- The path to breaking from this pattern lies in seeing what makes us individually happy, regardless of what anyone else may want, need or be doing
- To find that happiness takes a willingness to ask ourselves a lot of questions, and dig deeper into the answers by asking “Why?”
- Changing the dynamic together can give you the kind of fulfillment in your relationship you truly desire, even if you see getting there as impossible right now – you have nothing to lose by trying
Whatever “play” means in each context is less important than the fact that you’re doing something together, supporting each other. Building a sense of mutual support helps deepen the bond a couple has, which increases the likelihood that they don’t just stay together but stay happier together.
Sometimes, though, being together can be driven by one person in the couple depending on the other for their sense of self. That moves into the realm of codependency. While people who are codependent often stay together, it’s because they have to rather than because they freely want to. That is, without the person you are codependent on, you may feel like you wouldn’t or couldn’t go on.
Another way to think of it is that instead of being together, one is in front and one is tied behind them (perhaps they tied the rope themselves, and perhaps it was tied to them). This is actually a common, though hard to pin down, occurrence. Some estimate low-level codependency exists in up to 50% or more of relationships. That means you’re not alone if you believe you are in a codependent relationship. It also means not everyone faces it, so there is hope that you, too, can move past it.
Co-committed – A Better Way to Be
For neither person is this is a recipe for healthy, long-term, shared success. A better co-relationship is one where you’re co-committed. That applies to each other’s goals, but also to each other as human beings needing to thrive and grow individually. You hold each other up rather than standing on the other to get taller.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a codependent relationship? The specific actions depend on which side of the equation you’re on, but the overall theme is the same, and it centers around discovering what each of you really wishes for in life down at your core.
Building Your Own Identity for Your Independence
If you are relying on the other person for your sense of identity, self, and direction, recognizing that can be upsetting, destabilizing and confusing. It can also be enlightening and freeing to see the space to learn about yourself, your needs and who you really are. It is important to acknowledge the discomfort, but know that you are still standing and will grow stronger in finding yourself.
Instead of deriving your happiness from the other person, ask yourself what you enjoy doing, what you want in your life and ultimately, what makes you happy. The key is that the answer has to be about you in and of yourself. If your answers have to do with the other person, you haven’t gotten deep enough.
For example, if you say your definition of happiness is that your partner feels fulfilled and supported in life, you need to ask yourself, “Why?” Why does that make you happy? What is it about their happiness that gives you more happiness yourself? Keep asking questions like that until you are fulling speaking to your own needs.
Allowing The Codependent Person to Stand Strong
For the person being depended on, you may feel worried about your partner’s ability to stand on their own either out of compassion for them or out of a need for control of them. If it is out of compassion, dig into that feeling.
Why do you have that compassion for them?
Would helping them find their own strength give you even more compassion and love for them?
Would this make you feel happier?
If your reason is based on a desire for control (if you can even see this or admit this to yourself, which can be hard), why do you feel the need to control them?
Does it even have to do with them?
Usually, it stems from our own insecurity, trauma, and backstory driving our need for control in our lives or a sense of power over others. In that case, dig into those root causes, and try to see how, in fact, controlling them isn’t addressing your own pain. It’s like a band-aid on a wound. No matter how much you control someone or make them rely on you, if your reason for doing that is your own hurt, that control will never make you feel complete as a person yourself.
In fact, what you come to realize is that you, too, are dependent on them. That’s why the term is “codependent,” and not just “dependent.” Although you may not see it initially as the “stronger” one in the relationship, you depend on them as much as they depend on you – just in a different way.
Moving from Codependent to Co-Committed Together
What if you both contributed to each other’s growth? What if you both were there for each other? What if you both had moments you could step back and smile with what your partner had achieved? Doesn’t that sound better?
You may not see it as possible and maybe thinking in your head as you read this, “Yeah, right, Bryan, sounds great, but that’s never going to happen.” As long as you see it that way and don’t try, I guarantee you will be right.
But let me ask you this – if you don’t have this dynamic today, do you have anything to lose by trying?
Worst case scenario, nothing happens. Best case scenario, you move to a better relationship based on support together. That is, there’s only upside here.
Buddhist monk Thubten Chodron writes about the kind of relationship built on mutual happiness in her book, Open Heart Clear Mind, when she says,
“a kind heart is the essential cause of happiness…When we respect others and are considerate of their needs, opinions, and wishes, hostility evaporates. It takes two people to fight, and if we refuse to be one of them, there is no quarrel.”
So what kind of relationship do you want to have?
One where one of you is the lead actor and the other is merely an extra on set there to round out the scene for the lead?
Or do you want where you each star in your life together, supporting each other as you achieve greater things together and individually?
If the latter situation sounds better, you can learn more and dig into how to do that in my new book, The 50 75 100 Solution: Build Better Relationships.
Author bio: Bryan Falchuk
Bryan Falchuk is an author, speaker, and coach helping people change their lives. Bryan has also been a successful C-level executive. As a Certified Behavior Change Specialist, Bryan is the best-selling author of Do a Day and his latest best-selling book, The 50 75 100 Solution: Build Better Relationships. He speaks regularly on the subjects of motivation, culture, relationships and overcoming challenges, including several TEDx Talks. He has shared his message on over 150 podcasts and radio shows and has written for many top publications like Inc Magazine, the LA Times and Chicago Tribune. Bryan also hosts his own show, The Do a Day Podcast.
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