In counseling, I’ve encountered a number of women who are unsure wether they love themselves or not. Loving oneself sounds foreign to them, like it was the first time they’ve heard of it.
They are the ones who give their all in their relationship, leaving nothing for themselves. They are the only one doing all the job to make their marriage work, which may seem like they’re married alone. They spend their time and mental energy trying to understand and meeting the needs of their husband. They keep adjusting themselves for their husband, who sadly does not know or is unable to reciprocate. As a result, the wives feel drained and exhausted emotionally, mentally, and even physically.
Take for example, Nina. Her husband has cheated on her thrice in the course of their young marriage. She messaged me because she has a gut feeling that her husband is doing it again. And if proven, it will be the fourth time that he’s cheating on her. With this, she told me that she doesn’t know if it’s love that she feels for her husband anymore. Then I wondered out loud, “I’m not sure too if it’s love, or emotional dependence.” She answered back with, “emotional dependence makes more sense.” Like Nina, we sometimes mistake love with emotional dependency.
Signs of Emotional Co-dependency
According to Darlene Lancer, a marriage and family therapist, these are the questions you need to ask yourself:
- Do you expend all of your energy in meeting your partner’s needs?
- Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
- Are you the one that is constantly making sacrifices in your relationship?
- Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
If you answered yes to all these, then you may be in a codependent relationship.
Origin of co-dependency
Co-dependency may have started during the childhood years. It is during this time that a child is dependent on the parents for his survival. More than the physical needs, the child also have emotional needs such as attention, affection, approval, acceptance, and appreciation.
When the parents consistently fails to provide these needs to the child, the child learns to adjust himself by not asking anymore. For those with domineering parents, the child has fallen onto submission to the parents’ will in order to please them; for those with needy/neglectful parents, the child learns to play the parent role by providing the support and the needs of the parents.
Consequently, these children learn that they don’t deserve to ask for their needs, let alone have these needs met. When these children become adults, the same relationship dynamics play out in their marital relationships.
How to overcome co-dependency
Psychotherapy is the best way to recover from co-dependency. In psychotherapy, you will have the chance to learn and process the wounds you’ve had in your childhood. By processing your painful experiences, you can achieve healing which will eventually liberate you from the influence of your past.
According to Linda Esposito, a licensed clinical social worker, these are the signs that you’re becoming emotionally well:
- You nurture your own wants and desires and develop a connection to your inner world. You see yourself as reliant, smart, and capable.
- You say goodbye to abusive behavior. Awareness, change, and growth are necessary for you and for your partner to overcome unhealthy relationship habits. Caretaking and enabling behaviors are acknowledged and stopped.
- You respond instead of react to your partner—and to others. Setting clear, firm boundaries means that you don’t automatically react to everyone’s demands, thoughts, and feelings.
If you find yourself in a co-dependent relationship, don’t hesitate to seek for professional help. Gaining yourself back will not only improve your relationship with yourself, but it will also give you a better perspective about your marriage. In case you are in an abusive relationship, you will be in a stronger and better position to decide for yourself and your children and take necessary actions.
Healing Developmental Trauma by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline LaPierre, PsyD