“I thought that this was love” – how to make the difference between love and codependency
As I wrote in the last article, I had to learn the difference between codependency and love the hard way.
In fact, I didn’t even know that there was a difference between the two.
I knew the word “codependency” but never made the parallel to my own life.
Today, all around me I hear many different stories about “true love”, about finding a “soul mate” and about the belief that happiness in life comes with the “right person to complete the other”. That love is something you can’t escape and are powerless if you “don’t love anymore”. At the same time, stories of broken relationships multiply. Many families are thrown apart because one partner realized that the relationship with their partner never was “true love”. Or someone else entered their life and turned out to be their long awaited “soul mate”, leaving behind a broken family. Couples drift apart and separate by their reality of “we don’t love each other anymore”. Meanwhile, lonely people get into a relationship that fulfills them for the first few weeks and months, but, over time, it changes into a relationship in which they feel trapped, anxious and insecure, yet they are too enmeshed into their partners life to be able to stand up and create boundaries. They are too scared to be alone again.
- “You made me love you. I din’t wanna do it; I didn’t wanna do it. You made me feel blue, and all the time I guess you knew it… you made me happy; you made me glad. And there were those times, dear, you made me feel so sad…
- Gimme gime gime what I cry for; you know you got the kind of kisses that I’d die for. You know you made me love you.”
- You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray…. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
- “All I want is loving you….”
- “You’re everything to me….”
“If there were laws against pushing codependent love relationships, pop music would be in prison until the albums rotted. So would a lot of movies and a whole lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction.”
(Hemfelt, Love is a choice, page 119)
You may ask:
- What is wrong with such intense feelings?
- What’s wrong with a consuming, almost worshipful attitude toward the person you love?
- What’s wrong with the realization that you never truly loved your current partner, leaving him for “true love”?
- What’s wrong about doing what your heart tells you to?
Well. Today I’m here to tell you that this is not love. That this is called codependency.
Codependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” The focus on others helps to alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but in ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior can be compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, putting ourselves or values at risk to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction (…)
She tells us about the three possible stages of such a codependent relationship:
The early stage might look like any romantic relationship with increased attention and dependency on your partner and desire to please him or her. However, with codependency, we can become obsessed with the person, deny or rationalize problematic behavior, doubt our perceptions, fail to maintain healthy boundaries, and give up our own friends and activities.
Gradually, there’s increased effort required to minimize painful aspects of the relationship, and anxiety, guilt, and self-blame set in. Over time, our self-esteem lessens as we compromise more of ourselves to maintain the relationship. Anger, disappointment, and resentment grow. Meanwhile we enable or try to change our partner through compliance, manipulation, nagging, or blaming. We might hide problems and withdraw from family and friends. There may or may not be abuse or violence, but our mood worsens, and obsession, dependence, and conflict, withdrawal, or compliance increase. We might use other addictive behaviors to cope, such as eating, dieting, shopping, working, or abusing substances.
Now the emotional and behavioral symptoms begin to affect our health. We may experience stress-related disorders, such as digestive and sleep problems, headaches, muscle tension or pain, eating disorders, TMJ, allergies, sciatica, and heart disease. Obsessive-compulsive behavior or other addictions increase, as well as lack of self-esteem and self-care. Feelings of hopelessness, anger, depression, and despair grow.
More than a decade ago, when I felt such strong emotions for this guy I believed I loved deeply, I was sure that this was love. True love.
Because of this conviction that this was true love, I buried the parts of me I felt he wouldn’t like. I buried the dreams I knew he wouldn’t share. I put away thoughts that told me that he was not really the kind of guy I would choose to spend my life with. I rejected any concerns from friends who told me that they didn’t think that this guy was what I needed in my life. Friends, who saw me completely consumed by that relationship.
Simply because, so I thought, true love is more important than anything I could dream or wish for other than to be with him, belong to him.
The tragedy is this:
Our society paints this kind of love as something beautiful and romantic – which is even understandable.
One feels alive. It is like entering into something much more real than any other relationship. Songs, books and movies tell us that this is true love. That we need to follow our heart, and then we know what decision to take.
That’s how marriages fall apart. Singles get themselves into destructive relationships.
People, honestly looking for “true love” are taking decisions that bring them further away from fulfillment, real relationships and healthy marriage and family.
When I began to understand the whole concept of codependent relationships, it helped me understand that this was just it: I was deeply codependent, relationship-addicted. That was not love.
Today, as I am happily married to Benny, I am well aware that my love for him is very different. From the very beginning of our marriage, I knew why I chose to marry him. He proved himself many times to me before we got married. His way of treating me, loving me and taking out the best of me were always a reality in our relationship. The way he treated me made me grow by discovering who I truly am, along with who he truly is. He honored and loved me for my unicity and celebrated me for my thoughts, dreams and hopes.
I was always aware of that, and deeply grateful.
And still. Even some years into our marriage, I longed to love him the way I did this other guy. Because I thought that this was, in the end “true, real, deep, beautiful love”.
Today, ten years into our marriage, I am at a place where I deeply cherish the love Benny and I have for each other. Understanding that those feelings I had for the other guy wasn’t love, even if they seemed so real to me, made me free to fully appreciate and cherish what I have. I marvel at the person I married. I am beyond words to express how thankful and amazed I am to spend my life with this man. Get me right. I am not in denial of his flaws and imperfections. But I know that his heart, and who he is as a person is the best thing that could ever have happened to me.
Now: I do know about the possibility that another person capable to create such strong feelings in me still exists today, in my present life. It can happen to anyone, anytime, independent of strong conviction, high moral standard or even genuine love for God and his word.
The difference is that, today, I am well prepared to counter such feelings with the truth that codependency is not true love. That codependency is exactly that: a co-dependecy. A relationship addiction. Something that can destroy your life, rob you of your family and friends.
Reading through the questionnaire below, I was amazed how many of these questions I would have answered with “yes” in the past. Actually every single question. Therefore, I will include this questionnaire that was created by Adriane Michaud and posted here to help you dig a little further into the subject:
- Do you feel responsible for other people—their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, and destiny?
- Do you feel compelled to help people solve their problems or by trying to take care of their feelings?
- Do you find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to you?
- Do you feel safest and most comfortable when you are giving to others?
- Do you feel insecure and guilty when someone gives to you?
- Do you feel empty, bored, and worthless if you don’t have someone else to take care of, a problem to solve, or a crisis to deal with?
- Do you lose interest in your own life when you are in love?
- Do you stay in relationships that don’t work and tolerate abuse in order to keep people loving you?Do you leave bad relationships only to form new ones that don’t work, either?
If you, like me in the past, found yourself answering “yes” to most of those question below, I encourage you to dig deeper into the subject of codependency.
My favorite book about the subject is called “Love is a choice”.
There is a good deal of literature available in English from the famous „codependent no more” to newer ones like “You’re Not Crazy – You’re Codependent:” or the most recent “courage to cure codependency”.
In the next article I will show you from my own experience how to recognize patterns of codependency in your own life and touch the subject of how getting read of it.