Recently two new words have become very popular in Psychology of Relationships. They are co-dependence and co-commitment. They describe two totally different types of relationships.
Codependence means that two people become dependent or addicted to each other. They lose the ability to be happy within themselves and become dependent on the other for their feelings of safety and self worth. Often in such relationships we undermine our own happiness and power because we are afraid to be happy or strong when the other is not. Both are limited by the relationship rather than helped to grow within it. codependence breeds antagonism and games in which one tries to control the other, often through the roles we analyzed previously by intimidating, questioning, criticizing, playing the victim or by retreating into one self and become aloof. Such relationships often result in vicious circles in which no one changes and no one is happy. There are many promises or perhaps even threats that serious change are going to take place, but nothing happens. We feel responsible for the others reality and cannot let him feel unhappy. We try to change the other’s mood . And until the other changes, we cannot feel happy our selves. Our state of mind is dependent on the other’s state of mind. In codependence our fears cause us to avoid telling the whole truth to the other and even sometimes to our selves. Criticism is a main form of communication and arguments recycle over and over. Most arguments have to do with the ancient game we mentioned earlier “who is right.” When we are dependent on someone, we often will deny our needs, and even our values at times, in order to ensure the other’s acceptance and / or approval. We might find our selves not only ignoring our needs but also doing things which we do not really want to do.
In co-commitment, we feel close to the other and want to share our lives with him or her, without feeling dependent or that we cannot be happy alone or with someone else. We want the other to be happy and do whatever we can in order to help him be happy, but do not believe that we are responsible if they are not and we can continue being happy even when the other is not. We see the relationship as a growth process and know that essential to that growth is being able to be truthful with ourselves and other. Thus we learn to be truthful about every little thing we are thinking and feeling. We love the other and want him to blossom and succeed in whatever he or she chooses. Thus there is no antagonism, but rather mutual support and encouragement. There is no jealousy when the other succeeds, but rather joy for the other. In co-commitment we take 100% responsibility for our reality and allow the other to do the same. We do not expect the other to solve our problems or make us happy. That is our job. Also we realize that we cannot make the other happy. We can both help and support each other, but cannot create the other’s reality.
MOVING FROM CODEPENDENCY TO CO-COMMITMENT
In co-commitment we learn to confront our fears of becoming very close with the other. It is not always easy at first as we may have fears about getting very close to someone. Some of those fears might be:
a. I am not worthy and if the other knows me well, he will not want to be with me.
b. I might be hurt or rejected or betrayed.
c. The other might abandon me and then I will not be able to cope with that.
d. I will lose my freedom
e. I will not be able to be myself.
A part of the co-commitment relationship is to be able to be very close with the other but simultaneously independent. Few have managed to find this balance. Some, especially women, have mastered the ability to be close, but find it difficult to be happy alone. Others, may find it easier to be okay alone but are not able to be close and intimate. This is a generalization, and of course, there are many exceptions.
Some of the behaviors which possibly exhibit a fear of being very close with someone might be:
a. We withdraw into our selves and avoid deep or meaningful contact with the other.
b. We mentally manufacture faults in the other so that we are justified in not getting closer.
c. We become emotionally numb and lose contact with our own feelings.
d. We start arguments in order to create a distance from the other.
e. We might subconsciously create illness which might prevent us from getting closer.
f. We tend to live in the past and avoid the present and thus contact with the other.
g. We might become absorbed in our work or hobby or any activity just to avoid the other.
These reactions will be more prevalent when the other is functioning through the roles of the intimidator, interrogator, and in some cases even victim and aloof. The above reactions are unconscious self protective mechanisms which unfortunately seldom protect us and always imprison us in lives without love or growth.
Just as we have the fear getting close to the other, we also fear being far from the other. It is like the saying, “we cannot be happy together and cannot be happy apart.” When then can we be happy? This is the nature of codependence – fear of being close and fear of being apart.
PERSONAL SPACE AND TIME
Thus our movement towards co-commitment means overcoming the fear of being apart. This does not mean separating, but means being able to feel comfortable when the other may need his space and personal time in which he can do things without us. He might want to walk alone, or listen to music, or pray, or attend a lecture, or a series of classes. He might want to go out with old friends. She might want to spend the evening out with old class mates. There are times in which we might not want to do anything special, but would simply like to be alone. We need this occasionally in order to relax more deeply and renew our energy body. Often when we are with others, we need to be in a state of alertness. We might need to communicate with them, or serve them in some way. Or we may feel that we cannot be our selves in front of others. Thus most of us need some time alone, where we simply be ourselves without others around. Unfortunately many relationship partners do not feel comfortable to take this time for them selves or give it to the other. Some reasons for this are:
a. We feel abandoned by the other or fear the other will feel abandoned by us.
b. We are afraid the other cannot take care of himself, or we have not learned to care for our selves.
c. We think, “If the other really loved me, he or she would always want to be with me. She would always prefer me over her friends. Couples must be always together.”
d. In some countries such as the Mediterranean and Arab countries, it is inconceivable to some men that their wives could possibly leave the house and have interests other than the family. Thus these men feel hurt and even demeaned by the fact that their wives might enjoy a series of lectures or a small excursion only with the ladies. They might fear losing control, something which is important to their sense of security and male self image.
e. Some of us are not able to entertain ourselves while alone. We have no interests with which to occupy ourselves. All our energy is locked into the other and when he or she is not there, we do not know what to do, how to pass the time. We have not learned to be by ourselves or occupy our selves. This is why many people, when they are alone for some period of time, immediately get on the telephone or turn on the TV.
Working from codependence to co-commitment means facing these fears and being able to be happy and fulfilled even without our loved one at least for short periods of time.
Another problem of codependence is that we tend to function unconsciously or mechanically in relationship to certain issues, often getting sucked into the roles of the intimidator, interrogator, victim and aloof. Some of those issues which can trigger those roles are:
a. Whether we can trust the other or not. She might abandon me. He might cheat on me. She might hurt me. He might try to suppress me. And thus we get into these “protective” roles function unconsciously without love of real communication.
b. The question of authority, power and control. Who will decide what will happen? Who will get his way? Whose will is going to prevail? We unconsciously play games for power and control, so that we can satisfy our needs.
c. Our feelings of self worth are always very fragile and easily shaken by rejection and other’s behaviors. We then seep unconsciously into various games and roles in order to protect our self image.
d. We have feelings which have been repressed in us for many years. Some may be from this relationship and others from much earlier in our lives. These feelings are very unpleasant for us and we thus seek to conceal them. All of these unconscious reactions dampen our vitality and obstruct honest communication.
e. Sexual issues are often difficult to deal with because we have an inherent feeling of shame about our sexual needs, and also because much of our self image as men or women are tied up in being wanted physically by our partner.
These issues are seldom discussed in a mature and honest manner so that they can be solved. We often try to get what we want through the other roles, by accusing, threatening, criticizing, avoiding, playing the victim etc. We need to be able to discuss these needs and issues openly and maturely so that each can get what he or she needs from this conscious love relationship. We need to be able to communicate about our fears of our being hurt, the games we see we are playing for control, our doubts about our self worth, our deeper suppressed feelings and our sexual needs or lack of sexual needs. Thus we have a choice to make. We can allow these and other issues to silently destroy our happiness, our relationship and often our health. Or we can begin to face them directly by:
a. Look at what we are really feeling and what we are really thinking.
b. Examine it, analyze it and seek to understand exactly what we are feeling and what we need and why we are feeling it and why we need it.
c. Take responsibility for our needs, feelings and our life situation. The other is not to blame for what we are feeling or creating in our lives.
d. Taking responsibility, we share what we have discovered with our loved one without criticism or blame.
d. We work internally on getting free of anything we feel is obstructing our happiness.
e. We work with the other on finding external solutions which satisfy both of us.
RECREATING OUR CHILDHOOD
Another aspect of moving from codependence to co-commitment is to free ourselves from our childhood programming. Many of us tend to recreate one or both of our parents in our spouse. We unconsciously chose someone who is very similar or opposite to our parents. In this way we work through various dramas which were initiated in our childhood years. If we function unconsciously in relationship to these issues from our past, then they will simply fester and poison our happiness and relationship. So many times, while counseling persons having difficulty with their loved one, we have come to the very clear conclusion that he or she is simply recreating what happened with one or both of the parents, and that, if he or she does not work on transforming what happened in the past, the possibilities for harmony in the present relationship are slim. For example, Maria and John love and respect each other but are plagued with frequent arguments and clashes in which each comes a way feeling hurt and abused. John feels that Maria does not have accept him and is always telling him what to do or questioning what he has done (interrogator). When John feels that Maria is doubting his ability and his judgment, he interprets that she is doubting his self worth, something his mother did continuously telling him he would never accomplish anything in his life. He then protects himself by shouting angrily (intimidator). This creates much fear for Maria as this is exactly what her father did when she was a child. She backs off to avoid contact and closes into herself for days feeling misunderstood, hurt and abused getting into the role of the victim. John also closes up feeling hurt and unappreciated for all that he does for the family. He cannot accept having his every action and decision doubted. Feeling injustice, he becomes aloof and avoids communication for a few days at least. This goes on and one, because Maria has not yet worked out her fear of her father and and John his rejection from his mother. Their freedom lies in working with their inner child. We will discuss how this can be done in chapters 20 and 21. Another example. Olga and George also love and respect each other very much. Olga however is very much annoyed by George’s smoking. The smoke bothers her, but what bothers her most is that he continues to smoke in rooms which she has pleaded he not smoke. Olga is hurt more that George ignores her request rather than by the smoke itself. She thinks, “if he loved me, he would comply with my request”. This is simple continuation of her childhood hears in which she learned that her needs as a child and as a woman were not important and that others would not pay attention to them. She learned that as a woman she was simply there to serve and sacrifice. George loves and admires his wife. He, however, feels that as the man of the house , he cannot be running out to the balcony every time he wants to smoke. This is his home which he has created with his hard work. He doesn’t want to bother his wife with his smoke, but he cannot accept being limited in this way. He feels that his self image as a man is being intimidated by her request. This too is projection of his childhood in which his parents limited his freedom of expression. He now wants to be free to do as he likes. Olga now wants to be able to express her needs and have them respected. Each will have to work on transforming those childhood experiences. In addition they would do well to employ techniques for solving problems where their needs conflict. (Chapter 10)
The following check list (Fig. 5) helps to summarize the difference between codependence and co-commitment.
__________________________________ SYMPTOMS OF CODEPENDENCY
1. WE NEED THE OTHERS APPROVAL. WE FEAR HIS OR HER REJECTION.
2. WE CANNOT FEEL WELL IF THE OTHER DOES NOT FEEL WELL.
3. WE NEED TO SOLVE THE OTHER’S PROBLEMS FOR HIM.
4. WE CANNOT BE HAPPY UNLESS THE OTHER IS SATISFIED WITH US.
5. WE NEED TO PROTECT THE OTHER OR BE PROTECTED BY HIM.
6. WE NEED THE OTHER IN ORDER TO FEEL SECURE, WORTHY OR HAPPY.
7. WE ARE AFRAID TO TELL THE TRUTH – THE OTHER MIGHT BE HURT OR ANGRY.
8. WE LOOSE CONTACT WITH OUR NEEDS AND LIVE THROUGH THE OTHERS NEEDS.
9. WE CANNOT IMAGINE LIVING WITHOUT THE OTHER.
10. WE COMPETE FOR POWER AND SELF WORTH.
11. WE AVOID PARTICIPATING IN THE OTHER’S INTERESTS.
SYMPTOMS OF CO-COMMITMENT
1. WE ACCEPT OURSELVES AND THE OTHER.
2. WE WANT THE OTHER TO BE WELL, BUT CAN BE WELL WHEN HE CANNOT OR DOES NOT WANT TO BE.
3. WE HELP THE OTHER IN ANY WAY WE CAN, BUT DO NOT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR SOLVING HIS OR HER PROBLEMS.
4. WE WANT THE OTHER TO BE SATISFIED, BUT CAN BE HAPPY EVEN WHEN HE OR SHE IS NOT.
5. WE HAVE FAITH IN OUR MUTUAL ABILITY TO PROTECT OURSELVES.
6. WE FEEL SAFE , SECURE AND HAPPY FROM WITHIN.
7. WE COMMUNICATE THE TRUTH IN ALL CASES.
8. WE TRY TO FIND A FAIR BALANCE BETWEEN OUR NEEDS.
9. WE WANT TO BE TOGETHER AND ENJOY EACH OTHER, BUT CAN ACCEPT NOT BEING WITH THE OTHER.
10. WE EMPOWER EACH OTHER.
11. WE PARTICIPATE IN EACH OTHER’S INTERESTS.
In chapter 8 we will examine how we can create a conscious love relationships based on the principles of co-commitment.