Codependence or co-commitment?
From the book LOVE IS THE CHOICE By Robert Elias Najemy
For some time now two new words have become very popular in studying the Psychology of Relationships. They are codependence and co-commitment and each describes a totally different types of relationships.
Codependence describes a situation in which two people are dependent or addicted to each other. We lose the ability to be happy within ourselves and become dependent on each other for our feelings of meaningfulness, safety and self worth. We 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 various roles, by intimidating, questioning, criticizing, playing the victim or retreating into oneself and becoming aloof.
Such relationships often result in vicious circles in which no one changes and no one is happy. We might even undermine our own happiness and power because we are afraid to be happy or strong when the other is not. Promises or perhaps even threats that serious changes are going to take place seldom become reality.
We feel responsible for the other¢s reality and cannot let him or her feel unhappy. We try to change the other¢s mood, and until the other changes, we cannot feel happy ourselves. Our state of mind is dependent upon the other¢s condition, behavior and attitude.
In codependence, our fears prevent us from telling the whole truth to the other and sometimes even to ourselves.
Criticism becomes a major form of communication and arguments continuously recycle. Most arguments revolve around the ancient game of “who is right.”
When we are dependent on someone, we will often deny our own needs and even our values in order to ensure the other¢s acceptance and / or approval. We might find ourselves not only ignoring our needs, but also doing things we do not really want to do.
In co-commitment, we feel close to each and want to share our lives without feeling dependent or that we cannot be happy alone or with someone else. We want the other to be happy and we do whatever we can in order to help him or her be happy, but do not believe we are responsible if he or she is not. 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 each other. We learn to be truthful about needs, thoughts and feelings.
We love each other and want the other to blossom and succeed in whatever he or she chooses to pursue. There is no antagonism, but rather mutual support and encouragement. We feel joy rather than jealousy when the other succeeds.
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 responsibility. Also we realize that we cannot make the other happy. We 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 intimate. This 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 or she will not want to be with me.
b. I might be hurt, rejected or betrayed.
c. The other might abandon me and I will not be able to cope.
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 intimate while simultaneously independent. Few have managed to find this balance. Some have mastered the ability to be close, but find it difficult to be happy alone. Others may find it easier to be alone, but are not able to be intimate.
Some of the behaviors that possibly exhibit a fear of being very close with someone might be:
a. We withdraw into ourselves 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 feelings.
d. We start arguments in order to create a distance from the other.
e. We subconsciously create an illness that prevents us from getting closer.
f. We tend to live in the past and avoid the present, and thus contact with the other.
g. We become absorbed in our work, hobby or any activity in order to avoid the other.
The above reactions are unconscious self-protective mechanisms, which unfortunately seldom protect us and always imprison us in lives without love or growth. Such reactions will be even more prevalent when the others are playing roles such as intimidator or interrogator and in some cases even victim and aloof.
But just as we have the fear getting close to the other, we also fear being too far away. There is a Greek 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.
Another anecdote illustrates the twin fears of being close and being apart. A son asks his father for advice. “Father I do not know what to do, get married or not.” The father shakes his head, “What can I tell you my son, whatever you choose, you will regret it.”
Personal space and time
Our movement toward co-commitment means overcoming the fear of being apart. This does not mean separating, but rather being able to feel comfortable when the other may need his or her “space” or personal time in which he or she can do things without us. One of us might want to walk alone, listen to music, pray or meditate, attend a lecture or seminar or go out with old friends or classmates.
There are times when 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. When we are with others, we frequently feel the need to be in a state of alertness. Perhaps we feel the need to communicate with them or serve them in some way. Many of us cannot be ourselves in front of others. Thus, most of us need some time alone when we can simply be ourselves.
Unfortunately, many relationship partners do not feel comfortable taking this time for themselves or giving 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 ourselves.
c. We think, “If the other really loved me, he or she would always want to be with me. He or she would always prefer me to his or 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 that is important to their sense of security and male self-image. As always, there are exceptions.
e. Some of us are unable to entertain ourselves while alone. We have no interests with which to occupy ourselves. All our energy is locked into others, and when they are not there, we do not know what to do, how to pass the time. We have not learned to be by ourselves or how to occupy ourselves. This is why many people, when they are alone for some period of time, immediately get on the telephone or turn on the TV.
Moving 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 automatically, relative to certain issues, often getting sucked into the roles of the intimidator, interrogator, victim and aloof. Some of those issues that trigger those roles are:
a. Whether we can trust the other or not. We think, “She might abandon me.” ” He might cheat on me.” “She might hurt me.” “He might try to suppress me.” As a result we get locked into control games, functioning unconsciously without love or real communication.
b. The question of authority, power and control. Who will decide what will happen? Who will get his or her way? Whose will is going to prevail? We unconsciously engage in games for power and control so we can satisfy our needs.
c. Our feelings of self-worth are very fragile and easily shaken by rejection or other¢s behaviors. We then become defensive in our attempt to protect our self-image.
d. We have feelings that have been repressed in us for many years. Some may be from this relationship and others from those much earlier in our lives. These feelings are unpleasant and we often 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 is tied up in being sexually desired by our partner.
These issues are seldom discussed in a mature and honest manner so they can be solved. We often try to get what we want 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 communicate about our fears of 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 thereof.
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 in the following way:
a. Discover what we really feel, need and think.
b. Examine, analyze and seek to understand exactly why we feel, need and think what we have discovered.
c. Take responsibility for our needs, feelings and our life situation. The other is not responsible for what we are feeling or creating in our lives.
d. Share what we have discovered with our loved one without criticism or blame.
d. Work internally on getting free from anything we feel is obstructing our happiness or love.
e. Work with the other on finding solutions that 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 or attract” one or both of our parents in our spouse or even in our children. We unconsciously choose persons who are very similar or opposite to our parents. We also tend to embody our parents’ qualities in our selves. In this way, we work through various dramas that were initiated in our childhood years.
If we function unconsciously relative to these issues from our past, they will simply fester and poison our happiness and relationship. So many times, while counseling persons having difficulty with their loved ones, we have come to the very clear conclusion that they are simply recreating what happened with one or both of the parents, and that, if they do not work on transforming what happened in the past, the possibilities for harmony in their present relationship are slim.
Maria and John
Maria and John love and respect each other, but they are plagued with frequent arguments and clashes in which each departs feeling hurt and abused. John feels Maria does not accept him, always tells him what to do, or questions what he has done. He perceives her as his interrogator.
When John feels that Maria doubts his ability or his judgment, he interprets that she is doubting his self-worth, something his mother did continuously by telling him he would never accomplish anything in his life. He then protects himself by shouting angrily so as to intimidate her.
Maria fears his behavior, as this is exactly what her father did when she was a child. She backs off and closes into herself for days, feeling misunderstood, hurt and abused. She now feels that she is 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 victimized, he becomes aloof and avoids communication at least for a few days.
Maria then feels left out and rejected because John is not communicating. She feels that he does not love her and begins to seek his attention sometimes in negative ways.
This goes on and on because Maria has not yet worked out her fear of her father and John has not confronted the rejection of his mother. Their freedom lies in working with their inner child.
This process is discussed in the book the Psychology of Happiness and on our web site www.HolisticHarmony.com.
Olga and George
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 physically, but she is emotionally hurt because he continues even though she has explained how much it bothers her. She is hurt more by George¢s ignoring her request than by the smoke itself. She thinks, “If he loved me, he would comply with my request.”
This is a reenactment of her childhood years when 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 became programmed to believe 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 through 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 reflection of his childhood when his parents limited his freedom of expression. He now wants to be free to do as he pleases. Olga also 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. The chapter on conflict resolution guides on how to resolve conflict in needs between couples.
The following checklist 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 or her.
6. We need the other in order to feel secure, worthy or happy.
7. We are afraid to tell the truth because the other might become hurt or angry.
8. We lose contact with our needs and live through the other¢s 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 chooses not 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 truthfully in all cases.
8. We try to find a fair balance between our needs and the other¢s.
9. We want to be together and enjoy each other, but can accept sometimes being apart.
10. We empower each other.
11. We participate in each other¢s interests.