This summer I ended a long-term relationship with whom I thought at various points in our time together I was going to spend the rest of my life with and potentially marry.
My ex obviously didn’t quite feel the same way and any hint of a conversation about the future (usually instigated by me) was met with a swift change of subject, uncomfortable silence or worse, the topic was shot down with a defensive attitude about ‘feeling pressured.’
Throughout our relationship I often felt insecure and ultimately became riddled with anxiety about where I saw myself within the relationship.
Clearly we were on wrong pages when it came to some of the fundamental things between us. Yet, I ignored or rather didn’t see the warning signs of someone who wasn’t able to emotionally commit to me. Instead, I told myself to hang on in there, given a bit of time and space emotionally, he would come round. Surely?
Towards the end of our relationship and since our breakup given the time to reflect (including plenty of chats to girlfriends, Google searches related to relationship breakdown and from my own professional experience), I realised that one thing had been staring right at me in the face and I had totally failed to see it – I had been in a co-dependent relationship. In other words, I put more of myself into the relationship than he did to the detriment of my own self-worth.
I hadn’t realised how much at the time and throughout our time together I relied on him for support and reassurance. The emphasis being on the amount of support and reassurance I needed from him. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t seek support and reassurance from a partner; but in my case, I couldn’t see anything outside of being with him.
This was the problem. I had somehow built my entire existence around prioritising his happiness.
So how did this co-dependency manifest itself?
In reality it was simple, I mothered him. I cooked, I cleaned, I organised social events, holidays. I arranged his life so that he didn’t have to. When he was angry or upset, I took his irritations as my own. Lines had become blurred.
The effects of this was a slow-burner resulting in subtle changes in the dynamics between us over a period of years. The more I did, naturally he did less. In a practical sense this was fairly obvious when we lived together, but significantly this was reflected in his attitude towards me. In some unconscious way I believe that he grew to resent me for taking on this ‘mothering role’ and at the same time I began to resent him for not helping out more and failing to listen. But for me, every physical thing I did was my way of expressing affection and love. A classic sign of co-dependency and signs of a toxic relationship.
I was clearly living in a world of denial about where we were at. In reality however, I was afraid of being alone and had conjured a fantasy of us eventually committing to one another when he was good and ready.
It’s strange to look back now and see what finally ended us. A holiday. One that gave us both some amazing memories. But upon our return to the real-world, I realised how much we had both changed and at the same time hadn’t.
Prior to calling on time on the relationship, I had begun to unconsciously move the boundaries of what I found acceptable and the holiday together reaffirmed this. One significant moment was when he was making jokes at my expense (I cannot even recall precisely what had led to this) and it resulted in an anxiety attack. Initially, I put this down to feeling tired from the amount of travelling we had been doing but each time I sat back and thought properly about the event, I knew that it was the physiological result of something deeper.
It was incredibly upsetting to end the relationship and for him, my true feelings came as a shock. He hadn’t realised how unhappy I had been. In one of our last conversations, he asked me why I hadn’t spoken up before. But I had tried many times, but perhaps not hard enough or rather I had not approached the conversation in the right way. I had grown used to hiding my own feelings so I stopped expressing myself.
I have learnt since ending the relationship that the behaviour my ex and I displayed towards one another was not healthy and having recently entered into a new relationship, I now have the responsibility to speak up for me and for him.
If you are unsure of whether you are in a co-dependent relationship, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you apologise often for your behaviour/actions unnecessarily, and in some cases apologise for your partner’s (possibly to others)?
- Do you avoid confronting a partner about decisions/certain discussions due to fearing rejection? Are you also blamed for being over-sensitive if your decide to voice your thoughts and they are rejected and this subsequently causes upset?
- Do you feel unable to say no to your partner? This could be to do with day-to-day decision making, or deeper issues such as with money and sex.
- Do you protect your partner’s behaviour through denial of your own feelings?
If it’s a yes some of these, you could be in a co-dependent relationship. It doesn’t mean that a relationship will ultimately fail but it may be necessary to establish clear boundaries and ensure that a life exists outside of the relationship itself, for instance by focusing on and fostering other relationships with family members and friends.