Relationship Health

Relationship Health: The birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing!

Finally, the buds are on the trees, and the daffodils are out. Spring is always a good time to check in about relationship health.

Among the top contributors to anxiety and depression, nothing competes with how an unhealthy relationship can impact our lives. We feel tired, trapped, hopeless, or even fearful. We watch the clock, awaiting with dread for the once beloved, yet now despised partner or spouse to come home to a house or apartment of gloom.

What happened? Well, there are many factors that can make a relationship turn sour. Without getting into too much detail, it is usually poor behaviors that end up hijacking trust. Substance use, infidelity, and the completely destructive action (or inaction) of saying you’ll do something for someone, then not doing it. Or doing something else that you decided was a better idea.

What I want to explain today, is the relationship dynamic that is usually in place while many of these lousy behaviors come to the surface. I may have touched on it in other blog entries, but, really, enough cannot be said about the concept of CODEPENDENCY.

There are volumes written about codependency. For good reason. It’s a killer. It is the ugly relationship dynamic behind enabling, drinking and drug use, anxiety, depression, and full blown conditions of learned helplessness that prevent adult children from moving out of the house when you really wish they had more skills.

Trying to put it as simply as possible, codependency is when people become addicted to controlling the feelings, thoughts and behavior of others in order to gain peace for themselves.

You might be saying to yourself right now, “Wow, that sounds like what therapists are into!” You are partially correct. Probably one of the biggest hurdles of doing this work is recognizing that I’m at risk of significant stress due to codependency. This is why when working with folks, I constantly remind clients (and myself) that the client is driving the bus.

The words guidance and influence are keys to disengaging from codependency. You cannot control another person’s thoughts and feelings. I’ll write that again: You CANNOT control another person’s thoughts or feelings.

That said, not for a second do I want people to minimize their importance in relationships. What you think, feel and how you behave are huge, and we all have the ability to change things for one another. It’s quite a good feeling to inspire hope.

I’d like to think this is what therapists work hard to do, but we must do it in a way where clients are doing the heavier lifting. Codependents are really good at insisting on doing all the heavy lifting (to get control), and then complaining they don’t get help when they are out of gas (this REALLY pisses people off). A healthy attitude is to remember that our partners, co-workers and kids have the same stakes in the game. We ALL crave control and we know we can’t have it!… Such a bummer. How do we play well together? When we go from helpful guide, to tyrant, we are not playing nice.

Sometimes I call this interplay with the thoughts and feelings of others, “the dance.” We will sometimes move in and out of codependent thinking depending on the relationship. Just about every “love” relationship has elements of codependent thinking because the stakes are so high. How do we move from codependence (stifling and unattractive) to interdependence. We might really dig so and so, maybe feel like we really “NEED” them, but we also must acknowledge our individual self. A person with confidence knows that relationships are games of choice, not hostage situations.

The problem with codependent relationships, is that the “hostage taking” happens slowly; and usually feels good. We see other people as our “rock” or the keel of our boat. Suddenly, the “rock” in our lives loses a job, loses a parent, or suffers from any number of problems that happen to vulnerable humans. If we don’t have our own sense of self outside the relationship, weathering the storm can be tough. We can practice empathy and have compassion, but when we feel useless and terrible about ourselves for not rescuing someone out of a tough situation; we can end up making the situation about OUR feelings of inadequacy. That’s not very compassionate or helpful.

I think a good relationship is one where people can dance to a beat together, but also keep a rhythm of their own so they can still have the energy to dance when their loved ones aren’t around. If you are having trouble knowing where your business ends and a loved one’s business begins, or vice versa; come in and we can collaborate on setting some helpful boundaries.

Pete Afflerbach, MA LCMHC is a licensed mental health counselor. Pete works with all ages and has particular specialties in parenting and school success. Pete is enthusiastic about helping people break down the challenges they face into smaller, more manageable pieces.


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