“I thought that this was love” – how to make the difference between love and codependency

“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.

codependency

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.

In her article Darlene Lancer explains this word that way:

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:

 

Early Stage

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.

 

Middle Stage

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.

 

Late Stage

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.

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. 

codependency

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.

Open letter to the guy that broke my heart

Open letter to the guy that broke my heart

Dear friend,

  

For a long time, you and “our story” was buried inside me like the wreck of the Titanic on the bottom of the sea – forgotten and invisible, yet part of my story, my past. Even years later, it was very difficult for me to dive to the depth of the sea to look at the wreck of our story without feeling overwhelmed with sadness and feelings of failure.

heart

Letting go of you was the most difficult thing I ever did in my life.
It was like letting go of some sort of drugs. . 

Simply because, somehow, by who you are, you touched deep parts of me I didn’t even know existed. With you, life suddenly became real and worth living.

At the same time, meeting you made me get in touch with that hidden, hurt place deep inside of me.

This part of me which was somehow awakened by your way of being.

I desperately wanted you to love me.

You loved the way I loved you. You loved the way I understood you, I listened to you, the way I gave everything I possibly could imagine to prove you my sincerity. You were amazed at my capacity to “truly love”.

Therefore, you were trying to feel attracted. You saw parts of my heart, my devotion to you and you were impressed by the way I loved you… and you were trying to get to a place where you could answer my love.

You know all that.

The reason I decided to write this open letter is to tell you – and to a society who is lead, through music, books and movies to believe that such an experience is true, real love – that this isn’t love.

This wasn’t love.

Hang on and I will explain:

When I finally had to realize that you didn’t love me in a way that would melt our lives together forever – I was devastated.
To accept that you would never be the one I could hide myself into, nor the one that would make me feel whole as a person turned my life into a dark hole for many months.
Loosing you made me get in touch with this deep hole inside of me that desperately longed to be known, seen, wanted and loved.
I fell into deep sadness and feelings of failure. I finally got in touch with this uncontrollable need to prove myself worthy of love and acceptance – and at the same time this deep feeling of shame, unworthiness and fear of abandonment.

You broke my heart.

More than a decade later,

I am so grateful that you couldn’t love me (that way).
I’m beyond grateful that you were very sincere and wanted to do the “right” thing – you could have used my devotion and longings in ways I don’t even want to imagine.
But you didn’t. Thank you for that.
In that, I’m so grateful that you resisted my fervent attempt to get you into my “game”.

Of course, I wasn’t playing. I thought that these deep feelings had to be love. That this deep longing to be with you had to be real, pure, true love.

I was convinced that being with you would make my world perfect, give my life a sense of being. That my life was all “fake” in comparison to how “real” you were to me!

Today I know better.

I know that this wasn’t love – because it was never about YOU. It was all about me.
Today I understand that I was vicariously showering you with all the love and attention – hoping that you would, one day, fill my emotional needs for love and intimacy that have been running empty in my life.
My worst fear was that I was not good enough to be loved by you.

This fear made me put all the focus on you – I was very capable in molding myself into what I believed (and knew) you most desire.
By doing that, I buried the parts of me I felt you wouldn’t like. I buried the dreams I knew you wouldn’t share. I put away thoughts that told me that you were not really the kind of guy I would choose to spend my life with.
Not because you’re a bad guy. Much rather because who I truly am does not fit into who you truly are. I have always been too much for you. You had visions and dreams in life I didn’t share a bit.

It took me many years to see this clearly.

The first few years into my marriage with Benny I was struggling to let go of that image of “true love”.
I was struggling with letting go of that deep feeling of guilt and sadness every time I ventured myself to that wrack on the bottom of the sea..

  • It was the day when I understood that this whole story was never about true love. That was when the wrack on the bottom of the sea started to dissolve.
  • The day I realized that it was my own emptiness, my own needs, my own hole in my soul that cried out to be loved by you.
  • That all my pain, my agony, the suffering I went through because of you – was never really because of you.
heart

Yes, you did a great job uncovering those needs and that emptiness. But in the end, it was never about you, not even about “true love”.

It was all about my needs, my longings and my voids. Call it codependency.

More on that in the next article.