As my clients begin journeying into more authentic relationships, a common question they ask is "Is it codependent to...?"
When we have become used to relationships being burdened with unspoken expectations, self-betrayal, and false intimacy, healthy relationships can actually feel strange. We find ourselves waiting for the other shoe to drop. True intimacy is a risk, and that can make it feel an awful lot like the dangerous and destructive connections we used to know.
Too often as we regroup from heartbreak and abuse, we see it as black-and-white, cutting off connection to avoid the toxicity. What grays these areas of growth is the fact that there is an inherent inter-dependency to authentic relationship.
As you move into the next level of connecting with others, when situations feel iffy to you there are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if codependency is taking hold again.
Am I betraying myself in this situation?
Do I say something is okay with me when it's not? Am I ignoring insult or injury to keep the peace? Have I made concessions that are causing me to shrink from who I want to be?
Am I owning something that isn't mine?
Do actions show that I'm operating under the premise that I am responsible for the other person's attitudes, choices, or personal growth?
Have I stepped away from my own journey for this relationship?
Have areas of growth, potential, or recovery in my life been put by the wayside for the sake of keeping this person happy and in my life?
Is it the best part of me that loves this relationship?
Does this person's attitude and choices make me feel more comfortable keeping things I want to let go? Do I feel urged and challenged to reach my potential, or excused for letting it languish?
All these questions can (and should) be asked vice versa as well, as we examine our role in the other person's life.
Discernment in these areas can be tricky. Knowing your story--the themes that shape your passions and pursuits and the wounds that can obscure your vision--is key.
It's important to remember, too, that threads of codependency can show up even in healthy relationships. These things happen not because we are bad, but because we are built for connection in a world that rarely gets it right the first time.
The journey of becoming more authentic and more free is a lifelong one. So keep at it, and it'll get better.
Mike Ensley of Comeback Story Counseling is a professional counselor in Loveland, Colorado.