As a therapist and life coach, it’s super important to me to make sure I’m always working on myself. Especially for helping professionals — we need to practice what we preach. I know we are all human, but I’m a firm believer that we have an obligation to not only ourselves, but the other people in our lives to be constantly working on ourselves.
That being said, I was listening to a podcast by The Angry Therapist about owning our role in an “expired relationship” — John Kim’s lingo for a break-up, which I’ve come to adapt and use with myself and my clients. I took out my journal and began to self-reflect — sure I can sit here and tell you what my exes did that didn’t make the relationship work, but what about me? It takes two to tango, and you can slice a ham as thin as you want — but it always has two sides.
I came up with a list of defects, reviewed them as a whole, and then thought to myself, “Holy shit, I’m co-dependent as fuck.” Every single defect I listed as my role in the reasons why the relationship didn’t work out rooted itself in co-dependent origins.
What’s co-dependency, or “codep” as I like to call it? In essence, it’s the need to be needed. It’s prioritizing other people’s needs at the expense of your own. It’s needing someone else to validate your self-worth. It’s losing your identity in someone else — you become the other person — a chameleon of sorts, changing and evolving into who they are and making that your identity.
I’m an ex-codep. I say “ex” and not “recovering” because I believe that I was conditioned into my codep ways. Through my own therapy, self-help, and fiercely working on myself and my defects, I believe I can unfuck the conditioning that I was originally fucked into. I don’t believe I was born this way or predisposed to these behaviors. But needless to say, I was unaware of my behavior at the time of my relationships. I’m doing the work now not only for myself, but for my future partner.
So here’s my list of defects and how to unfuck them. Maybe they look familiar to you, too — whether you were with someone who was co-dependent or you have co-dependent tendencies yourself.
1. Honesty. I wasn’t being honest with myself in any facets, first because I didn’t know my true identity, but second because I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t happy. If I admitted I wasn’t happy, that meant two things: either I had to talk to my partner about why I wasn’t happy and if we could work on it (cue fears of confrontation and potentially displeasing my partner), or if those things couldn’t be worked on, I had to end the relationship or worse, he would end the relationship (cue fears of being alone, never finding another partner, feeling unloved, etc). So this led to months of convincing myself that I was happy in a relationship that I wasn’t totally satisfied with in order to avoid the above.
How to unfuck it: First, start working on yourself with a therapist. Start creating your own identity outside of your partner. Get a baseline of who you are, without the influence of other people. What music do you like? What hobbies did you enjoy before your partner came around — do you still do them? Do you think rocky road ice cream deserves to exist? Second, change the way you see things — and get rid of your false beliefs revolving around fears of being alone and needing to feel validated from others. It’s not fair to you and your partner to hold back your unhappiness. Just because you’re unhappy about something in your relationship, doesn’t mean your relationship is at risk of ending. And, even if it’s something that is a deal-breaker for you, it’s only fair to both you and your partner that you raise the concern — one, so you can get your needs met, and two, so he can be with someone who will accept him for the things you can’t. And that’s not meant to be harsh. It is what it is.
2. Unmet expectations. I have a dear family friend who is also a psychiatrist, and he stands firm on the belief that the reason for not only relationship unhappiness, but ALL unhappiness in life is unmet expectations. We all have them — even when we say we don’t. Codeps especially believe that they can change people. That they can rescue people. Harsh reality: the only person you can change and control is yourself. And if you’ve been waiting for your partner to go to therapy, read that self-help book, or clean his little hairs off the sink after you asked him a million times to do it — you’re going to be waiting a long time, because it probably isn’t changing.
How to unfuck it: Communicate your concerns to your partner. See if they can be changed or worked on. Go to couples counseling. If they can’t be changed, ask yourself if it’s a deal breaker for you (it’s okayto say it is if it truly is). You can’t save people. You aren’t an emotional lifeguard.
3. Your. Needs. Are. Important. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: your needs are important and valid! And if you keep telling yourself they’re not, you’re going to blow up at your partner for leaving his dishes in the sink. And it’s not about the dishes in the sink.
How to unfuck it: Identify what your needs are and acknowledge that they’re important. Figure out if your partner is meeting them. Verbalize how they can meet them. Then, see if there are changes. It’s okay to walk away if, after putting in the work and couples counseling, there are no changes.
4. Have non-negotiables. It’s okay if it’s a deal breaker if your partner smokes. It’s okay if you don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t work on themselves. I think it’s healthy to have non-negotiables. To make and keep promises to yourself of the qualities that you want in a partner.
Unfuck disclaimer: This is different from having checklists, IE: he needs to have brown hair and work in finance. Be open to different types of people from all walks of life while still holding true to the qualities and traits that would contribute to effective communication, healthy boundaries, and values that are in line with yours.
At the end of our expired relationships, it can be really easy to get caught up in anger and resentment toward our ex, especially if it was painful or abusive. And that’s okay. Be in those feelings and work through them with a therapist or a life coach. But when you’re ready, take some time to consider your role, learn from it, and grow into the person you want to be.