Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

The Co-dependent Dynamic and the Myth of Getting What You Want

Squeezing the dry sponge of a relationship

Why do we believe that, in divorce, our ex-husband will be a better father than he was in marriage? Or, if we have a need to treat an affair as an actual relationship, our lover will do the same? Or, if our ex-spouse was controlling within the context of marriage, s/he will be transformed into the picture of altruism as an ex-spouse? More importantly, why do we fail to recognize that people are, by and large consistent, and then run headlong into the neurotic behavior that perpetuates the frustration of such relationships for us?

Exercising the intrinsic desire that people act in a particular way in order for us to get our needs met is the emotional equivalent of squeezing a dry sponge. Even the most evolved of us operate from some position of egoism - sometime even narcissism (they're different) - and agenda that precludes agency over the behavior of others.

Agency is the misperception within a co-dependent dynamic that describes our belief that we can control the behavior of others through our own actions. This myth of controlling others is concurrent with the myth of managing emotions. We can't control the way that others act any more than we can control what or how they think and feel by virtue of what we do. Any notion to the contrary is simply grist for the crazy-making mill.

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Backtracking a bit, it's important to note that co-dependency is not bad. All relationships, by their very nature, are co-dependent. It's when one partner in a relationship begins to distort themselves or their behavior - to "give themselves away", so to speak - that this naturally occurring and necessary co-dependence starts down the road of pathology.

We all engage in some degree of agency; it's a ubiquitous aspect of the human condition. By and large, rather than out-and-out manipulation, these are simply what we might consider "social suggestions". Challenges arise when the suggestion isn't followed. Pathology arises when the person being ignored starts throwing themselves against the wall in an effort to make that "suggestion" - or, at that point, more likely "instruction" - happen.

Nowhere is this more evident than within the context of relationships; gender-based and stylistic differences make these ripe for exactly this sort of tension. One partner -- typically the more archetypally masculine -- enters into a relationship at a fundamentally physical level. The other partner - typically the more archetypally feminine -- enters into the relationship at a fundamentally emotional level. This goes to the notion that the masculine archetype tends to be physical first and emotional second, while the feminine archetype tends to be emotional first and physical second.

The relationship escalates and, when one partner begins asking for more - basically asking that the shape of the relationship change in order that their socio-emotional needs are met - things begin to get complicated.

There are three people in any relationship - the two partners and the relationship. There are also three relationships in any relationship - the relationship of the two partners to each other, which creates the primary relationship, and the relationship of each partner to the relationship. So, when the relationship of one partner to the relationship as a whole changes, but the other partner's does not, will not or cannot, that first partner is open to a world of frustration and emotional turmoil. The degree of that turmoil is what we volunteer for.

Squeezing a dry sponge is the failure to recognize that, although the circumstances of a relationship may have changed or one's relationship to the relationship may have changed, the system as a whole hasn't shifted. The neurosis comes in trying to force it to shift. The pathology comes when that demand morphs itself into irrational anxiety, a collapse of sensible social boundaries, clinging, neediness, manic texting or emailing, co-opting others to leverage our intentions, and so on. This acting out of character may even be behavior that, in its extreme, could be characterized as pseudo-borderline in aspect.

What this all boils down to is a caution to make an effort to understand the nature of a relationship and balancing what may be misplaced and egoistic need against the reality of the situation. We may want our partner to be different within the context of a shifting landscape, but what we want and what we're going to get may not match up. The key to sanity here is understanding and accepting the limits and boundaries of the relationship and then deciding if that is somewhere that we wish to be.

 

© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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