If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve been, or are currently in an unhealthy relationship. Of course no one gets into one of these situations on purpose. You start out with the best of intentions and at first everything seems perfect. As you coast through the honeymoon phase that feels like it will never end, you begin to believe that you’re one of the lucky few who has found your soul mate, the love of your life.
Of course, as you know, this doesn’t last. As the afterglow of the honeymoon phase begins to wane, you suddenly begin to bicker over tiny things. These occurrences are so minor and easily brushed away that you barely pay them any mind. You may laugh with your significant other, “we love each other, let’s never fight about something so silly again”. But it happens again – and again. The arguments get more intense and you start to feel more and more frustrated, more desperate. ‘Why is this happening? We love each other.’ You focus more and more of your energy on her, on the relationship, but things still continue to get worse.
Then the blame game starts. Maybe she blames you: “why aren’t you more of a man?”, “you’re not giving me what I need”. Maybe you blame yourself: “why can’t I fix this?”, “how am I failing in this relationship?”, “why can’t I be better for the woman I love?”. You cling to the promise of the love you once had, the dreams of the future that seemed so beautiful, but on the inside the resentment and pain grow. Maybe you try to silence those feelings with drugs, alcohol, infidelity – whatever your self medication of choice happens to be.
Finally, when neither of you can take anymore, you end the relationship and you’re at rock bottom. You spent everything you had to make the most important thing in your life work and you failed. You didn’t just fail, it couldn’t have possibly gone any worse. How are you supposed to have any confidence in yourself after that?
Sometimes it happens once, but often it becomes a pattern. You work hard to pick yourself up from the bottom you were wallowing in, find someone who’s ‘totally different’ from the last one, and tell yourself that this time will be different. When it happens again the pain is even worse. “What’s wrong with me?”, “Am I cursed?”, “Am I just never meant to be happy?”. Some people refer to this pattern, this disease, as codependence.
If it sounds like I can relate it’s because I can – I know exactly what you’re going through. The good news is that through my own desperate attempts to cure myself over many years I’ve found the solution.
About two months ago I wrote this article on the four aspects of a ‘complete’ man, a complete human being. The point was that if any of the four areas of your life that I highlighted – Physical, Social, Professional, or Spiritual – fell out of balance or became atrophied, every other aspect of your life would suffer and the emptiness inside you would grow.
The thing that I discovered about myself, and anyone who fell into this pattern of unhealthy relationships was that once we’ve found the ‘love of our life’ at least one of those four aspects always suffered.
The most common aspect to slip in these situations is the social. As you spend more and more time with this one person you begin to spend less and less time nurturing and developing the rest of your social circle. Friends become more distant, you feel more isolated, and your significant other becomes the majority of your social life. It’s no wonder that you feel so empty when you part ways and your entire social life is taken away.
The next most common is probably physical health. Maybe you were consciously or subconsciously getting yourself into great shape so that you’d have a better chance of finding that love. Once you do though, you no longer have that incentive so you begin to ‘let yourself go’. Your self-respect goes down and your need for external validation rises. Then, when your main source for validation gets removed, you’ve got another reason why you’re at your ‘bottom’.
Spiritually, you’ve been run ragged. Long before your inability to fix things stole any remaining drops of self confidence you had left, you were already beginning to sabotage yourself from the inside. Typically, individuals who find themselves in this codependent pattern have a fear of getting too close to someone that usually stems from some early childhood experience. You’re usually not consciously aware of it at first, but as you get closer to your new love this anxiety secretly grows, kills your motivation to keep developing the other aspects of your life, and leads you down more unhealthy roads.
So how do you break this pattern? Simple. You become aware of the forces working to subvert your actions and choose the opposite course. You can either let your feelings control your actions, or let your actions control your feelings. Even though every bone in your body wants you to let your physical, social, and professional life take a backseat to the relationship – you can choose otherwise. Just like on an airplane, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can assist anyone else, otherwise you’ll both be lost. If you try to focus on her or on the relationship before taking care of yourself, it’ll always get worse.
Don’t get me wrong, relationships will never be easy. More than likely your significant other was or is going through some of the same issues (we attract our own). Even if you’ve seen a therapist to get to the root of your fear of intimacy (which I couldn’t recommend more), that anxiety is still going to be there, still going to try to lead you down the path of self-sabotage. But if you’re at your strongest – if you get and keep yourself in your best physical shape, if you main a healthy and dynamic social circle, if you continue to develop and share your gifts and do your best to stay as spiritually centered and healthy as possible then you can handle anything that’s thrown your way. Even if that means realizing that the relationship isn’t the right one for you, you’ll be able to see it long before it becomes seriously toxic and you’ll be able to move on in a healthy way without coming near that bottom.
Even though we now know the path it doesn’t make it any easier to walk it. Different people were meant to face different challenges in life, and this one is about as tough as they come. The good news is that you’re not in this alone. Walk with me and we’ll get there together.