It’s natural to want to find a life partner you can bond with. Love is the topic of so many stories, books and songs that you are constantly reminded of the desire to share your life and the deepest part of yourself with someone else. When you get into a relationship that makes you feel connected, you are utterly thrilled that you have been able to get close to another person.
But things aren’t always as they seem. There is a level of closeness that is unhealthy. If your relationships seem to consume you to the point that you spend more time thinking about the other person than yourself, you might not really be close to the other person. You might instead be codependent.
Love vs. Codependency
What is the difference between love and codependency? It is really based on who you are and how strong you are as an individual as well as what draws you to another person. Healthy individuals think of themselves as whole with or without a partner. If you are healthy, being in a relationship can be fun and somewhat comforting, but it isn’t necessary to your feelings of wholeness or self-esteem.
By contrast, a codependent individual typically struggles with very low self-esteem and is desperate to bond with another person. If you are codependent, you may be powerfully drawn to other people because you believe another person will fill a sense of emptiness you have inside and make you feel complete. You may be attracted to people who have a lot of problems, because taking care of their problems fills your time and your attention. You might put up with a lot of unacceptable behavior because you have such a deep-seated fear of abandonment. You spend your life looking outside yourself for confirmation that you are lovable.
When you are in a relationship, you’re on top of the world. Nothing feels more euphoric to you than bonding with another person. You believe you are amazingly close because you spend every waking moment thinking of the other person and trying to be connected. Sooner or later the other person will resist your attempts to take him or her hostage, and you will end up feeling rejected.
What Makes Codependency Dangerous and Destructive
Codependency can be compared to being hungry all the time and never feeling like you have enough food to be satisfied. In your case, you are hungry for love and no matter how much love or attention others shower on you, somehow you still feel like it isn’t enough.
You end up putting your needs behind the needs of the other person. You mold yourself into being whomever your partner wants you to be. You may stay in a relationship with someone you are not really compatible with because you feel like it’s better to be in a relationship with someone who is troubled or flawed than to be alone.
When you do find a partner with whom you have some things in common and you truly like each other’s company, you may have difficulties in the relationship because you feel insecure. You continually ask for reassurance that your partner is committed, even if he or she tells you and shows you on a daily basis that you are loved. Or you may demand more love and affection than is humanly possible for the other person to give and you end up pushing them away.
Loving Yourself: Beyond Too Much Dependence
Codependency is a problem that isn’t rooted in your current relationship. It is rooted in yourself. You will never be able to form a true bond with another person that is based on love if you don’t genuinely love yourself.
Healing from codependency means recognizing that suffocation isn’t love. Healing requires putting the focus on yourself. You need to get to know yourself, what’s important to you and what you want out of life. That may include not settling for a partner who doesn’t have the same interests or desires that you do, or a partner who is addicted, distant or emotionally unavailable just to avoid being alone.
The goal of healthy relationships isn’t to be consumed with focusing on another person all the time but instead to be able to relate in a healthy way while remaining a self-sufficient individual. Consider working with a therapist or in a support group such as Co-Dependents Anonymous. It is possible to heal from codependency, grow to love yourself and eventually have a healthy relationship with another human being.