In all our relationships, it’s essential that we find a point of balance between supporting our own needs, wants, and desires and those of another person. When we fail to satisfy our own needs, it results in no one’s needs being fully satisfied. Instead of asking for or manifesting what we want or desire, we become tolerant of mediocrity in our relationships.
Although it’s wonderful to have a strong drive to support, serve, or assist others, in our need to give, we sometimes become overly responsible or over cooperate. This pattern debilitates us and those we serve. This tendency to over help can lead to a pattern of co-dependency where we lose ourselves and obsessively focus on other people’s lives. We base our value on our need to be needed, giving us a feeling of self-worth and even a sense of security. Such an over focus on giving to others without receiving in return creates an emotional and energetic imbalance in our relationships.
Our co-dependent patterns can lure us into superficial relationships, emotional crutches we use to avoid our feelings of lovelessness and insecurity. We look for love and security outside of ourselves and in intimate relationships to distract us from feelings of disconnection. Unhealthy relationships woven of the co-dependent patterns of two people keeps them from developing a whole and healthy relationship with themselves.
In my life, the pivotal moment of release came when I found the courage to let go of my second marriage and chose to love myself more than the codependent patterns that had held my relationship together.
Sitting on the wobbly first step of my back deck on a cold spring day in March, I remember thinking, “I cannot compromise myself or my children any longer.” It felt like my feet were on the ground anchoring me in my current life while the rest of me was spinning out of control into my future.
At the same time, I felt depressed, having long been unhappy but having not allowed myself to feel the depth of my pain or make an alternative choice. Yet I knew I was compromising myself by continuing to play the role of caretaker, keeping everything together to make others happy.
For over nine years, I felt as if I had been in emotional and spiritual limbo, going through the motions in my second marriage while setting my own needs aside for those of others. I knew this place well, for I had lived here all my life: waiting for the other shoe to fall, waiting for things to get better, waiting for the courage to leave.
I clung to my daily routines as a buoy so as not to slip into the sea of despair that threatened to engulf me. I knew I needed to embrace my pain and let it guide me, but I was too afraid to do so. I also knew that in choosing to make other people’s lives wonderful I had temporarily forfeited my own fulfillment, along with my dream of genuine love and connection with myself and a true partner.
Lying on my bed, I was transported back to my living room on the night of my second husband’s doctoral graduation party. I saw him standing, wearing a paper king’s crown, beaming triumphantly as friends and family congratulated him on his accomplishment, while I watched from the shadows―not as his queen, but as a servant to his dreams, as always.
I had deferred my life for his, in yet another self-sacrificial relationship. I had supported his dreams without asking for support of my own, since trying to fix the relationship made me feel worthwhile and in control. I had created a familiar scenario—anticipating that a relationship would complete me―but instead of bringing us closer, my co-dependent patterns of behavior had led to a situation where we led parallel but separate lives linked only through children and the house.
Even with my underlying support, he resisted doing his own spiritual work. He was content with his dependence on me and the stagnant day-to-day routine of our relationship. In this graveyard of a marriage, trust, integrity, and intimacy were long gone; in their place grew a destructive kudzu vine of indifference that suppressed even discontent. I was living in passive co-existence.
From the perspective of my friends and family, my life appeared ideal. They saw a comfortable home, two well-adjusted children, and a marriage absent of external conflict. But what they observed was a facade. I tried to make my marriage work by taking care of everything, a deception that was encouraged by family and friends. They supported me as long as I tried to keep the relationship alive even when it had already died. Instead of listening to my own heart, I deferred to everyone else and their idea of what was best for me. Afraid of disappointing them, I had avoided the choice to leave my marriage, a choice I knew my heart had already made years ago.
To create the space for a genuine loving and connected relationship, I had to let go of the relationship I was in and release the toxic residue left in its wake. Even though I was terrified of being divorced again, I knew on some level I was inviting in an intense period of self-discovery and healing. Because I had defined myself by my roles as a wife, mother, and caretaker, I felt untethered and uncertain, and questioned who I was and what I truly wanted. In letting go of my anger at myself and my ex-husband, and forgiving the disappointing loss of our relationship, I started to come out of the shadows of shame and let my tears wash away a lifetime of toxic residue.
Like a cosmic cow catcher in front of a locomotive, I had to clear the track of anything that blocked the flow of love in my life. If I wanted to live a life of authenticity, I had to affirm that I was lovable and didn’t need anyone’s permission to be or express this love. And that, in turn, meant changing everything I knew about how to operate in relationship.
Throughout my life, my desire to escape the pain of lovelessness had reinforced my need to be overly responsible and led to my co-dependent pattern. This co-addictive pattern of needing to be needed temporarily filled the void left by the absence of self-love and self-worth. With the assistance of my energetic support team of my therapist, spiritual guides, and friends, I began to heal my lovelessness by opening my heart to self-love, walking the path of absolute vulnerability, and choosing not to be a victim of my past.
In my self-discovery, I realized that no relationship ever rescues us; we have to rescue ourselves. I did.