concern codependent dynamics with lovers, friends and relatives.
Codependency is defined by an unequal/unbalanced distribution
of power in a relationship; one person is dependent (often,
on a substance or activity) and has little or no empowerment--the
other is The Co-dependent (or enabler) who needs to feel needed.
Codependency is not the disease--it's only a symptom of deeper
issues, like enmeshment, fear of abandonment, attachment
difficulties, lack of self-worth and need for control.
To learn more about this issue and how it's resolved, click here.
I FEEL I'M A CAREGIVER, AND HERE'S MY PROBLEM:
I WAS MARRIED FOR 30 YRS AND NOW WE ARE DIVORCED. I'VE BEEN SEEING
SOMEONE FOR ABOUT 3 YRS. I BELIEVE I'M IN LOVE WITH HIM, BUT THERE
ARE SOME LITTLE THINGS I WON'T ACCEPT FROM HIM, BECAUSE I'M STILL
HOLDING OUT FOR MY EX TO WANT ME BACK. HE'S NOW MARRIED AND WE
TALK ALL THE TIME, BUT ALL HE EVER TALKS ABOUT IS HIS WIFE! CONVERSATIONS
CAN GO ON FOR 2 OR 3 HOURS ABOUT THINGS SHE DOESN'T DO, AND HIS
DISLIKES. THE QUESTION IN MY HEAD IS ALWAYS, "THEN WHY ARE
YOU STILL THERE?" I TRY TO BE A FRIEND TO HIM, BUT I GET
SICK OF HEARING WHAT'S GOING ON IN HIS NEW MARRIAGE! I SAY ALL
THIS BECAUSE I FEEL HE NEEDS ME NOW. I WANT HIM
TO BE HAPPY AND IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE HE IS. I WANT TO HELP HIM,
EVEN IF IT MEANS GIVING UP MY HAPPINESS TO GO
BACK TO HIM. SHOULD I ASK HIM IF WE WILL EVER GET BACK TOGETHER?
I NEED TO KNOW THIS SO I CAN MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE. PLEASE HELP
Both you and your husband have moved on after many years together,
but it sounds like you don't want to let go. Second choices
may not work out the way we fantasize, because we bring personal
traits and unresolved issues into each new relationship, assuming
"it'll be different this time." Your ex-husband
may require a mother more than a wife--but men always
leave their moms if/when they finally grow up. In listening to
his complaints, you're helping him remain in that marriage;
he now has both of you (it's called, triangulation) which could
be what he actually wanted, before your separation. Bitching
about that relationship relieves his tension and dissatisfaction.
You thrive on this, or you wouldn't keep allowing it! Get on with
your life; try talking with your current
love about the "little things" that trouble you, and
work them out in couple's therapy if necessary. Grab any happiness
that's waiting for you there, and stop
playing phone therapist with your Ex!
He made his bed; it's time to let him lie in it.
Shari, do others get worse when the codependent gets better?
If you're using this term correctly, no.
I'm sensing the real question here is; "does the
codependent get worse, when the dependent partner,
relative or friend gets better?" There's a heavy risk in
not having someone nearby who's 'less-than' for the codependent--as
he/she thrives on being
needed--which forms the basis of their self-esteem. Whenever
the codependent can't maintain a one-up position with
another, he/she's confronted with their own inner emptiness, disempowerment,
self-loathing, etc., which has driven their addiction
to rescuing/fixing others, in the first place!
My baby brother keeps dating psychotherapists, and being disappointed.
His relationships are great for the first couple months, but then
deteriorate pretty rapidly. For many years now, I've been urging
him to get involved with women in other professions, but he seems
almost compulsively drawn to this type. He's very bright and intuitive,
so I assume therapists are attracted to him--but he continues
to get hurt in these relationships, and isn't looking elsewhere!
I'm getting really tired of picking up the pieces, every time
his heart is broken. Can I reason with him in a way that will
help him make better choices?
In my view, individuals who consistently date therapists are looking
for the perks of a therapeutic relationship, without
the price tag. They might presume that their needs for understanding
and emotional support will be met by one who's supposed
to be adept at navigating relationships and providing these resources--but
this is seldom the case. First, the playing field isn't balanced
(the therapist is always in the one-up position), and second,
a healthy coupling is where the needs of both people
are being met. Psychotherapists are human, fallible and wounded,
just like everyone else; many have never done any inner work to
resolve their most troubling issues, which leaves them
susceptible to conflictual relationships and codependent
dynamics. The way you relate to your "baby" brother,
makes me suspect that you struggle with these concerns,
as well. Emotionally sound relationships are mutually
supportive, nourishing and growth enhancing. Quit
being your brother's Emotional Emergency Room if/when
he signs up for another 'heart surgery,' and he'll learn to avoid
making pain-producing choices!
Isn't marriage a codependency?
This term is frequently misunderstood
and misused. A healthy marriage, friendship or partnership
is one that's interdependent; these partners are mutually
dependent on each other for need satisfaction. Codependency
is defined by an unequal/unbalanced distribution of power in a
relationship; one person is dependent (usually, on a
substance or behavior) and has little or no empowerment--the other's
The Co-dependent (or enabler) who needs to be
needed, to ease his/her abandonment
concerns, and maintain control.
I was in a codependent marriage for 18 years, but got involved
with another man who catalyzed my leaving. We've been in a balanced,
supportive relationship for over a year. I've maintained my independence
& autonomy, am feeling inspired and have a new lease on life.
The problem is, we both drink too much, and have some baggage.
Our individual issues and anxieties keep re-igniting these in
each other! He has a very controlling mother, and has major commitment/engulfment
issues. He's now depressed, and has pulled back sexually. Meanwhile,
I'm dealing with my abandonment anxiety, and have an ongoing,
nagging feeling that I can't count on him (or any man), and that
I'll never truly be loved. It often makes me clingy, which pushes
him further away. We've talked about all this--but we're both
so frustrated, we've separated to break up the tension. We both
admit to needing time to stop drinking and sort ourselves out.
We want to work this out, but don't know where to start. We've
each been in therapy before, but don't want more treatment at
this time. Sometimes, I feel therapy's a bottomless pit; I could
dig endlessly and find reasons for everything, but am not sure
I need to unearth it all. My question is, can we make our own
progress through understanding and self-awareness?
How's that worked for you, so far? It appears the two
of you have formed a steady relationship with alcohol;
it's the common denominator you share, but it's undermined your
ability as a couple to monitor your feelings, and resolve problems.
Addictions are driven by (core)
emptiness and pain. A solid, meaningful therapeutic
endeavor goes beyond insight, and promotes healing.
A 12-step program (AA) would be a positive adjunct to doing some
deeper inner work. You're obviously bright, and it seems you've
already got the answers you're seeking--even if they don't match
what you think you need. Perhaps the
real question is, are you willing to do whatever it takes
to follow your own best advice, or continue to struggle?
Hi Shari, I totally identified with your "NEED TO BE
LOVED" article. Unfortunately, it came too late to rescue
my 25 year marriage and most recent 4 year relationship; I was
the "caregiver." I've shared and discussed your article
in great detail with my therapist. It awakened the most profound
formative experiences in my life. Regrettably, although I'm now
acutely aware of my codependent issues, I still experience that
emotional loss when I'm not in a relationship. Consequently, I
was wondering if there was an online chat forum where individuals
could discuss such issues, and gain support in their efforts to
Core emptiness drives codependency
issues, and requires deep, sensitive therapeutic support. Accomplishment
(in almost any arena) will help you build self-esteem, which is
crucial for being with Yourself
in the absence of another. Your therapist might help you explore
activities that will stretch or challenge you; working/creating
with your hands is especially beneficial,
and think about taking classes in your areas of interest. An internet
search could yield the "chat forums" you seek--but at
this juncture, I sense you may be tempted to revert to
your 'default' settings with the other members. CODA (Codependents
Anomymous) meetings would probably be very helpful.
Dear Shari, are People Pleasers capable of
Generally, no. Entitlement issues have impaired People Pleasers'
capacity to believe they're lovable, so it's very difficult
to accept and trust genuine expressions of love or caring from
others. Givers/pleasers lacked crucial emotional supplies in childhood;
these early deficits prompted a need to control their relationships
(the one who needs the least, is always the one in power).
Receiving is experienced as "taking"
(away from someone) and feels "selfish." This triggers
anxiety, as it invokes a sense of obligation that makes adequate
reciprocation a seemingly impossible task. The tragic irony in
all this, is that a pleaser's giving gestures are driven by deep
needs for admiration and affection, which they're unable to welcome/embrace,
because at their
core they feel undeserving and unworthy.
My boyfriend's a great guy who's very nurturing
and considerate, and I love him very much--but during the two
years we've been living together, I've had to support both
of us. When I try to talk to him about the strain this puts on
me, he's extremely apologetic, and promises he'll find work--but
nothing ever changes. Dinner's usually waiting for me when I get
home at night, and he does handle some of the household chores.
I appreciate these things, but I've started to resent being the
one responsible for all our finances. I'm wanting us to take vacations
and travel a bit, but this is out of the question, given our present
situation. We're not making love nearly as often as we used to,
and I'm getting concerned about this! I'm not sure how to go about
fixing either issue, and would be grateful for guidance.
It sounds to me as if each of you is trying to heal childhood
deficits; he's taken care of you in ways that are comforting and
nourishing--and in carrying the adult responsibilities
for the relationship, you've basically done the same for him!
Unmet primal needs (those of infancy and early
childhood) always take precedence over adult needs, and
your boyfriend may be supplying some "nurturing" resources
you missed out on, growing up. This would make it seem dangerous
for you to rock the boat, or consider making him 'step-up'
to being an equal partner in the relationship, for fear
of abandonment. Your sex life may be suffering for
a number of reasons, but here are just a few: 1.
He's begun seeing you as the "Mom" who will love and
take care of him, no matter what. 2.
You've been feeling resentment, and a loss of respect for him
(which inhibits anyone's sex drive). 3.
This is an enmeshed, codependent relationship that cannot function
in a healthy way, and your love life is (finally) reflecting it.
People don't change, until what they've been doing
doesn't work for them anymore. Assure him of your love,
but make it less comfortable to maintain his non-working
status, by continuing to confront it in a quiet, but direct
manner. Be prepared to cancel your cable service, or anything
else that makes his stay-at-home lifestyle appealing,
and state that you need him to be a contributing financial
partner by a specific deadline, or he'll have to find other
Shari - I found your website after doing a search for "abandonment
anxiety." As far back as I can remember, I've always
searched for a mother figure. My own mother was great, but after
much therapy I can now admit that I had a need that was not getting
met by her. I can't pinpoint the exact need, but I sought love
and attention from (mostly older) female friends. It's become
a cycle I've tried hard to stop. I read your article about needing
love and attention and while a lot of that does
apply to my situation, I've never been the "caregiver"
type. I'm usually the needy, hurt one seeking approval and acceptance.
I am completely out of touch with my own emotions and have become
numb. Unlike one of the descriptions in your article, I am not
someone who moved far away; instead, my mother has enmeshed me
into her life, and I have taken on the role of surrogate
husband, due to my father's inability to be an equal
partner with her. I have also never had a relationship
with anybody. I'm not sure if it's really a fear of commitment
or my fear of being hurt and abandoned. I began therapy over a
year ago because my current "mother figure" situation
was causing me much grief. I hated that I've needed these people
in my life, and knew it had to stop. My therapist was very helpful
and I did learn a lot. But I became frustrated when she'd tell
me that I needed to do my "feeling work." To this day,
I'm not even sure what "feeling work" is,
or how to go about doing it! Recently, my therapist
had to stop seeing me due to a job promotion. Again, I felt terribly
abandoned, and as I walked out of her office for the last time,
I realized I'd kept the cycle going... she became another
mother figure for me. I guess I'm needing advice on my next step.
Should I find another therapist and continue? How can I stop feeling
Given you've tried to get your needs met with surrogate
mothers your entire life, I'm not sure I'd agree that
your own was/is "great." It seems that her inability
to take good enough care of you, stems from her unwillingness
to care for herself. Adopting your father's
role, means you're relieving him of responsibility, while enabling
Mom to remain in a marriage that doesn't meet her needs. In allowing
this enmeshment, you're fulfilling your caregiver
compulsion with both of them! Your mother has parentified
you, which is an undermining/toxic dynamic that probably
began when you were very small (and might explain why you couldn't
get your needs met). A true friendship
is reciprocal, which means that both parties are responsive
to the needs of the other. Effective therapy
assists you in learning how to identify and
respond to your feelings. You should be supported and
re-parented, which facilitates
and encourages a bond of trust. Attachment or
transference toward your therapist is natural/normal, within context
of healing childhood wounds. These elements are critical to your
ability to enter into a gratifying "relationship"
one day, and your self-protective instincts in this regard
have served you very well. Your seemingly endless search for a
"mother figure" is heartbreaking,
but not a bad or shameful
issue! Applaud yourself for trying to gain a sense of what it
feels like, to actually have one.
Hi Shari, I really like your article, "Do you love to
be needed, or need to be loved?" I think I'm a caregiver,
as I have a strong desire to give rather than receive. I'm in
an unfulfilling marriage, but keep my frustration to myself. I
met a divorced man online, and bonded with him for a year and
a half. We chatted almost daily, and got very close. He has a
lot of issues (I guess that's why we bonded), but we never talked
about our future, except when he said he wanted our relationship
to grow. This scared me a little, but deep inside I knew it wouldn't
get more serious, and encouraged him to socialize with others.
He shared a lot about his personal life, like being a "serial
womanizer" during his marriage, his wife withholding sex
when she was angry, and his insecurities--he feels unattractive
and worthless. He told me he'd taken care of his mom, after his
parents divorced when he was young. I was prepared for his departure,
but didn't expect it to end with his (online)
sexual liaison with a divorced woman. I confronted him, saying
that I'd seriously thought about our future together. He said
he'd sensed it, and asked if I was as frightened as he was--and
that he couldn't help himself, but he always sabotages
his relationships. I said he should learn to control himself,
so he doesn't repeat what he did in his marriage. He's assured
me the new woman's not special, but she wrote (in her blog) that
he wants to marry her, and mentioned
the things we'd talked about! I was angry he
lied to me, and asked to meet for a proper closure, so I could
get him out of my life (at that point, I'd decided to leave my
husband and felt this would help me to move on). He refused, and
emailed that he loves the other woman and wants
to be loyal (even though he's been cheating all this time, with
me)! They got engaged and I didn't talk to him for awhile, as
I didn't want to intrude--but later, I apologized for being angry,
and he flirted with me again! I'm now feeling
I need to rescue him from the other relationship, as I think she's
screwed up--and it's destructive for him to marry her (should
he have the guts to do it). I need help so that I don't do this;
I've already started advising him about loving
himself and getting his priorities right, but I think I should
just leave him alone and let him learn the hard way. I've thought
of sending him your article, so he can understand his situation
better...should I? He tends to listen, especially when I tell
him I care about his welfare--but when that woman tempts him with
sex and family, he caves in to her! R. in Singapore
I agree that you should stay out of this guy's life.
We connect and remain with people who match
our level of emotional development. It seems your
fear of closeness, is echoed by his impulse to "sabotage"
his relationships. Online romances breed emotional insulation;
'intimacy' that's shared is often false, as you never have to
risk meeting or forming a genuine relationship. Engage a solid
couple's therapist for your marriage--but be willing to forfeit
the relationship if it's determined that you can't meet each
other's needs. Stop trying to rescue your
online friend, and work on your own healing and growth.
I have People Pleaser Disorder. I'm always
taking care of other's needs, and can't seem to say "no"
to anyone! I'm finally recognizing I have a real problem, and
want help with it. Do you know of any books or CD programs that
can heal this disorder? I'm exhausted a lot of the time, and tired
There's no such thing as "People Pleaser Disorder."
You're describing a pattern of behavior that's symptomatic
of deeper issues, which can prompt health problems, like Anxiety/Panic
or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, but doesn't exist in any diagnostic
manual. Always putting another's needs before your own, is a learned
reflex that began in childhood.
You may need professional help to break this habit--which is impossible,
without triggering anxiety and self-esteem concerns. Check the
two (highlighted) links above, for more insight.
Shari, my dad and I have always shared a very
special bond. He's always said that I "get" him better
than anyone else does. We've talked about many issues my mom never
seemed to connect with or understand. After many years of marriage,
they separated about 18 months ago. The trouble is, he's recently
met a new woman, and is suddenly acting like he's in love!
I barely hear from him anymore, and he's much slower in returning
my phone calls. I'm deeply hurt by this, and am furious
he's gotten involved with this other woman so quickly. Each time
I've tried to talk with him about these things, he assures me
his love for me (his "best girl") hasn't
changed, but it sure doesn't feel that way! We've been arguing
a lot about this. What can I say to make him
know how difficult this is, and get him to pay more attention
to me? "Fatherless"
Dear Fatherless, when a parent connects with his/her child in
a way they can't (or won't) with their spouse, it's often
referred to as emotional incest. Sadly, you may have
learned to associate your sense of self-worth
with your father's need for you, and as your
needs were consistently put aside in order to be available/responsive
to his, this became an enmeshed bond. As a child and
young adult, it sounds like you got 'triangled'
into your parent's marriage, and may have been used to compensate
for deficits in closeness between them. These dynamics would have
given you a sense of importance and value (and might
have extended their union), but essentially placed you
in the role of the "other woman." As a consequence,
you could be struggling with far more than inadequate
attention from your paternal relationship! The real
trouble is, aside from feeling abandoned right now, these experiences
can inhibit your ability to form healthy/reciprocal adult attachments
of your own, and prompt future partner selections that
in nature. Tell your father you miss the interactions you've always
shared, state how much this hurts you, and (for now)
try to leave it at that. Seek therapeutic support from someone
who can assist you in coming to terms with this current sense
of loss, as well as the deficits and difficulties it
appears you've experienced, in your relationship with
I have this friend who always seems to be struggling. I've
tried to provide helpful feedback and have even loaned him money,
but it seems he's still in the same position, which never
gets any better. I'm sensing I need to step back from this friendship,
but I don't want to abandon him. What should I do?
Your heart's in the right place, but it needs to be in balance
with your perceptions! Some people are damaged in ways that keep
them choosing to stay in survival mode, as this is what's
familiar (and comfortable). Under these circumstances, no amount
of help you offer will be utilized for growth or good. Maintaining
the victim role may allow your friend to feel
a sense of control, and could be part of a borderline
(waif) issue. Encourage him to seek help from a free
clinic and Debtors Anonymous meetings. Trust
your instincts to "step back" from this relationship,
as continuing to
give doesn't appear to serve either
I read your article; DO YOU LOVE TO BE NEEDED, OR NEED TO
BE LOVED? It hit home for me, and I was amazed at the profound
power of knowledge. But how do you change all those "familiar"
patterns and stop rejecting good people who could
be loving/giving to you? What is the recovery or hope of changing
all that early programming, as who had a chance
when they were an infant? Thanks for your help. JS
Trust is (ideally) established in the first year of life
with our mothers. As an infant, you may have sensed you couldn't
depend on her to respond sufficiently to your needs,
and began moving toward emotional self-reliance in
order to survive. This has served you in some ways, but
not in others, as it's kept you from getting help with
forming healthier, more gratifying attachments! Effective
therapeutic support assists you in healing early deficits,
by providing corrective emotional experiences
that are qualitatively different than what you've been exposed
to in the past. These therapeutic opportunities allow
you to receive nurturing, attentive (re)parenting, and assist
you in feeling more worthy (and desirous) of nourishing/loving
experiences in your interpersonal world. Early emotional
trauma can be overcome with the help of someone
who understands how profoundly these wounds have affected
you, and hindered your capacity to accept and trust a
supportive, caring, ongoing relationship. Most 'therapy' doesn't
tap into this material. Seek help from someone well-versed in
injury or core issues. Additional
insights can be gained via the writings of Alice Miller;
some of her book titles are mentioned farther down on this page,
or search for this author on Google.
I'm in a 6 month relationship and things were good until I
noticed alot of control issues. My boyfriend's very cheap, and
on a recent vacation we fought over petty things. I paid for my
entire half of the trip and we stayed at my uncle's place. One
morning we argued over his cheap pettiness; my uncle had put us
up, taken us out for dinner, and my boyfriend had not even thanked
him! He wouldn't join us for lunch (saying I'd made him feel uncomfortable),
so he had me drop him off at a camera store. After lunch I looked
in the store and didn't see him. When I finally did, he accused
me of abandoning him and that he "felt like
a motherless child!" He said he was given up by his sick
mum, went to foster homes and was raised by his grandparents.
He felt I laughed at him (which I did not!) and then he blew up.
Since the vacation, he blames me for everything.
We had another fight when we returned, and he called the cops
on ME because I was trying to reason with him and he "did
not want it to escallate." In this last fight he insisted
everything's still my fault! When I try to speak with him he confuses
me, as he doesn't see anything as how it really happened! Walking
up and down the street, he yelled at the top of his lungs at me.
I was scared, so I went to get my stuff from his room and he snatched
my backpack and emptied all my belongings onto his front lawn.
He then began throwing them into the street; clothes, shoes, makeup,
all my personal things, and kept yelling at me. His perceptions
are not connected to reality. Does he have some major issues,
and a warped way of blaming another to justify his feelings? Please
Sounds like you're with a pretty wounded/troubled
guy. The issues you've uncovered within these first 6 months
will probably get worse, not better. It appears that his rage
is (displaced) anger toward his abandoning mother, which is being
projected onto you. It's important to know, that when you're spending
time with someone who consistently makes you question
yourself or feel off-center and crazy,
you may be involved with an individual who on some level, is!
You're obviously having difficulty relating to this man, and you
should not expect to change him. So here's the
real question: Are you ready to move
on, and look for someone who's better equipped to meet your needs?
Shari, my partner and I are expecting a baby. I'm not
the father of this child (her brief affair with the biological
dad ended badly), but we've been friends for a few years and have
recently become lovers. The thing is, I really care about this
woman, but I'm not sure I'm ready to raise a kid! When we talk
about getting married before the baby's born (this July), I feel
so overwhelmed I can barely stand it. I feel guilty and want to
do the right thing, but this isn't the way I saw my life unfolding
before all this happened. I feel trapped. I don't want to be a
jerk and leave, but I'm so depressed and anxious all the time,
I've thought of running my car off the side of a mountain. Please
help, as I see no way out of this.
First, seek immediate professional help
for your depression and anxiety. Second, stop
holding yourself hostage for a crime you haven't committed, and
let yourself off this hook! Your friend apparently had
options regarding this pregnancy back in October/November of last
year, and chose to keep this baby. Whether you decide
to stay in this relationship or not, you have no obligation
to marry, and no legal responsibility to take care of this woman
or her unborn child. Something tells me this isn't the first time
you've tried to 'rescue'
this friend from her troubles, and nothing in your
letter suggests that you're in love. Is it possible you're being
used to compensate for her prior lack of judgement?
Can this be a loving/stable foundation for raising an emotionally
healthy child? State your feelings as clearly and sensitively
as possible. If your friend cares about you, she'll admire
your courage and honesty, and accept responsibility for having
placed herself in this position. If she becomes abusive
or hysterical, read BLACKMAILED
INTO FATHERHOOD; Borderline women, and men who love them,
and then listen to what your gut tells
Q. Shari, I have a good friend who's very generous with her
time and energy, and always rushes to help others. Problem is,
she drinks alot and is often depressed, and HER life seems pretty
screwed up. I know she's a good person and means well, but she
takes much better care of everyone else than she does herself.
I've urged her to get help for her own issues, but she insists
she's "just fine." Hanging out with her usually means
listening to complaints about men who've disappointed her or treated
her badly, and it's getting old. I want to back away, but I'm
afraid of hurting her feelings. What the heck should I do? "Trapped"
A. Dear Trapped, your friend sounds like a classic codependent
personality, which means she's dependent on feeling needed
by others. This is what (temporarily) bolsters her fragile sense
of identity and self-worth, while easing abandonment
anxiety she acquired in childhood. Basically, in order
to feel stronger and more 'in control' of her own life,
she needs to be with someone weaker or more needful, but this
can never provide authentic self-esteem. Sadly, she re-creates
this relational dynamic over and over, hoping (each time) to construct
a more positive self-image, because taking care of someone
else is the only way she derived a sense of value as a child.
Distancing yourself in a gentle and caring manner can be the first
step toward enabling her to seek the professional help
she needs! Try passing along my piece; DO
YOU LOVE TO BE NEEDED, OR NEED TO BE LOVED?
And then listen to what your inner voice advises about
taking better care of you.
Hello, Shari Schreiber! I am very pleased with your article,
"DO YOU LOVE TO BE NEEDED, OR NEED TO BE LOVED?" Thank
You! I was trying to find books on "parent/child" relationships,
what they imply and how to break the cycle. Perhaps I am referencing
this type of relationship incorrectly, but what I mean is:
2 GROWN people in a romantic relationship, where one
takes on the parental, responsible role, and the other takes on
the childish, needing-to-be-raised role. I was the "child"
in my past relationship with an older giver. I destroyed this
relationship with an infidelity (I "grew up" and away
from her), and now find myself being the giver to a person who
is 7 years my junior. ...It's like a weird recycling. I would
like to read about any applicable how-to healing, as to avoid
choosing such unequal partners. I would also like to pass these
books onto the older giver on whom I cheated, as an attempt to
mend us - she is not talking to me. The closest I could get to
a topic resembling this "parent/child" thing is your
article, and I referenced this as "The Mother Figure."
Any advice would be most appreciated. "J."
A. You're welcome, J. Typically, we (subconsciously) choose relationships
in order to heal wounds or deficits from our past, and we're most
likely to select a partner who replicates characteristics (or
relational dynamics) that are closest to our experiences with
the parent we had our most troubling issues with. My article deals
mostly with elements of codependency
and narcissism that are inherent in a caregiver or
'rescuer' type's personality structure based on their childhood
experiences, and one's age is fairly inconsequential.
For someone with codependent and/or narcissistic traits, feeling
needed promotes a sense of safety and comfort, because it
calms an underlying abandonment anxiety that many of us developed
in childhood; "if you NEED me, you won't leave me."
As for your choice of "unequal partners," when the playing
field of a relationship is unbalanced (one partner having considerably
more power than the other) it can signal intimacy and/or attachment
issues. Sounds like you've managed to separate/individuate from
your "older woman" (mother figure), which may have completed
something that was difficult to accomplish during your 'launching
phase' in adolescence, but you went about this poorly
and lost her trust. We all have parent, child and adult aspects
in our makeup. Transactional Analysis views this from a human
interaction model, and reveals how conflict can erupt when one's
"parent" part engages the other's "child"
part, etc. Intense reactivity is usually the outcome. The
internet offers a lot of material on various clinical and relationship
issues (like codependency) and a 'keyword' search will usually
take you where you want to go.