The story of Romeo and Juliet seems to be a common reference when we think of a ‘love story’. These star-crossed lovers have come to define much of how we view modern romance, as they are so ‘in love’ that they are unable to live without each other. We see all throughout literature and cinema the romanticised idea of finding ‘the one’, as if it were a person’s life’s work to find another person to complete them. We hear about ‘living happily ever after’ after finding this person, normalising the feeling of incompletion until this person is found. Once this person is found, it is then that our life begins and our happiness becomes contingent on the existence of that relationship.
The fact that this seems to be the underlying message in media should actually be found quite terrifying. This concept of needing to find ‘the one’ in order to be happy becomes a breeding ground for codependency and is can be detrimental to the establishment of a long-lasting, healthy relationship. This is not to say that you should not seek to find a partner that makes you happy and whose company does improve your quality of life. But the amount to which you expect them to improve your life should not become disproportionate. Meaning, no person should be your everything.
The way that relationships are often portrayed in movies and television have come to romanticise codependency, or almost list it as a prerequisite to a relationship. It’s demonstrated that people should strive to put their partner’s happiness before their own, trying to fix or heal their partner from their traumas, and make their partner ‘their world’. Although this may outwardly appear as heroic or generous, it only does a disservice to both partners, as their own sense of identity weakens. Having weak senses of identity feed into unhealthy attachments that do not contribute to building quality relationships.
Codependency is defined as a condition that is brought on by excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. Within codependent relationships, one or both people enable the other to addictive behaviours, poor mental health coping mechanisms, immaturity, and under-achievement. Symptoms of codependency could be people-pleasing, constant seeking of validation, guilt in not always being available to a partner, lack of trust or obsessive jealousy, high and turbulent emotions and fear of abandonment.
The frightening thing about codependency is our inability to see these symptoms beginning or identifying them as being unhealthy. Often times the lines of unhealthy attachments can become blurred with strong feelings of attraction, and it can become difficult to identify when these feelings become dangerous. Of course we deserve to have partner that we can depend on, confide in and maintain high levels of trust. But at what point does this become detrimental to our own mental health?
A key distinction between a codependent and independent relationship would be one’s ability to find validation externally versus internally. If you were to enter a romantic relationship with intentions of trying to find someone to provide you with happiness, then your validation is already outwardly-seeking. To have things that you enjoy doing already set in place before entering a relationship can support you in maintaining a healthy sense of self, not reliant on your relationship status. If you have created for yourself an identity that is complete and well-rounded, you are more likely to align with somebody else who has a strong sense of self.
I spoke to a psychologist on the topic of codependency recently, as I wanted to ensure that I was behaving in a way that was contributing to a healthy relationship between my boyfriend and myself. An interesting comment she gave me was that ‘Romanticism has ruined good relationships’, and warned me of trying to ‘romanticise my relationship’. I was taken back at first, as I’d always assumed the relationship with my boyfriend to be a romantic one. But she suggested that when we ‘romanticise’ somebody, we are more obsessed with the idea of them rather than actually getting to know them as a person. We overlook imperfections and short-comings, rather than being willing to talk through differences She also directed me to some literature from The School of Life (https:// www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/how-romanticism-ruined-love/). In this I read that, “Romanticism proposed that true love must mean an end to all loneliness”, and ultimately Romanticism does not inherently lead to marriage, but becomes obsessed with short-lived, intense and reckless interactions based on attraction. But the underlying idea is that Romanticism promotes treating one person like your everything.
I cannot emphasise how important it is to have an established support network. Let’s emphasise the word network , as this indicates a need for a variety of systems. A partner should never be held responsible for representing the supports that should be covered by other people. The way that your family, whether it be parents, relatives, siblings, adopted family, or extended relatives, provide support is different than the way your friends provide you with social support. The way that your boss or teacher supports you will look different than the way your partner will support you. And most importantly, if you are having issues with your own mental health, big or small, the way that a psychological professional will support you is different than the way your partner could or should support you. There is no quicker way to become codependent than to expect that unloading psychiatric concerns on your partner in the way you should be discussing them with a professional. It is never, I repeat never, your partner’s job to work through trauma for you. They should never be used as an escape from your trauma either. There is a difference with trusting your partner enough to share your experiences with them versus expecting them to do the work for you. The support that is provided by a counsellor or psychologist has professional set boundaries that a romantic relationship does not, as a partner will never be able to give un-biased support.
When I previously mentioned giving your partner a ‘proportionate’ amount of your life, this is what was meant. Codependency is sewn in not being able to establish the boundary between where you stop and your partner begins. And ultimately, you and your partner owe it to each other to work on developing your own sense of self so that you can offer each other your best version of yourself. The same can be applied toward your friendships as well. Whether the relationship be romantic, platonic or professional, you’ll feel better knowing that the people in your life love you for who you actually are.