I received an email earlier this week from a guy asking for relationship advice. It started something like this:
My brother and I both love and are very committed to our girlfriends – but both of our girlfriends could be categorized as needy of our attention.
My brother tried to communicate his need for space to his girlfriend, not because he wants to “pursue other options” but because he’s both just getting settled into school and potentially being hired at [a new job].
Her: “Aren’t you happy?”
Him: “Yes, I am.”
Her: “Then why do you need space?”
My situation is more stable – but I (as I’m sure my brother does as well) simply need *me time* to reconnect with the things I need for my spiritual health/mental sanity. Rather than tell her “I need space,” I “take space” for myself as I would when explaining I have client meetings, by telling her I have things on the calendar. When it comes to clients/the business, she’s perfectly understanding. Plus, I’m awesome at making sure I don’t overdo my business commitments so I have time for life and loved ones.
But if I tell her it’s for *me time* things* she’d much rather I come over and spend time with her (or at least be on the phone when we can’t be physically together). If I still choose *me time* – which I do more often than not – I get passive aggressive responses from her.
I’ve shared with her my philosophy that at the heart of a great relationship is two people who are themselves striving to be great, sharing in and appreciating the greatness of one another. That I’m trying to be the best me I can be and that’ll allow me to be the best me for her. Still, the need for my time/attention prevails.
Since my brother and I are committed to our girlfriends – what would you say needs to happen to make things easier for all four of us?*
*some personal details have been removed.
What he was talking about is co-dependency, which is detrimental for all parties involved. (I know, I’ve been there) I’m generally used to talking to the female side of the equation. If I had the chance to speak with her, I would find out what’s at the root of the matter and encourage her to – in not so many words – get a life. The fact that the male reached out to me was particularly encouraging. Many guys, as evidenced by the crowd sourcing experiment I did, would have bailed. (Are you listening, ladies?) This behavior, no matter what party it’s coming from, is not attractive, pleasant, or sustainable.
This is what it looks like: I want to spend time with my beloved. What’s wrong with that? Why wouldn’t I want to spend time with the one I love. Yeah, I don’t do as much of the things I used to do, and I don’t really see my friends as much, but I really enjoy my time with my beloved.
This is what it really is: I have lost my identity outside of my relationship. Without my relationship, I don’t know who I am. I need to have my beloved around to feel happy and cared for.
Co-dependency (in relationships) as defined by Web-Md “means making the relationship more important to you than you are to yourself.” It sounds really insane when I put it like that, but that’s essentially what it is. How do I know? I’ve been there, naturally.
There was a point in my life where I was a serial monogamist. I went from long-term relationship to long-term relationship. It doesn’t sound so bad, right? I am very loyal and highly committed and I was able to keep relationships for a long time. I was a really great girlfriend but a piss-poor dater. Over time, I stopped doing the things I enjoyed, like attending art shows, because, well, my boyfriend didn’t want to go so why would I go alone? I didn’t go see live bands, because I was too busy at home in being in a relationship. With the exception of ONE time that we went out for happy hour and squeezed in a quick salsa, for years, I didn’t even dance. (Those of you who know me, know I LOVE to dance.) What I didn’t realize is that in my efforts to be such a great girlfriend, I was becoming a hollowed out version of myself.
It wasn’t until I stumbled on an dating profile that read “I have a really great life and I’d like someone to share it with.” that the lightbulb turned on. I realized that outside of my relationships, I didn’t have a great life to share… I didn’t have a life. Period. I didn’t even know what I liked to do on Wednesday nights. I used to watch comedy tv series and make dinner with my ex on Wednesdays. What do I do now that I’m alone? That was such a sobering thought. So many times I’d adjusted and compromised for the sake of my relationships that I had no idea who I was or what I enjoyed.
So what did I do? I got a life. The turning point came for me when I wanted to go see my favorite band, Suénalo. All of my single friends were coupled up now, so I had no one to go with. I didn’t want to go out alone, but I didn’t want to stay home, either. That’s when I recalled who I was BEFORE I became a serial monogamist. That spunky, sassy girl used to go out by herself all the time, so why not now? So I went…and I was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. Having lost the fear of going out alone, I started exploring all types of things on my own. I finally got my life back! I networked, volunteered, attended art shows. I even started dancing again! I’m a much happier, complete and independent person on my own. I am also happy to report, I’m no longer a serial monogamist. 🙂
So what steps can you take to avoid co-dependency?
- Learn to be comfortable in your own company.
- Pursue your passions/interests. Continue these interests while in your relationship.
- Hang out and develop connections with people outside of your relationship. This does not mean you neglect your relationship. You can still set aside specific times that are just for the two of you.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s the single most important thing in any relationship.
Also check out my “crowd sourcing experiment” for some really awesome advice from Gladys Diaz at Heart’s Desire International; James Echols with Soul of Miami/Life is Art; Trellis Usher, The Blueprint Learning Community.