How My Codependent Friend Escaped a Bad Romance

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Photo by Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash

“The greatest hallmark of codependency is that someone else decides how you feel about yourself.” — Noel Bell

For as long as I’ve known “Greg” he’s had an aversion to relationships while at the same time desiring love. He finally got his first relationship and while I was very happy for him, I wasn’t so happy when I heard some of the traits of his partner.

She idealized him as perfect one second, then demonized him the next. She had a history of risky sex. Her emotional outbursts evolved into a physical altercation. All of this was neatly tied into a fear of abandonment and need to control.

The situation was dire and despite my warnings about this, I knew they would fall on deaf ears. At least for the time being.

Good sex is potent and it was reason enough to stay and weather the storm. And it can be dangerously potent when two people who don’t belong get together. Not only does it feel good, you’ll use it to “solve” your problems.

But at the latter stages, whenever Greg was asked about the relationship, the empty platitudes and proverbs of “relationships take effort” and “things take time to work themselves out” were being parroted.

He took a lot of abuse because he didn’t believe that he deserved better. He didn’t see how he was trying to say things in a certain way to control how she felt. He was blind to how his needs became more and more secondary to her demands. He couldn’t see the enmeshment. All of these are traits of codependency.

Eventually, things came to an even more worrisome state when she introduced substance abuse and threats to their dynamic.

But despite his relationship inexperience, he found a way out when so many get stuck.

It’s easy to get caught up in a love island dynamic when you’re in a relationship. It’s you and your partner. No one else matters as much. You isolate yourself and that’s never a good thing.

People who loved you without a partner still love you. Don’t forget them and make sure you maintain those friendships and bonds because you’re going to need them if anything goes south.

Greg spoke to his friends and his family. They all gave him the same advice: Get the hell out of the relationship.

His parents gave him their sagely advice. I recounted my own experiences with a girl who had traits of borderline personality disorder. Others gave their own experiences but the advice was the same. He had to leave if he wanted a semblance of happiness ever again.

He noted that his desire for the suffering to end was in line with what his loved ones were telling him. He was open to leaving but he then had to admit something to himself.

I’ve seen this in him for many years. He is the peacemaker type. He’ll jump in front of bullets so that the people he loves don’t shoot and kill one another.

This is also codependent and ultimately a toxic trait. He deserves to live and be happy just like anyone else. Also, he never had to get in the middle of the conflicts of others, but anyone who hates conflict would naturally try to end it.

In this relationship, the conflict was already palpable. He was just trying to avoid more of it.

However, Greg acknowledged that even if he was a coward regarding conflict, it was the truth. The only way to move forward is to accept where you are. He was able to do that, state what he wanted (which was to leave), take the emotional hits and walk out.

This is a big one. If Greg wasn’t someone who was keen on improving himself or his life, I’m not so sure this would’ve gone so smoothly. And to be honest, this wasn’t a smooth process.

His partner was good at manipulation and he was starting to get sucked back into old habits. But due to the conversations he had with friends, he started to see the patterns of toxic relationships and saw the recurring manipulation and degradation over the years.

He had a problem and it’s been costing him money, self-esteem and peace of mind. But because…

…he was able to not completely lose himself as others unfortunately do in their bad romances.

This was also crucial for his escape. Maybe it’s the most important thing here. Because if he didn’t value himself at all, he wouldn’t foster friendships, he’d beat himself up for not knowing what to do in the face of conflict and he certainly wouldn’t even try to get better.

I’ll be honest. I don’t believe his self-esteem is where it should be. But he’s looking at therapists, so that’s a plus.

However, he had enough to take some hits and to leave. Some aren’t as fortunate. Others are more fortunate as they don’t have to take as much hits to leave.

So if there was only one trait that I could look at to judge if someone could escape a bad romance, it might be self-esteem.

I know when my self-esteem improved, all of my relationships improved. I valued the people who truly valued me more and I cut out those who said they valued me but didn’t act like it.

And I know others who are going through bad romances and are still in it.

I told Greg that virtually everyone wants the same basic things in relationships. But the fact of the matter is, people don’t really want love. They want what is familiar.

Consciously, they want a loving relationship. But if they never got healing from trauma they suffered as a child, they will unconsciously recreate the chaos of childhood.

His girlfriend was recreating her chaos, and Greg was recreating his.

But oddly enough, sometimes it takes trauma to wake us up. When you wake up, you’re happy for the rude awakening because you see that the house is on fire and you need to either get out or extinguish the flames.

In this context, my friend got out of the house. He tried to extinguish flames but it wasn’t working and had no choice but to leave. This was a fight he was never going to win. He couldn’t help her as she recreated her chaos day after day.

But the fight he could win was the one with himself, and he’s winning. He’s showing that it’s possible to have your own issues but find the way to something better. I wish I had followed his steps when I was going through my own stuff, but he is a great example for others and I glad I was able to witness the return to health.

It isn’t over yet, but as I said, he’s winning.

Written by

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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