Roots of codependency

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When we talk about codependency, most people think that the term is usually associated with a person emotionally linked to a drug addict, whether that addiction is alcohol or illicit drugs. Therefore, when I bring up the topic of codependency in my office, doubts arise: how can I be codependent? There is no substance abuse in my home.

The truth is that the term, at the time it was created, was specifically related to substance abuse. However, today we know that codependency can exist in any relationship with emotionally manipulative people. But the question remains: why do some people become codependent and others do not? Why do codependents often jump from one toxic relationship to another?

Like many other problems and patterns we work with in the office, codependency has its roots in childhood. Codependents are usually born into unstable homes, where there is emotional manipulation and where love is conditional. That is, if the child does not act exactly as expected, he/she will suffer abandonment and/or abuse.

The child in such a home grows up learning to control and monitor their parents moods and abandon their true identity, their true self, to please the parents. It is a matter of survival – after all, every child needs a caregiver. Thus, they learn to “dance the dance” of the manipulator, transforming their own life into a theater, where they are always doing well, or rather, pretend to be. In short: it is learned in childhood that, to receive affection, it is necessary to be “perfect” in the eyes of the caregiver. Everything revolves around the caregiver, who shapes the child’s taste and personality, at least on a superficial level. The child does all this for a small dose of conditional affection, which the child needs so much of.

This pattern of abdicating oneself to please another person at any cost continues after childhood, and can be seen especially in romantic relationships. After all, what we learn through past experiences becomes our internal rule. It is the kind of love we earn in childhood that we usually look for in the future; not because it’s healthy, but because it’s what we know, it’s what we got used to. Thus, a child who was born and raised in a home with narcissists may find himself entering into relationships with similarly narcissistic people, and refusing relationships and even friendships with healthier people. The comfort of the known, even if bad, may be better (in the short term) than the unknown. Thus, codependents are at risk of leaving an emotionally manipulative partner only to go to another, thus generating a cycle of ups and downs and unhappiness.

In therapy, the codependent learns to break the cycle of abuse and also learns to seek (and handle) healthier relationships (whether they are romantic or not), where their self can exist and is accepted.

To schedule an online consultation:
paulamonteirocounseling@gmail.com
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

When you’re the only one fighting for the relationship: the lonely partner

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A relationship should, at least in theory, have more or less equal involvement and effort from both partners. However, we know that “what it should be” is seldom the reality.

It is very common for people who really want to save their relationship or marriage to appear in my office. Partners who are definitely willing to negotiate and solve the problems with their other half, in their microcosm. However, many times after a few failed negotiation attempts and seeing themselves at risk of losing their difficult partner, they begin to simply accept inequality in the invisible (but extremely important) balance of the relationship.

The truth is that the acceptance of inequality, even though done with good intentions, will end up lowering the possibility of survival of the relationship. It is very common for resentment to grow within the person who wants to save the relationship at all costs. As much as the person tells themselves that they accept what is happening, their mind gradually keeps a tab on everything they are conceding. We can consciously accept the situation and try to rationalize it as being “for the couple’s future”, but something deep in our mind cries out for justice. And little by little, small passive-aggressive acts, small tantrums, even emotional breakdowns start to appear here and there. The smiles start to turn sour. Indifference starts to show in the lonely partner’s eyes. For a partner who never wanted to negotiate to begin with, this is usually seen as more ammunition for injustice.

The truth is that accepting everything for temporary peace is no use. You are enabling the behavior of a partner who does not see your side, and you are also slowly destroying the relationship with the (justifiable) anger that brews inside you. The partner who does not want to negotiate is even more comfortable with the situation because you have stopped fighting for balance. Thus, being silent for the sake of the relationship becomes a cycle, which only increases in toxicity. You are not enjoying the situation and clamming up to save a relationship that, without conversation, will not improve. So think ask yourself these questions: for how long are you going to be able to keep quiet? Why are you not voicing your needs? What is the real gain from all of this?

Of course, nothing prevents a partner from finally understanding you and reconciling. Sometimes it takes time and millions of baby steps, and often even couples therapy is necessary. But what about the cases that are not successful? The cases when everything possible has already been tried, but nothing has improved?

Maybe it’s time for you to ask yourself:

If there was a balance, which is exactly what you are looking for, would your partner still be interested in being with you? Are they still in the relationship because they are the person with all the benefits? And what if that’s the case? Do you want to be in a relationship with a person who doesn’t respect you?

And, if you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you, why do you stay? Why do you stay, even though you know that nothing will improve, and that nothing will be equal in the relationship? Why do you stay, knowing that the frustration is not temporary, and that you are trying to accept injustice as a new way of life? Is there a fear of loneliness? Fear of trying again, with a new person? Or is it a pattern of unhappy relationships created throughout childhood that makes you stay, trying to change it? Of course, these questions can and should be addressed in therapy.

Remember that a healthy relationship means two people who like each other and want the best of each other. They want to bring happiness to each other. When a partner sees that you are unhappy and that the relationship is unfair but they are comfortable with the situation, is that the relationship you deserve? A one-way relationship? Where’s your value in all of this?

To schedule an online consultation:
paulamonteirocounseling@gmail.com
whatsapp: +55 (21) 99742-7750

Should I mention divorce?

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Unfortunately, divorce happens.  Even married couples who have bought a house together, have kids, share all of their business and possessions, and look perfectly happy, break up more often than you might think.  It’s sad, and the saddest of all is that in many of these situations, divorce could be avoided.

I do not want to make anybody announce the thought of divorce at the first moment it crosses their mind in a fight, as many do – because this is not a subject to be discussed with a hot head.  It’s a subject that should be discussed calmly.  Many people mention divorce in all the fights that they have with a partner, and like the story of ‘the boy who cried wolf’, the subject loses its gravity, and the ‘threat’ of divorce becomes a rehearsed speech without any real value.

However, during consultations, I see many patients who, by the time they come to therapy, the damage has already been done, and it’s already too late for any hope of repairing the relationship.  Lack of appropriate communication is a serious problem in a large percentage of relationships.  Communicating about considering divorce before giving the “final warning” is essential.  Here are some reasons:

-It is important to communicate with your husband/wife about important concerns you might have about the relationship.  Your partner has the right to know your thoughts and desires, and to have a chance to think on the situation.  A final decision on divorce does not appear from nothing, and until the moment in which it is announced the idea could have passed through the head of one partner thousands of times, while the other doesn’t suspect anything.  It’s unfair to attack them with a final blow without them having any idea what’s happening.

-When you or your partner is communicating about the seriousness of the situation, he is much more likely, and more motivated to change, and can demonstrate how he plans to do something (or not) to salvage the relationship.

-Having a conversation about divorce with your partner not only will it make them think about it, but it will also help you think more clearly about the subject.

If you can’t express yourself easily in a relationship when it comes to divorce, marriage counseling is a good place to converse with each other, with the help of a therapist.  Don’t leave therapy for the last minute, when the divorce is already final.

To schedule a consultation:
paulamonteirocounseling@gmail.com
(21) 99742-7750

Love, Passion and Romance

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Love, Passion, and Romance

I’ve already written about how relationships and the people in them change with time, and how the small things start to seem less and less important. However, I would like to dive deeper into this topic, and explore the differences between love, passion, and romance.

When we fall in love with someone, it’s common to hear it described as “love at first sight.” It’s far more likely to have been passion at first sight; something that, with luck, can develop into love.

The ecstasy of falling in love is a feeling that we believe will last forever with the right person. However, this just isn’t true. This ecstasy doesn’t come from feelings of love, but from strong passion, the kind that comes in huge waves and can knock someone down. As amazing as the wave feels though, it will inevitably diminish. It won’t break and suddenly disappear, but it won’t stay strong forever.

Now you’re asking me: But why? Why does romance always have to diminish with time? REQUITED romance always diminishes with time, because the thrill and passion comes from the uncertainty of whether or not the romance will last, and from the relative mystery still surrounding your potential partner. Curiously, the simplest way to keep a romance eternally strong is with unrequited love, be it an idol/celebrity, or the person right next to you.

“If only the strength of the love that people feel when it’s reciprocated could be as intense and obsessive as the love that we feel when it’s not, then marriages would be truly made in heaven” – Ben Elton

Unfortunately, once we really get to know our partner, and know our love is reciprocated, the ecstasy begins to leave. We stop seeing our partner as someone to idolize or as the embodiment of perfection, and instead just see… a person. When the “hunt” ceases, and the relationship stabilizes, everything changes, even our hormones. The “wave” of dopamine falls, and opens space for oxytocin. Yes, the love hormone. The love becomes a reality instead of an idealization. Burning passion becomes a safe and comfortable place (when the relationship is healthy, of course)… but unfortunately not everyone is able to see this change as something positive, and for obvious reasons: Not only because the ecstasy of a new love is a feeling people don’t want to lose, but also because the media constantly depicts love as passion.

Let’s go back a little in time: In romanticism, how was “love” depicted? The woman was a distant, idealized object. Think of Romeo and Juliet; their relationship was adolescent love, with many barriers and no chance to truly live as a couple. Without a doubt, the story would be much different if they had married and the story had followed their marriage for ten more years.

And in today’s films and TV series? What kind of “love” do we see? Generally, it starts with a chance encounter between two people, they get to know each other, and then the films end on what? On marriage: the conclusion of this period of ecstasy, of mysteries and surprises, of insecurity, and of idealization. This leaves room for confusion about what love actually is. Instead, it instills a belief that ecstasy will endure forever, and that this ecstasy (the famous butterflies in the stomach) is a major sign of love.

So, how does this unrealistic depiction of love impact real relationships? When the ecstasy of passion dies down and true love is established and solidified, many people mistakenly believe that this means the relationship is dying, or that their partner is losing interest. It’s in this moment that the danger of cheating appears. A new person always brings more excitement (again, temporary) than an established partner, simply because they bring a new air of mystery, and create an environment of forbidden love (adultery).

In future posts, I will talk about how to bring the surprise factor back to a relationship. But even doing this isn’t a cure for the idealization of love, it’s only a guide on how to shake up the daily “routine”. The only cure is to learn how to see that romance and passion can be marvelous but ephemeral, while, with the right person, true love is just as incredible, and long lasting.

Paula Monteiro, Psychologist
paulamonteirocounseling @ gmail.com
(21) 99742-7750