It's liberating to be in a relationship where I don't have to worry about the reaction of my spouse.
When we begin to feel confused and exhausted in our relationship, we look for validation in self-help books and articles to help understand the underlying problem. We read about the signs of an unhealthy relationship and the negative impact it can have on our lives.
Just knowing that what we feel is real — that we aren't crazy, and our relationship is indeed unhealthy — makes us feel better in the moment. We then seek to improve our situation and find a solution.
Codependence is when one partner depends so much on the other that it causes anxiety, exhaustion, and results in confusion and unhappiness. I have been in codependent relationships my whole life, including a decade in a marriage that was mutually codependent.
After finally recognizing I had a choice, becoming disentangled from the relationship was like climbing a huge mountain without oxygen. When my marriage ended, I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning.
Yet later on, I found myself gravitating toward unhealthy relationships. Why didn't I learn?
With each subsequent relationship, I entered the vicious cycle of self-sabotage. Intuitively, I knew the relationship wasn't right for me. But since I didn't want to hurt my partner, I would ignore my own feelings, and instead focus on him. I would then feel trapped and begin to sabotage the relationship, and doing so would make me hate myself. All of this meant that I didn't value my own emotions or happiness.
Perhaps some of these patterns sound familiar?
I spent so much time trying to understand how I reached this point, and how I kept repeating the same relationship mistakes that I started as a teenager. But does understanding how it all happened really matter? No. What matters now is that I can recognize this unhealthy pattern within myself and never go back to that awful, lingering desperation where my partner's happiness is more important than mine.
I always said my children come first but in reality, my actions didn't reflect that; I always ensured my relationship was intact before I could move forward or focus on anything else. I say "intact" because in simplistic terms, that's all it was. As long as I wasn't fighting or intertwined in some nature of drama in my relationship, I could relax, feel complete, and finally put my time and effort on something else.
It's embarrassing to admit this. Hence, the reason I'm sharing. I finally get it. Now I'm not only physically present with my children but I'm emotionally there, and they really do come first.
Reaching this place of comfort and contentment hasn't been an easy journey but it's been worth all the bumps and unexpected detours. There's so much truth to how we attract unhealthy partners, when in fact, we are unhealthy ourselves. After several misunderstood heartbreaks, I finally learned I could no longer lean on anyone and the only person I could truly depend on is myself.
Once I claimed my independence, I began to feel stronger, healthier, wiser, and happier. I had more ability to view situations clearly and make effective decisions. Now, for the first time in my life I'm no longer obsessing about where I stand in my partner's life.
I unintentionally met someone who falls into the "healthy" category and being with him feels refreshing. It's liberating to be in a relationship where worrying about the reactions of my partner are non-existent. I can actually worry about myself now, a foreign, yet exhilarating experience.
I'm a happier person with virtually no frivolous worry in my life. There's no longer that aching loneliness without him; instead, I feel appreciative of time with my children or alone to engage in my personal passions. I can breathe.
For the first time in my relationship, I don't feel yearning to receive a text or call from him. Instead, I'm confident enough to reach out to him on my own and without any urgency to hear back from him. My mind is no longer preoccupied with his whereabouts and with whom he's with; instead, I'm focused on my own whereabouts and the people I'm with. I thought it would take a challenging and conscious effort to do this, yet it feels easy. Another foreign concept to me.
I have heard people say that a healthy relationship should feel effortless, and I have heard people say that a healthy relationship involves efforts of both partners to make it work. I can say with certainty that whatever people say doesn't matter.
What does matter is the personal balance we feel on our own. Once we feel steady, we won't let anyone tip that scale. But we can welcome our partner to add to it.
I wonder if what I'm feeling is love, since I'm hesitant to use the word again without feeling its true omnipresence. I do know for sure that I have been introduced to a relationship that enhances who I am as an individual.
He and I can embrace the great times together and we can support one another during the stressful and difficult times. We can manage these things separately and on our own but knowing we are there to balance the other builds deeper happiness and further empowerment.
I'm both capable and deserving of feeling true happiness in the presence of my partner, yet I also feel happiness without his presence. Codependency feels like prison, and I'm never committing that crime again. I'm worth so much more.
This article was originally published at Elephant Journal. Reprinted with permission from the author.