When you’re used to having to work for love you tend to be someone who doesn’t give up too easily. You’ve been trained to believe that just being yourself isn’t good enough, so you get really good at going that extra mile to get people to like you.

Codependency is a coping strategy we learned to help us cope with traumatic events in childhood. The problem with that coping style is that it’s other person focused. It requires us to suppress our needs in favor of those of others. It makes it normal for us to tip toe around the moods of abusive people. The profound message that we keep receiving is that everything is our fault, because we’re not good enough. The side effects of that are insecurity, low self-esteem, low self-worth, shame, anxiety, guilt, fear and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

When this coping strategy is what you take with you into your adult relationships you are bound to run into all heaps of dysfunctional behavior.

Codependents tend to:

  • Internalize rejection
  • Make everything their fault
  • Feel responsible for other people’s moods and behavior
  • Give too much/put in the lion’s share of the work/effort
  • Feel like they have to convince someone that they have to like you

Healthy relationships are about two autonomous people, who choose to come together to create a life together, while at the same time, they continue to be themselves, be responsible for themselves and they continue to have separate interests outside of the relationship.

A codependent tends to lose themselves in relationships. They generally choose people who have problems and they become fixated on those problems, while neglecting their own lives in the process.

The problem with codependency and dating is right smack dab in the middle of this problem. Most of my clients have a very serious problem with rejection. For a codependent, rejection often doesn’t mean it’s over. What It means to them is that they have to try harder/that they’ve done something wrong/that it’s all their fault and they spend an enormous amount of energy trying to make it right and be chosen.

If it doesn’t work out, even after only a short period of dating, the codependent is devastated. They’ve made the rejection all about them. They believe that if only they had done x,y or z differently then they might have stood a chance. They keep trying to impress their, would-be partner, by trying harder, by giving more, by being nicer… ‘if they weren’t them, then they would have been chosen,’ is the message they take away. They want to be chosen so badly that they over give to the point of being exploited, except they don’t notice. So fixated are they on changing their partners minds they can’t see how their behavior is being perceived.

Even when faced with a statement like, “We want different things, “ many a codependent won’t give up there. They will keep hanging on waiting for their opportunity to change their potential partner’s mind. Letting go doesn’t even resonate with them, because somewhere in the recesses of their mind they believe that if they are finally chosen it will make everything else in their life okay.

They require external validation. So being chosen will allow them to feel good about themselves. “As long as you see me as a good person, worthy of love, then and only then can I believe that about myself too,” they believe. It may also be a chance for redemption for them to prove to their disapproving, abusive parents that they were good enough after all. When they get rejected again it just confirms all of their worst childhood fears.

What the codependent seems to miss are that repeated attempts to get someone to like them only weaken them in the eyes of would be suitors. If you stick around and keep putting up with disrespectful behavior, in the hopes that they will see how much you care about them, through your suffering, it isn’t going to get them to change their minds about you. In fact, they will start to believe that there is something wrong with you and that you do not respect yourself. Your long suffering presence in their lives doesn’t mean they owe you a front row seat.

When you show someone that you don’t respect yourself enough to walk away when you’re being mistreated, you open yourself up to being exploited if your love interest just happens to be an emotional manipulator. It gives them the message that you do not have boundaries and that they can treat you however they please, because you will still be there, regardless of what they do.

They aren’t going to wake up one day and realize, “Hey that Heather is a real catch. I’ve ignored her, treated her like crap many, many times and she’s hung in there. What a great girl. I think I’ll make a commitment.” Sure they might call you once in a while, but it will never be for anything of a serious nature, because they’ve stopped taking you seriously. If you really want their attention – leave and don’t come back.

By staying you are inadvertently telling them, “I accept this relationship on your terms and I’m willing to put up with copious amounts of your crap for a few scraps of your affection.”

Here’s what your behavior is really saying:

You: I want to be with you.

Them: Yeah I know, but I don’t want that.

You: (Internalizing this as a rejection of you) Why don’t you want me?

Them: I just don’t. It really has nothing to do with you. I don’t do intimacy. It’s me, not you. (It really is them)

You: But I’ll do x and y and z – if only you’ll love me. Let me prove to you that I’m good enough.

Them: I’m sure you’re great, but I’m still not interested and I will give you a ton of clues that tell you so, but if you’re still not getting the message I’ll take what’s being offered and everything will be on my terms. I might chase you a little if and when you’re not available, but that still won’t change the dynamic between us.

Dating Rules for Codependents:

  • When what’s being offered isn’t what you want – that’s your cue to leave. When you realize that you are not on the same page don’t try to change their stance or yours – you accept it and you move on.
  • When you are being treated disrespectfully it’s time to go – no excuses no minimizing and rationalizing. Just go. Pay attention to your feelings, if you are feeling hurt, or disrespected – if you’re being ignored, ghosted – that’s your cue to end it.
  • You don’t have to try so hard to be liked – if being you isn’t good enough – stick a fork in it. If you sense them pulling away, be mindful of your emotional state. Battle the desire to put on a song and dance for them to spark their interest. Relationships only work when both people want to be in it.
  • Learn to pay attention to the situation. Listen and don’t just hear what you want to hear. Sometimes the cues are subtle, sometimes your partner will actually say the words, “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you.” Hear what they are saying.
  • You won’t be regarded as a person of value if you don’t regard yourself as a person of value. Treat yourself with respect and others will follow your lead.
  • You cannot have a healthy relationship and neglect your own needs at the same time. Make sure that you are not doing all the work – doing all the driving, planning, paying for everything, making all the sacrifices… if there’s no reciprocity there’s no relationship and your setting yourself up to be used.
  • You cannot have a healthy relationship if you keep choosing unhealthy partners. Heal yourself before you travel through the dating jungle – it’s dangerous out there.
  • Your leaving says a lot more about how you value yourself than your staying ever could. Always practice self-care and make sure that you are acting in your own best interest.

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Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at Freedigitalphots.net