The Answer to Self Sabotage in a Committed Relationship

By Ken Wells - 12/31/2021


Series Two: Blog Ninety-Three

Codependency can suck out the energy from both partners in a committed relationship. Many years ago someone writing about relational fulfillment penned “1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4th, not a whole”. This mathematical reality applies to relational fulfillment. Someone in a couples relationship may reason that if I take my 1/2 and add to your 1/2 we should get a whole. Yet, it never works that way. The reason is because when you depend upon the other’s 1/2 to make you whole, you drain what they have and you never fill up your need because that level of fulfillment only happens within yourself.  When you focus on becoming whole within yourself and share that wholeness with a partner who is equally committed to enhancing their wholeness then you have two people enhancing each other’s wholeness. This is the formula that can take what is and make it more.

In a couple’s relationship, the Karpman Triangle can hallmark an unhappy state. It can go like this. You rescue your partner by doing something h/she does not want to do. Maybe it’s not their business to do.  They get angry and complain about the way in which you tried to protect or rescue them from something unpleasant. You walk away feeling like a victim, again. They try to rescue you from your feeling sad about being a victim. You don’t think this is their business so you get angry and complain about their efforts. They walk away feeling like a victim, again. And so it goes.

This dynamic is a common characteristic to couples in recovery. It creates sabotage. When you think it is your responsibility to care for or to fulfill all the expectations of your partner, it leads you back to the behavioral mentality that 1/2 x 1/2 = 1 or a whole. This approach always fails for couples seeking recovery. Like a gerbil on a wheel, you will find yourself spinning round and round with the illusion that you can create fulfillment for your partner. You can’t.

You won’t be able to fulfill another person’s happiness no matter how hard you try.  Usually you will try to make your significant other happy in ways you tried as a kid. Sometimes you try to fix their problems. Other times you try to walk on eggshells, hoping not to disturb their equilibrium. You may try to comfort, control circumstances, give gifts and cover all sorts of tasks that you hope will make them happy. Yet, it never works, no matter how hard you try. Their happiness is up to them and not you.

What you can do is detach. Detachment is a step-3 skillset. You willingly make the decision to turn your will and life over to the care of God.  It means to let go and to no longer make it your job to make others happy. You practice becoming a silent observer. When your loved one is in angst, trouble or discouraged, you play the role of observer and do not become the intervener. You choose to no longer take the bait and try to fix what you cannot. If your loved one is hurting, you offer caring love and support with the internal boundary that I cannot take away your discomfort or solve your problem. You practice detaching with love.

How to get out of the rut of caretaking those that matter most to you:

Be alert to when you are in conflict with your partner. This is your high-risk zone to being triggered to fix, ameliorate or control problems for your partner. Conflict is necessary for cultivating deeper intimacy in your relationship. However, it is fraught with codependent triggers that you must manage. When you become activated to fix or control, stop and detach. Take a time out. Renew your commitment to lovingly detach, observe, be supportive while refusing to take the assignment to fix your partner. It will be tough but is achieved with a commitment to rigorously condition and practice.

When your partner is in pain, carefully sleuth out the message which h/her pain is saying about you whether the message is verbalized or not.  Relational behaviors trigger introjects from historical past that dominate reactive behaviors between two people in a partnership. You demand more from your partner than any other person in your life. This demand comes from unfulfilled needs that were never met and you are determined to meet them subconsciously in this relationship with your significant other. When your partner is unhappy with you, it is common to internalize messages that were never spoken but are housed underneath the relational experience from family of origin. You tend to react from that message, not necessarily the message that was spoken. Take time to get clear about the message from your family-of-origin. Once you are clear, you can better manage that message that was never spoken. You can ask if this is what your partner is meaning to say? If so, set a boundary. If not, apologize for your misunderstanding and reactivity.

When your partner is stuck in h/her reactivity, simply practice detaching. Their reactivity is not about you. When you detach you will no longer feel the intense temptation to personalize their behavior toward you. You will better be able to respond from a position of strength rather than weakness. Detachment is built on the foundation that you drain the pool of pain that exists from the messages you received from your family-of-origin. The more you drain the better you will be able to practice detachment.

Getting out of the rut of reactivity and self-sabotage is a practice in being a silent observer of your partner’s pain. You won’t need to be cold and distant. You can be loving and supportive as you practice the skill of detachment.

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