Do you know someone who seems to “drop” all of their relationship challenges, woes, and problems for the simple fact that the holiday season is encroaching upon us?
I hear a lot of relationships taking this route during the holiday time. A few common reasons are not wanting to fight around this time of year, wanting to avoid embarrassment and many questions from family and friends, wanting to engage in the “fantasy” of the holiday without paying attention to reality and wanting to have someone to spend the holidays with. Although this is a common approach, it is unhealthy, to say the least.
This article will discuss codependency and signs that you may be experiencing this too.
Note: To preserve confidentiality in the case below, no names are mentioned.
A lot of people define codependency in multiple ways. I tend to define codependency as a fusion of character, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The relationship is so unhealthy and dominated by a lack of identity (from one or both partners) that it is difficult for others to figure out who is making the major decisions and/or expressing their own thoughts and feelings. I once counseled a young lady who was in a very unhealthy codependent relationship. She struggled with identifying her own thoughts and feelings which led to her friends capitalizing on the fact that they could no longer trust her opinions because she had begun to think and sound like her boyfriend. Sadly, this “boyfriend” was someone she only dated for the purpose of “having someone to talk to.” There was no real connection and the relationship lacked emotional and psychological depth. The relationship had deteriorated into a sibling-like relationship. They were roommates. They were siblings. They were no longer lovers or partners in a relationship headed somewhere positive.
Sadly, during the holiday is when she would withdraw into fantasy and “suck it up” until after New Year’s Day. She felt “he would be really hurt if I break up with him now.” Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years were all very miserable for her. For him, he felt the same. No one communicated their feelings as they should have.
So how do you know if you are codependent? There are a few things to look out for:
- You “play” nice to get through it: Most people in unhealthy relationships tend to “play it nice” until they are able to do what they truly intend to do. That could be anything such as earn more money, move out on their own, make it through the holiday, have children, or do something else that makes them happy. A lot of people in codependent relationships either try to minimize the need for them to escape the relationship or simply wait until the holiday is over. Playing it nice might also entail buying the person their favorite holiday food or gift even though you don’t want to.
- You do everything the other person wants you to do: Placating is the easiest way out of of a codependent and unhealthy relationship. You “butter” the person up and make them feel good so that you can get what you need or keep the peace. While this may be wise in some cases, it is dysfunctional to say the least. We can’t possibly know all the right things to do or say to keep someone calm or happy. We can’t possibly know what will trigger them at all times. Placating someone is rolling the dice and hoping it lands in the right places. Doing this to get through the holiday season may not work out. Placating during the holiday may include acting like a “very close” family until it’s all over.
- You suck it up: “Sucking it up” is sometimes the best way to deal with challenging people in our lives. However, “sucking it up” and going along for peace or to make things feel better than they really are, is a trap. I often tell my clients that doing this sends the incorrect message to the other person in the relationship that everything is okay with you. When the time comes to tell that person you are no longer interested, they will feel manipulated and used. Codependent relationships often includes one individual taking the victim role. Sometimes both individuals take this role which makes communication much harder.
- You cry behind closed doors, smile at other times: I once walked in on a woman in a public restroom who was crying her eyes out over a relationships she wanted to get rid of. I remember asking if she was okay and her informing me that she was in a very unhealthy relationship with someone but that, due to a family graduation that was coming up, she didn’t want to “mess things up.” I have discussed similar situations with clients in hope that they would make the healthier decision to just bring up the challenges in their relationship, despite holidays or special ocassions.
- You lie about the truth: Lying is one of the biggest signs that a relationship is codependent or unhealthy. Most people in unhealthy relationships want things to look great on the outside. In a way, this may be a desperate attempt to salvage the relationship or minimize the real issues. Pretending may make you believe.It is also important for you to understand that there is often a denial component to co-dependency. You won’t want to accept what you’re feeling or thinking and may try to “change things” by doing something you think may help. You may see patterns in this in relationships where a wife has another baby for her husband, a husband changes his looks, or the entire family does something drastic like buy a beach house with little money. I have also known people to take holiday photos (which are absolutely beautiful) only to later inform everyone, after New Years, that a divorce or separation is happening.
It is important that I add that not all relationships of codependency are romantic. Family and friend relationships can be codependent as well.
So what has been your experience in your relationships during holiday time?
Sadly, commercialism has led most people to believe that the holiday season is not worth the effort unless you have friends and family. But not everyone does and we need to model being okay with that.
All references are embedded in the article