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Relationship Math: The Codependent Narcissist Relationship Equation


Based on excerpt from The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap (2018)

Back in 1986, when I was in college, I kept a bulletin board on which I thumb-tacked various quotes that had psychological and personal meaning for me. These messages were daily reminders of the beliefs and values I had or aspired to have. Many of the quotes remain “tacked” inside of me, as their message survived the test of time. One relied on simple math to make its point. Although I cannot remember the exact wording or even find it online, my own version replaced it.

The “relationship math” image fits with my personal and professional understanding of oppositely compatible codependent/narcissist relationships. It is the simplest explanation I have for why codependents and narcissists feel balanced by each other and why the relationship endures over time.

My explanation for relationship math is this: codependents and pathological narcissists are psychologically underdeveloped people who need each other to feel good about themselves. Alone, they are empty, lonely people who need the company of another to escape their fundamental feelings of core shame and pervasive loneliness. The codependent is conscious of these, while the narcissist successfully runs or hides from them.

Paradoxically, these two dysfunctionally opposite lovers are magnetically drawn to each other (a la the Human Magnet Syndrome) so they can convert their “half” emotional and relational selves into an artificial and temporary whole “number.”  Simply put, alone they feel fundamentally broken, empty, and unlovable.  The unbearable emotional pain of their “half-selves” drives them to mute their persistent core shame, hopelessness and pathologically loneliness.  By merging into one artificial “whole person” and submerging (temporarily forgetting) their pervasive emptiness, hopelessness, and self-hate, they are temporarily relieved of the inescapable chronic emotional pain that plagues them incessantly.  Together, they are given respite from their life-long burning self-hate, shame and pathological loneliness.

Together, they both mistake complete enmeshment and the absence of loneliness as euphoric happiness and joy.  A comparison would be a person who finally takes antidepressant medication for a life-long case of debilitating Major Depression, who also has other psychological problems independent of it.  Once the painful chronic depression is lifted – no longer feeling its searing pessimism inducing pain –  excitement and optimism is experienced, perhaps for the first time in their life.  However, once they acclimate to their new “normal,” the jubilation is whittled away by their pre-existing psychological problems, which return front and center in their life.

The Human Magnet Syndrome driven experience of two “half” people falling in love provides a miraculous-seeming cure from chronic shame and pathological loneliness.  The almost instantaneous disappearance of each “half person’s” chronic emotional pain and the shared “soulmate” experience may light their lonely life with excitement and hope, but, like a band-aid covering a deep wound, it is only a temporary fix.

This “½” plus “½” combination is the only mathematical formula that will work with these two self-love-starved and shame-based people, who depend on one another for any modicum of happiness. They will always need each other to feel whole. This relationship of two halves can never be a whole relationship, as both people lack the requisite self-love and individuation.

More About the Book


Relationship Math: The Codependent Narcissist Relationship Equation

Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC

Ross Rosenberg is a psychotherapist, international speaker, author, professional trainer, and codependency (renamed to Self-Love Deficit Disorder™), narcissism, trauma and sex addiction expert.  He owns Clinical Care Consultants, a Chicago suburb counseling center and The Self-Love Recovery Institute. His trainings, which feature his original work, have been presented in 30 states and twice in Europe.  

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APA Reference
Rosenberg, R. (2018). Relationship Math: The Codependent Narcissist Relationship Equation. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2018
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