I'm stuck in a codependent relationship

I'd leave but I feel like I've got no boundaries!


Cary Tennis
April 5, 2011 7:01PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am trying to get out of a codependent relationship. I'm 26, and I was with my ex-boyfriend for three years. Before that, I was with someone else for four years, and I haven't really been single since I was 18. I think I am afraid of being alone. While my ex-boyfriend and I were dating, we didn't really have our own lives. Though we didn't live together, our lives were very enmeshed and we would spend most every waking moment either together or communicating via email or phone. Sometimes I liked this enmeshment, because I felt very close to him, but I also never had much time to myself. I am not very good at establishing boundaries, especially with someone who is very needy.

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I have a lot of creative aspirations that I felt were overshadowed by my ex. We are both writers, but I am teaching in a public high school to support myself while he is being supported by his parents in order to pursue his screenwriting dream. His lack of a "real job" always made me really resentful, especially since I am currently working in a job that I do not think is my real "calling" in life, but is a very noble pursuit. He never really respected what I did, and always thought I was wasting my time. We are from very different backgrounds. The other major problem with him was that he was a binge-drinking alcoholic. I would threaten to break up with him after he would binge, but I never did, until he finally had a binge where he disappeared for a week, only to resurface again, emailing everyone his admission that he was an alcoholic.

I am aware that my actions were enabling his drinking.

I never wanted to move in or commit to him because of these reasons. After we broke up, he gave me an ultimatum: Either I move in with him or we are through. I told him I couldn't move in with him, and blocked his email. About a week later, he told me he didn't care about moving in with me anymore, he just wanted to take things slow. For some reason, I have seen him a few times since then. Every time, we have great sex, but I feel guilty and ashamed because I know I don't want to end up with him. I want someone more stable. I know this but I can't pull myself away; every time he tries to draw me in, it's like I'm powerless. As of right now, I believe he thinks we are in an "open relationship," because he asked me if we were and I said, "maybe."

I believe he attended a few AA meetings, but I don't think he is attending any more. I saw liquor in his apartment. He said it was for his "friends," but if he is sober, he has only been sober for six weeks, and is no longer attending meetings. He told me that he doesn't really believe in AA.

Just for the record, I have a therapist, and I have been to two Al-Anon meetings. I don't know if either have helped me very much.

I know I don't want to be with this person, but how do I get away? It took us so long to break up, and I don't want to backtrack because I'm afraid of being alone and our relationship is comfortable. What should I do? How do I prevent this enmeshment in the future?

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Sincerely,

Problem With Boundaries

Dear Problem With Boundaries,

Getting out of a codependent relationship should be simple: Just stop having the relationship.

But it's harder than it looks. You have to let it die.

Oh, but we hate it when things die! We like to keep them alive, little flames in the wind, little flames we nurture in the rain to keep them going.

I say snuff it out. Let it die. Be merciless. You'll feel better when it's done. You'll feel strong again, and not confused.

Keep it radically simple: You're either in a relationship or not in a relationship.

It's like with drinking: To quit drinking, we avoid the first drink. So with this codependence stuff, you avoid the first contact.

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The relationship is not made up of your thoughts. The relationship is made up of actions: physical contact, voice contact, letters, emails, text messages, seeing the person in places and saying hello, etc. You will have thoughts whether the relationship is going or not. But I suggest you be radical and have no contact. That's the way to be sure that you have no relationship. Memories are fine. Thoughts are fine. You'll have those. Just stop having the relationship.

Perhaps you really, really think you have to end it in a certain way. As long as you're trying to end it a certain way, you're still having the relationship. You're still attached to being the person you want to be in that relationship. So consider this: When the relationship is over, you will no longer be a person in that relationship. There won't be a relationship. So it won't matter how you look. It's like worrying how you'll look in the coffin. It's not going to matter. Which reminds us of the other problem with ending it -- that even though ending it is going to allow new life to flourish, ending it is a kind of death, and we resist death. No matter how awful things are, we cling. We are attached.

So you you have to let it go.

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Maybe it will help to visualize where you are going, how great it will be when the relationship is completely gone. Imagine your world without any of this relationship turmoil. Imagine everything being OK. Isn't that great? Wow, I feel better already.

Maybe you want to continue the relationship but just have it not be so goddamned codependent. That would be nice. But that's a fantasy. You're doing that codependent thing again.

But then you ask, so how do I actually do it? What do I say? You might have to make an announcement, like, This relationship is over, and I'm not communicating with you in any way anymore, and that's that, we're through, goodbye.

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We want to think of ourselves as good people. We think, well, Good people don't just end it; good people stay in communication; good people are compassionate and don't see things in black and white. Good people try to work things out!

But I would say this: Good people accept the sharp pain, admit the hard truth and move on.

So stop trying to work things out. Just end it.


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Cary Tennis

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