Has Your Relationship Turned Toxic?
Long-term relationships are a lot of work. Even in the best of circumstances, with full commitment from both parties, relationships demand our focused attention.
Toxic Relationships Can Be Tenacious
Unfortunately, sometimes the relationships we pour our heart and soul into are not ultimately healthy for us. At the beginning of such relationships we may have felt that we found “the love of my life”..or “the person who completes me”. Then as the first bloom of “love” wears off…everything changes. Now we find ourselves locked into a power struggle with this person. We don’t understand how this happened. Worse yet…we can’t seem to exit from a situation that has now become unbearable. We feel trapped. What has happened?
The Narcissistic/Co-dependent Relationship Dynamic.
Which Key ingredient Is Missing?
What may have happened, is that you have found yourself in a Narcissistic/co-dependent relationship dynamic. To understand this better, think of an ideal relationship as one where there is an easy flow of “give and take” between your partner and yourself. You feel “seen” and appreciated by your beloved, and in turn it is easy to give back and appreciate in kind. When I think of this kind of love connection, a quote from Romeo and Juliet comes to mind:
“The more I give to you the more I have, for both are infinite”
What I love about this quote is that it illustrates the connection between giving and receiving…that to “give” to you actually gives to me at thesame time as I am giving to you. You, in turn are receiving from me, and giving back to me…at the same time. In a sense, giving and receiving is the same thing. Both can be “infinite”, as Romeo states, and the relationship can continue to flourish.
I bring up the ideal relationship flow, mostly to show contrast to what happens in a Narcissistic/codependent relationship. In such relationships, no such “flow” exists, and the relationship ceases to be satisfying for either partner. To state it simply, the narcissist does most of the taking, and the codependent does most of the giving. But…what gets them together in the first place?
Narcissists and Co-dependents Are Magnetically, but Fatally Attracted
Ironically, according to the research of Ross Rosenberg (The Human Magnet Syndrome), Narcissists and co-dependents are alike in that they come from childhoods where basic emotional needs for being seen and appreciated for ones true, authentic, “imperfect” self were not met. The “codependent” learns that basic survival means taking care of his/her parent’s emotional needs instead of being taken care of by that parent. For the co-dependent, personal needs are sacrificed to take care of the needs of the other. (in this case, the parent) For the narcissist, survival depends on pretending that he/she doesn’t “need” emotional support from his/her parent. The “stance” of the narcissist is “I’m so “special” that I’m entitled to be treated to all of the finer things in life. “Something is wrong with my parents that they have not been able to appreciate this, and they have never really fully seen the true magnificence of me, but that’s their problem.” This stance covers up a deep inner insecurity, which is confusing since the Narcissist appears to be so “full of him/herself”. I also think its true that a narcissist can be the result of parents who acknowledge their children for academic achievements, but who push and push for ever more, and don’t provide emotional support in times of “imperfection”. For these parents, second best is not good enough. In reality, the Narcissist can never get enough praise and affirmation from other people to fill up that empty core. Of necessity, the narcissist is completely self focused and cannot really even see the needs of others. In a sense, it is too painful.
So…flash forward into adulthood. The narcissist and the co-dependent fit together like hand and glove. A co-dependent is drawn to someone that needs taking care of, and the narcissist needs taking care of.
The feeling of “falling in love” can be absolutely euphoric for both parties, because it can literally be a feeling of “coming home”. In a sense it offers a solution to that unfinished problem leftover from childhood….a powerful aphrodisiac indeed! Problem is, the euphoria never lasts.
Your Soul mate Becomes Your Cellmate
We know now from the careful research of neurobiologists that the “chemical” bath of early love does not last. Eventually, if you are in the more “co-dependent” role, you will tire of always putting your own needs on the back burner. You may even try to convince your partner that he/she wants what you want, as a ‘back door” way of getting your needs met, but this never works. Your narcissist partner will start to resent this attempt to control him/her. It starts to feel like a power struggle, and the “exit” strategy could become an “affair”, usually, but not always started by the narcissist. All you know is that you are very unhappy and completely exhausted.
If you are in the role of the narcissist, you don’t have the capacity to even see that your partner has needs and preferences that are different from yours. You may sense his/her unhappiness, but you have absolutely no clue as to the origin of it. What happened to the easy love we used to share? That would be your question.
Interestingly, what seems similar about co-dependents and narcissists is that neither one actually wants to be alone. This is more terrifying even than the power struggle, which is why the relationship hangs on and on, even in its utter misery. It is a symbiotic, parasitic kind of misery. It becomes a relationship born out of need, and not love.
Is there a solution to this miserable power struggle?
If you find yourself locked into this kind of a power struggle, and it seems to happen over and over again in your relationships you have some personal work to do. The work is probably best done before you entangle yourself in another relationship. The original “wound, known as a “narcissistic” wound, happened in your childhood, so you have to go back to that time to disentangle yourself from it. Somehow, very early on, you missed out on learning about the easy give and take, and the giving and receiving, of reciprocal relationship, so you have to reclaim your capacity to do this.
I’m a therapist, and I’m optimistic, so I think it can be done. I think as human beings we are “hard wired” for relationship, and I think there is enough “neuroplasticity” in our system to allow for repair to that which has been broken.
In the end…it just has to be important enough to you.