Recently, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the issue of codependency in intimate relationships, and I’ve realised that there is a common stereotype that is unbalanced, damaging, and inaccurate.
For the most part, the majority of people have been conditioned to think of codependency as a shadow trait that is largely associated with women.
However, I have lost count of how many times I have come across undeniable evidence that men are just as prone to codependency as women (if not more). In many years working as a counsellor with a specific focus on relationships, I have witnessed the same pattern over and over again, and it seems like nobody is properly acknowledging it.
Before we dive further into exactly what this pattern looks like, let’s look more closely at the typical traits of a codependent person within the context of relationships. According to Recovery Connection, the main signs of codependency include:
>> Feeling responsible for solving other people’s problems.
>> Fear of being alone.
>> Lack of boundaries—expecting others to follow through on any advice that has been provided (in other words, trying to “save” others).
>> Feeling used and taken advantage of by others after expecting others to take onboard the advice that has been provided.
>> Trying to please others so that they will be liked and loved. If they don’t receive the love they seek, they typically feel victimised.
>> Taking everything personally, such as hypervigilance to criticism or disapproval from significant others.
>> Deep-seated fear of rejection and feeling unlovable.
>> Using manipulation, shame, or guilt to control other people’s behaviour.
>> Lying to others and making excuses for the poor behaviour of others.
Before we go any further, I just want to acknowledge that codependency is a common trait, so it’s certainly not something to be ashamed of, even though it can be difficult not to feel ashamed with all of the harmful stereotypes out there.
The one that comes to mind the most is that of the deranged crazy ex-girlfriend who is so hung up on their ex-boyfriend after having been dumped for being a needy, clingy basket case with borderline stalking tendencies.
In my opinion, this is a damaging image, which shames women for getting upset after the end of a relationship. Of course, there are women who fit this description, but it’s still tremendously unhelpful to label them as the “psycho ex-girlfriend,” as it is highly likely that someone who behaves in this manner has experienced attachment trauma and/or suffers from significant mental health issues. While this behaviour is problematic, what is ultimately needed is compassion, understanding, and psychiatric care—not to be demonised further and potentially retraumatised as a result.
Meanwhile, one of the main patterns that I have seen happening over and over when a relationship breaks down is that the male counterpart typically jumps straight into the next relationship, while the female counterpart is incapable of moving on until she has had some time to process the pain and grief from the breakup. There are always exceptions, and everyone is different, but this appears to be a typical pattern mostly within heterosexual relationships.
It’s actually fairly common for a large percentage of men to line up another date or partner prior to ending their current relationship, so there is little or no time between partnerships. Obviously, women engage in this behaviour as well, but I have noticed it happening in greater numbers with men. More often than not, it appears to be an attempt to avoid processing and dealing with uncomfortable feelings associated with guilt, shame, loss, and grief after the end of a significant (or insignificant) relationship.
It’s also pretty common for men to stay too long in relationships that are not working, or that are even downright toxic. Again, I have seen this pattern over and over again, specifically with men, while the stereotype around this type of behaviour falls almost exclusively on women.
When exploring the reasons behind this tendency in men, it’s often revealed (albeit reluctantly) that this is due to a number of reasons, including fear of being alone, a sense of obligation around needing to “fix” or save their partner, fears around rejection/abandonment, and making excuses for the poor behaviour of their partner for fear of change or moving on. Hmm, sounds mighty familiar to the list of codependent traits above, doesn’t it?
Robert Glover, author of the bestselling self-help book for men, No More Mr Nice Guy, discusses many of these tendencies in men and just how common he has found them to be in his work as a counsellor and coach for men who struggle with “the nice guy syndrome.”
Glover, a recovering “nice guy,” writes extensively on the tendency for these men to try too hard to please others (especially romantic partners) while neglecting their own needs and often choosing critical or toxic partners who serve to confirm their core belief that they are not good enough.
He further notes that at the core of any kind of people-pleasing tendencies and codependency is a deep unconscious feeling of unworthiness or unlovability, which usually stems from childhood. So while women are busy being stereotyped and branded as codependent, millions of men are flying under the radar with the same issues that present in different ways. This results in this issue being associated with women, while men who are struggling with similar core wounds are not receiving the validation and support that they need in order to overcome this pattern and ultimately stop hurting others around them.
My aim here is not to vilify men and victimise women, as that would only serve to reinforce the pattern we wish to transcend. Conversely, my mission is to help shed a light on the ways men and women have been inaccurately conditioned in a number of limiting ways that only lead to further misunderstanding and conflict.
If we can start to see the reality of how we have been brainwashed, we can start to rebuild from a place of true equality and create New Earth right here on this rare and beautiful planet we call home.
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