Calling all (former) dysfunctional codependents
April 10, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

How do you break the terrible cycle of mutually destructive co-dependence in romantic relationships? Can it be broken?

You know the kind of relationship I'm talking about: entangled, intense, all-consuming, lacking boundaries... and above all, seemingly impossible to end. Even in the bad times you can't really imagine breaking up, for any number of reasons -- it's been too long, you can't imagine life without your SO, you're addicted to the drama, you're self-destructive or you're very much in love even though you're just not good for each other.

Those who have been in such relationships will know that I don't mean "not good" in simply a conventional sense - I mean, really wrong. Destructive, pervertedly satisfying. Where some element of mutual abuse is involved, where the relationship may even come to be defined by how far down you can go together.

If you've heard Tallahassee by the Mountain Goats, then you really know what I'm talking about.

In my experience (and even more so in my friends' experiences) this is not usually about just a relationship but a way of relating to others, where co-dependence rears its head sooner or later in all or most of your close (especially romantic) relationships, until... what? That's my question, really.

How do you break the cycle of co-dependence? Or, if codependence an unavoidable part of relationships, where do you draw the line and how? Is it about who you're with more than who you are? In new relationships, how do you avoid falling back into bad habits? Please advise.

(Context: Yes, I have had what is referred to as "fucked up" relationships, but I am asking now because one of my very close friends has been, almost throughout the time I have known her, in long (2-3 years, and she's only in her mid-twenties), difficult, dysfunctional romantic relationships. She is near the end of one now - but it's been "ending" for a long time and she just doesn't want to do it. I also feel like it gets worse every time, and I shudder to think what her next relationship might be like or might do to her. But beyond saying, "I've been there" - I'm at a loss for what to do. I haven't come up with a better solution for my own issues than simply not being in a relationship - this is not a solution I can or particularly even want to offer my friend.)

I hope it's obvious that I'm looking for more than "your friend should be in therapy" type of responses (she is, by the way) - I would really like to hear from people who have been in similar situations and have come out of it with all their f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact. Especially people who have learned how to be better, live happier with another human being.

Apologies for the long explanation - this is my first post, I'll get better at it.
posted by mondaygreens to Human Relations (18 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Do nothing. There comes a point where such a relationship invariably self-destructs because one person realises that they are wasting their life, meets someone else, or dumps the other party.

You can't change anyone though. They have to do it of their own volition.
posted by spaceandtime30 at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmmm. It's tricky. I think there is a four-stage approach -- working on setting and policing boundaries first -- even when things are going well, resisting the "urge to merge," and maintaining time for yourself and your friends outside of the relationship. It takes time and effort, and it can be really draining, but it really helps to keep your identity separate. That gives you a) perspective on the relationship and b) relief from the relationship (even if the relationship is good, both of those things are important and healthy). Don't move in together so soon; a spare toothbrush and maybe some extra clothes at your partner's apartment is plenty for a couple of years.

Second, keep in mind the things that work in the relationship, the things that don't, and what you want from the relationship. Make lists, if that helps. And that second point is not "the things that have to change so that we can be blissfully happy," it's the stuff that your partner does or is that are annoying or less than perfect in your partner or the relationship, so you acknowledge them and can objectively understand what you are willing to accept and what you are not. Because that lets you understand where your relationship is and what you are getting out of it.

Third, communicate with your partner. Make your needs known, and hold your partner to those needs (while still respecting them as a person, of course, they aren't an extension of your own self-image, after all).

Fourth, when and if, your needs aren't getting met, and you can see that the relationship is not where you want it to be. Work on taking reasonable steps (1-3, above, are a good place to start) to address them, but accept that relationships end and maybe this is one. When you get to that point, say goodbye, pack up your stuff, and move on. Set short deadlines -- you identify three problems (to yourself or two your partner) and, if you have not made progress on them in one month, end the relationship. At least one of you is not trying. And, when you end it, end it. No reconciliations, trial separations, just move along and get over it. Maybe you will be friends in a year, but maybe not. Move along.

I helped a friend work on this for about 8 years. Towards the end, she was griping about her love life, and I pointed out that, while she wasn't in the relationship she wanted, she was getting better at breaking up. When I met her, she was in a relationship that had been happy for six months and unhappy for two years. It took them a year to break up. Then she got involved with someone where they were happy for a year, unhappy for six months, and the breakup took six months. Just before our conversation she had just ended (after a month of breaking up) a relationship that had been pretty happy for the best part of two years and rocky for maybe two-three months. Even she could see that she was making better choices.

And that is probably too long an answer, but it's where I would start.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:49 AM on April 10, 2010 [12 favorites]

In answer to your questions in bold above: There is no Line. There is a line that each person in any relationship draws, and they are all going to overlap in particular unique ways, because they are drawn by particular unique individuals. Co-dependence is a habit reinforced by your brain wiring. You need dedicated commitment and practice to establish new ways of relating that will build new habits and new brain wiring.

This relationship may not be fixable. It most likely will require a clean slate for both people. I would guess that fixing a relationship that is as bad as you make it out to be would be as hard as an alcoholic stopping drinking while there is a bottle of gin in the middle of every room in the house -- theoretically doable, but god-awful hard. But whether or not it is fixable and what will be done about it sure isn't going to be done by you. You can only give information -- they have to make the commitment and do the hard work, whatever it turns out to be. And that will happen only when the pain of not changing overcomes their perceived pain of making the change.

CODA is a good resource. These questions are great questions for groups like these, made up of local people who are searching for the same answers for themselves.
posted by buzzv at 9:50 AM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's not much you can do. But getting out of situations like's like coming off of an addiction. And trying to adopt some new healthy habits at the same time.

For the first several weeks, and even months, there's this empty, painful longing that your brain (you think it's your heart, but that's just more brain trickery) can't seem to get over, as you ween yourself off of it. When you do finally get to the other side, you're all "WHAT was I thinking?" Which kind of shows you the power that sick relationships can have over you. If you've been able to adopt some of the healthier habits too, while you came off of the bad ones, the self-esteem is stronger as a result, and it's easier to not go back there.

It's a whole way of thinking, a whole way of being, tied to your wants and needs and goals and how you feel about yourself and what you think you deserve. That's so very hard to change. Especially when you're beaten down and unsure. And the emotional beatings are something you take part in to perpetuate and feed and distract you from it all. You think you are being dragged into it unwillingly, but the truth is, you do get some sort of payoff. Otherwise you'd run for the hills and never look back. Especially after learning once, twice, a million times how the drama with this person will unfold.

There's going to be those weeks of trying to kick the habit, changing the behavior, and it's really hard to get through them. So hard in fact, that many people opt to stay right where they are and only go through it later, when they absolutely have to. They know it'll be harder then, but they can't bear the thought of facing it right now. Just one more before I go...
posted by iamkimiam at 10:05 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

The answer is, HOLD BACK. Do not go 100% whole hearted, balls to to the wall, throwing yourself into a relationship like it's your hope of heaven.

I come from codependent people, got brought up to be, naturally did it myself. However, unlike the rest of my relatives, I figured out that my codependence was smothering and driving people away. So I started holding back. I did not spend 24-7 with someone I was in love with (bad idea anyway). When I had times where I was desperately lonely and needy and wanted to cling like a barnacle? I did not pick up the phone and call or go online to look for someone. I dealt with it alone, learning to entertain myself. Even if I WANT to cling like a barnacle at times, I don't let myself act out on the urge. People will like you better if you let them fucking breathe. Let them have time alone. Do things by yourself or with your friends. Do not whine, cry, or pout if the guy wants to do something without you. Make sure to maintain some independence even when you are in a relationship. Do not make the dude your entire life. Decide what areas of your life you're not willing to budge about even for a man and stick to them.

If you can manage it, pick a guy with his own life. Or hell, date a guy more smothery than you and learn the hard way--but then again it kind of sounds like she's already doing that.

Now I can't speak to all of this topic--dear lord, I don't know how to tell her to pick better men that don't get into a cycle of mutual abuse beyond saying the obvious (therapy). Like you, I've chosen the "stay single" route until I somehow figure out how to fix my own broken picker. But at the very least, she can choose not to act out on her screaming need to be codependent, even if she still feels like she wants to be.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2010 [20 favorites]

How do you break the cycle of co-dependence? Or, if codependence an unavoidable part of relationships, where do you draw the line and how?

I've known many, many young people in co-dependent relationships. For many people, time and experience gain them the self-esteem and habit of self-preservation to break the cycle. Some never escape, because the drama is just too exciting.

Is it about who you're with more than who you are?

I would phrase it more along the lines of "who you are decides who you are with." People who have a tendency to be co-dependent pick people that will play along. They choose addicts or people with serious emotional problems because they need to be important, they want to fix things, they crave intensity - and other people's problems are so much more interesting than their own.

In new relationships, how do you avoid falling back into bad habits? Please advise.

The person needs to recognize what I think is the prime warning sign: trying to control the others' behavior. If one can't accept the other person as they are, and let them have their issues without trying to fix them, then it's time to get out.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:55 AM on April 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

I used to be like that. My Mum and Dad are still both like that. I didn't really come out of any of those relationships unscathed. A long stretch (2.5 years) without a relationship helped a lot. There was some good advice in the books Be Your Own Dating Service and Conscious Loving. But before I could follow the advice in either book, I had to develop a greater capacity for emotional awareness and regulation. That, I did with meditation.

If you're trying to help your friend, you're basically doomed. She'll have to wake up to these issues and take responsibility for them herself. These kinds of relationships hurt, so they can only evolve in situations where there is a lot of willful ignorance towards the self-destructive behaviors involved. In my case, cracking through that ignorance took experiences I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, let alone a friend.
posted by Estragon at 11:21 AM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

"You know the kind of relationship I'm talking about: entangled, intense, all-consuming, lacking boundaries... and above all, seemingly impossible to end. . . long (2-3 years, and she's only in her mid-twenties), difficult, dysfunctional romantic relationships"

Do nothing. Full stop.

Basically, you're describing me and my wife when we were in our early twenties and didn't know any better. Despite what all our single friends thought at the time, we got better... and better... and better. Twenty years later, I can say that the last 13 or so have been really worthwhile.

... and many of our critics? They're *still* single or just haven't found the "right" person. Because, frankly, you can't expect the perfect person that you just magically understand to fall in your lap, even though many do.

Perhaps it was natural that some felt "why stay at home with someone you always argue with"? The answer, of course, was love, and a stubborn commitment to the relationship. It's an experience that, however imperfect, those who are off living the single life just don't learn, because you can't really unless you live through it. The simple fact is, relationships aren't perfect. They take effort, restraint, communication, and knowledge. It's two kids being thrown in together into the deep end. Sometimes they sink, and sometimes they learn to swim. Even when the relationship fails, though, they hopefully will learn from the experience and move on.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with being in relationships for a couple of years, even when you're in your mid-twenties. The fact is, lots of people are pretty messed up when they are that young, and cling to each other for comfort and security like a lab monkey. That's unfortunate, perhaps, but necessary. They can get past it and have a better relationship, if they work at it.

You're supposed to be a friend. The best way to do that is to support their choice of partners in a healthy manner, rather than trying to guide them. Say nothing critical, other than how it makes you feel uncomfortable to be around it at times, and to perhaps suggest relationship counseling or that they find the ways and places in which they can best communicate. Encourage them to have regular date nights, or short getaways.

One of the best lessons my wife and I learned was that it was better to approach conversation when we were both able to relax and talk calmly, such as when we were cuddling in bed. Also, location matters. If you feel trapped inside a cramped apartment, your communication is going to suck there. Perhaps they should go to a movie together and get a cup of coffee afterward to talk. Ultimately, such couples need to learn how to calmly talk to each other and really communicate, rather than react and explode, or talk past each other.

Some of the best gifts I have ever had from friends were gifts geared toward my wife and myself, such as movie passes, dining certificates, a hotel reservation, etc. In my experience, friends who actually honor and support your relationship in a healthy way are a rarity, and a great thing to have.

It's perhaps only natural that friends interpret the natural "venting" of relationship problems from their friends as a situation their friend should avoid, rather than one they should learn from and work to improve. There's a quietly selfish aspect in there too, somewhere, I suspect -- breakups are another way for them to "get their friend back".

Really, I know you want what's best for your friend, but encouraging them to give up on something which matters to them, rather than learning how to make what they have better isn't necessarily doing them any favors.
posted by markkraft at 11:24 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Before you get into a relationship with someone new, ask yourself: is the primary emotion you feel around this person (AFTER lust and fascination) pity, guilt or sympathy/empathy?

Is this person your emotional, financial, social and intellectual equal (or better)? What can you learn from each other? Is this person trustworthy? What is his/her relationship with family like?

If one of you is going to be highly dependent on the other at the VERY beginning, whether it's needing a place to stay, escaping a bad family or former relationship, getting clean or having just moved somewhere new and one of you has no friends/social life/routine...

Those are the very situations where the emotional charge of both caretaking and being rescued come into play. People getting out of divorces or who have moved for a job they hate and are feeling lonely, depressed and confused often seek validation from others in similar situations rather than working on building up their own self-worth and allowing time to adjust before becoming enmeshed. Watch out for people you feel an instant kinship with based entirely on having survived the same type of suffering or negative experiences. Yeah, it's nice to relate to someone. Relate to each other on POSITIVE things, not NEGATIVE.

Does being around this person make you feel better about yourself, or are you constantly trying to win this person over? Alter yourself to be more what they seem to like or to avoid criticism or ridicule? You should feel like a better version of you with a good partner.

Also, make sure you don't get too close too quickly. Give yourself time to date. Don't text/email/call too frequently. DO NOT BECOME DEPENDENT ON SOMEONE to be socially active or emotionally secure. Don't move in together too soon.

Be wary of caretaking or being a victim. If you sense yourself acting like one or your gut sends up the Bat-signal that hey, this person reminds me of my ex (the bad parts especially), then RUN.

Yeah, therapy and being alone are great. But don't be afraid to bond with another person. But do it SLOWLY. Don't let anyone force you into something before you're really ready.

The thing that stood out to me about my past codependent relationships is this; on some level, I felt competitive with or jealous of my partner a lot, and other times, I felt as though I was dating someone who literally could not function without me running his life for him. I hated him having fun without me and couldn't focus on having fun when he wasn't there. Other times, I'd worry about what he would do if I wasn't around; if he was in jail, or sick, or if he'd come home at all. But when we were out having fun, I was constantly sort of circling back to check on him, instead of just being myself. I never just felt like... me. My life WAS his life. I never understood how much I was missing out on and how much happier I'd be without all the gossip, drama, excitement and fear. Exciting lives are really exhausting. You won't be boring if you're not codependent, ok? But you will have less STRESS. It's kind of amazing what a difference it makes when you don't have to basically parent another adult (or vice-versa).

I am now in what I think is the first normal relationship of my life and I'm almost 40. It's NICE to be able to miss him. It's also wonderful to have conversations with friends that don't entirely focus on my relationship problems or what HE did that upset me last. It's nice to be... well, happy.

Just knowing my partner is in the world makes me happy. I don't need to know what he's doing or who he's with. I trust him. We build each other up and take time for ourselves, too. I am capable of letting him go, at least temporarily, and I'm not in love with his potential or what he could do for me if we stay together. I'm not "X's girlfriend", I'm me. If things ended, I know I would be terribly sad, but I would be okay.

My mindset now is that being alone IS better than being with someone just because X can't take care of himself without me or that I might lose all my friends or be lonely. It's far, far more important to me now to be sane, happy and healthy and for my partners to be the same. Escaping codependency is learning true, happy INDEPENDENCE and allowing your partner to do the same, I guess.

Until you have that calm feeling in a relationship, you can't be sure, not really. It takes time. But the first time your gut twinges that THIS IS WRONG - trust it. Back away. Don't give someone a little leeway because of PITY, SYMPATHY OR GUILT. Each twinge gives the other person the chance to see what buttons to push with you in order to manipulate you better into that cycle all over again.

If you really aren't sure if a situation is good or bad? Don't ask your friends. But talking to a therapist always helps.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:38 AM on April 10, 2010 [46 favorites]

I, too, am in a wonderful long term relationship that started out this way. For me, the magic element was that when I went over the line of Crazy, my then-boyfriend threw me out of his house and set some very firm boundaries with me. . . but didn't break up with me. It was exactly the eye-opening splash of cold water I needed, and I moved back in with my parents and got into some good therapy. Eventually he joined me in the good therapy, and together we learned ways to relate to each other sanely and lovingly. We've been together for nearly 15 years and married for 7.

To this day, I consider his withdrawal of unconditional emotional support at my most vulnerable time to be one of the most loving things anyone has ever done for me. It definitely changed my life, and quite possibly saved it.
posted by KathrynT at 11:41 AM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

2nding Estragon's recommendation of Conscious Loving. I realize now that that book changed my life 10 years ago. It's a really insightful, practical read. Cheesy at times, but not filled with endless stories about other people's relationships told from the woman-victim perspective (as many co-dependency books are, which is not for everybody, nor is it the way everybody approaches the subject). What I was able to take from it - and was presented in a straightforward way - helped me focus on the thoughts, small actions, framing of events and whatever else I was doing and taking part in that was heading me down paths to destructive behaviors and unhealthiness. I've also found that it's a book that has advice and strategies that can be applied whether you're single or in a relationship, and whether or not the people around you are on-board with self-awareness and personal growth. And I started to see that people's dismissal of my interest in those topics was further proof of their stonewalling and controlling behavior, and where I was allowing their judgment of me to result in my feeling bad for wanting to examine these things closely and learn from them.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:58 AM on April 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Oh, and to your question about how and when to draw the line?

My ex-husband and I were up and down from day one and we stayed together 10 years. I bailed him out of jail and went through all kinds of bizarre shit. Stuff most people never even think about. But by year 8 things were BAD. I slapped him in public. We were verbally abusive to each other, in private, in front of friends, family. He would vanish for days at a time. We didn't sleep together for the last year of our marriage.

Once I was getting a blood test for Hep C and HIV and pricing surveillance gear, I knew I was at THE LINE. I moved out of my own home and filed for divorce. My line was drawn when I was afraid I'd be financially ruined and possibly sickened or even killed, intentionally or not, by my own husband. I didn't want to love him so much that I was willing to die or be homeless for it. Hell, I was still in love with him for over a year after the divorce was final - but I couldn't be with him anymore. So, waiting to feel like you don't love that person anymore is definitely not THE LINE. THE LINE is simply... your breaking point.

In the second relationship it took multiple threats of violence and suicide, stealing, etc. before I did anything. Long before that, I hit THE LINE. But he was such a sociopath I was really scared of what he would do, so when an opportune time came I had friends and family help me pack all of his things, throw him out and and changed the locks within a 12-hour period. I had to call the police. I had to get a restraining order. But no way in hell was I going to let it go further, and I was already ashamed I'd become codependent again and didn't learn my lesson the first time. I found myself getting emergency tested again for every STD, then back at the surveillance store. Yeah. FUCK THAT.

I urge you not to let it go that far - not sure if this is for you or your "friend" as you say, but I was very grateful to be in the witness protection room at court and not be one of the other girls still married to her abuser with a kid in the mix. If you let yourself cross that line, you're tied to that codependency forever, in some ways. The thought is unbearable.

There will NEVER BE A THIRD TIME. I'd rather die alone, seriously.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:01 PM on April 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm on a streak of Fromm recommendations — read The Art of Loving! Here's a nice teaser I found on Wikipedia:
According to Fromm, loving oneself is quite different from being arrogant, conceited or egocentric. Loving oneself means caring about oneself, taking responsibility for oneself, respecting oneself, and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one's strengths and weaknesses). In order to be able to truly love another person, one needs first to love oneself in this way. Fromm is sceptical of exclusive love, which he calls "egoisme a deux" - a relationship in which each person is entirely focussed on the other, to the detriment of other people around them. In a healthy marriage, faithfulness applies to sex, but not to Fromm's concept of love, because love means a generally caring, responsible, respectful and honest attitude toward all other people.
posted by mbrock at 12:47 PM on April 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

It's the moment you're able to identify such relationships as "co-dependant", or "mutually abusive" that you either:

a) stop getting mixed up in such relationships, or

b) continue getting mixed up in such realtionships (now by conscious choice).

It's the people that don't know any better that have problems. You know better. Make a choice.
posted by marimeko at 1:56 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mondaygreens wrote: I would really like to hear from people who have been in similar situations and have come out of it with all their f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact. Especially people who have learned how to be better, live happier with another human being.

I kept getting into relationships that were more and more messed up. I got out of them fairly rapidly (couple of years), but the people I chose to get involved with got worse and worse.

What I had to do was to look at my behavior when I was single to figure out why I kept choosing these people. I realized that I had a pattern going:
break up, feel relieved, relish my freedom (a few months)
start to feel scared that I would never meet someone and would be single forever
start to "fall for" all sorts of people in my life including those I would normally not be attracted to
get involved with one of those individuals
be deliriously happy for around a year
start to become annoyed with all the things wrong in the relationship
break up (around the 2 yr point)
Rinse and repeat.

The last relationship in this cycle was with a person I had known for 2 years, that I knew wanted (at least) to be friends with me, and that I didn't like (even as a friend). So, when she propositioned me, I thought, "Hey, this is great! My best friend has been telling me I need to just learn how to have casual sex. Clearly this person I don't like who doesn't want a long term relationship would be a great person to do that with." So, 2 years later when I was going through an extremely messy breakup, I realized I needed to stop doing "this" and I started really looking at the cycle of my relationships.

I realized that I would get anxious and would start putting out this "will you be my lover" energy. Normal people would run like hell (or at least gently let me know they weren't interested :)), but inevitably I would meet someone else with needs of their own who was just as messed up and we'd be off and running.

I got a lot of support from my friends as I learned to just "sit" with those feelings of anxiety and not act on them. It was hard, but I have learned how to have healthier relationships as a result. Best of luck to you & your friend -- this isn't easy.
posted by elmay at 2:12 PM on April 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

Oh, this is for a friend (how did I miss that?)

Okay, whatever you do, don't let your freind romaticize these problems. Just remain in a stance of "that is unacceptable" if some kind of behavior (on the part of her partner) comes up and move on. Sometimes people get caught up in the drama - which is heady (as it distracts from all of the otherwise boring details of taking responsibility for one's life/happiness). It's easier to be in a mess if you are loath to ever take responsibility. It's "victimhood" that allows one to think that "all of this is happening to them". A good friend might simply (seriously) listen to it anymore.
posted by marimeko at 2:13 PM on April 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've written a little bit about how to break the cycle and what it took for me to get out of my own codependent relationship, and how friends helped when I was still in one.

For me, it basically boils down to:
1. notice when you don't feel good. estragon's step ("develop a greater capacity for emotional awareness and regulation") is such a great foundation for everything else. You can do this just by practicing trying to put how you feel into words.
2. stop trying to feel better by trying to change the other person's behavior; take baby steps to unhook and feel better through your own actions. (Unicorn on the cob describes an amazingly enormous action, and I'm curious if she worked her way up to that.) Learn how to non-aggressively extract yourself and feel better.
3. develop alarm bells to notice immediately when some situation is reminding you of a bad situation from before.
4. I got a lot out of a few situations where for some reason, I could slow down time and really observe what was going on in all of its micro-details (more here and here). I got good at recognizing something bad for me vs. something good for me, both in how the other person acted and in the particular feelings I had.
5. develop a taste for calmness and health. As you know, outside that craziness, your life starts to go better (room cleaner, finances more in order). For me, that became an indicator that helped sustain the gains. All that codependent excitement is really destabilizing, so when I started to get back into a bad situation and noticed that all those indicators started to plummet (exhausted, room messy, skipping classes), I could see what I was losing. It also sustained more healthy relationships through the "boredom," as I could tell myself, "this relationship is solid and helping my entire life get better, so this lack of spark is not the worst thing in the world."
6. keep unpeeling the onion by focusing on areas outside of romantic relationships, like what was going on at work, and like starting to deal with family-of-origin issues. (Great books on this by Harriet Lerner include The Dance of Intimacy and The Dance of Communication).

I'm back-linking above because I'm not that articulate today, but all those threads are worth reading as facets of what you're asking (e.g., how do you deal with the lack of "spark" in future relationships?) and have a lot of good advice. Anyway, this is an interesting question, and I'm interested to see what other people say.
posted by salvia at 5:09 PM on April 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your thoughtful and illuminating responses. I feel much better equipped to offer my friend some help (Conscious Loving) and also to try to draw better boundaries between her and me. Most importantly, I think I can see more clearly how her difficulties are related to her low self-esteem and insecurities, and I will try to encourage her in the things that make her feel good about herself.

markkraft said: "You're supposed to be a friend. The best way to do that is to support their choice of partners in a healthy manner, rather than trying to guide them. Say nothing critical, other than how it makes you feel uncomfortable to be around it at times, and to perhaps suggest relationship counseling or that they find the ways and places in which they can best communicate. Encourage them to have regular date nights, or short getaways."

I did exactly these things for the first couple of years, but now she is becoming increasingly erratic, depressed, and - contrary to your situation, more needy from others (me in particular, since we're very close) ever since the decline of her relationship began. Her boyfriend also used to call me a lot, late at night, asking me to "talk some sense" into her or "help her" when she was being irrational or they were fighting. So I do feel implicated in it, whether I want to be or not.

I asked this question because lately I began to feel very helpless, even counterproductive in the ways I was talking to and listening to her. She is becoming dependent on me too, and while I am more than willing to be there for my friend, I truly do not want to be part of the problem.

But yes, she is relatively young - and I do believe that age will bring her more self-awareness and self-confidence. Her and me both. :)
posted by mondaygreens at 11:28 PM on April 10, 2010

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