One of the things I have been thinking about is how and why we get into co-dependent relationships. They can be found at home or at work or in our spiritual communities. Anywhere, really. The other question, of course, is how to get out.
Among the many threads holding the co-dependent intimate relationship together are familiarity, fear, insularity, wishing and hoping. As we enter the door of this dynamic (I don’t think of it as a relationship so much as a structure), we bring one of two assumptions with us: we cannot do it alone, or … we cannot do it alone. In the first instance, the assumption seduces us into connection with someone who benefits from our deep feeling of need. In the second, the assumption guides us to fall in love with someone else’s need.
This structure is both powerful and delicate. Because it holds two people in a small space where the world is perceived as inherently threatening, the instinct to stay inside the space is compelling. No matter what is going on inside here, what is out there is worse — a visceral sense of unpredictable. In this small space, the giver maintains her or his connection by giving ever more; the taker is insatiable. But there is giving in the taking and taking in the giving. The couple maintains a kind of balance, the kind that tells us to stay put or risk everything.
Movement forward by one or the other is felt as movement away. Thus, we also see the delicacy of interaction, especially between intimate partners who are highly attuned to the nuances of what is okay and what is not. We know exactly what will be felt as threat — growth. So, we turn our backs on opportunities for growth, on our own evolving futures. And we may also find ourselves pulling our partner back from the brink of change fearing that we will be rejected in the larger world or that we cannot keep up even if invited.
The future comes no matter, of course, as time passes and the future is always right here, but every day we make the decision to stay within the structure, other choices appear dimmer, more distant. We sacrifice ourselves to the partner’s fear, and erase the partner in favor of our own.
When Hellinger speaks of the balance of give and take, he is considering the possibility of relationship that exists outside of the structure designed only to house replication. He is talking about a gentle upward sweep of positive reciprocity. When someone gives you a gift, bother to pay attention, take time to receive it, return the kindness in slightly greater measure. He is, obviously, not speaking of, “You give me a dollar, I’ll give you two.” The gentle upward sweep is made up of countless pauses to receive and to give, an ongoing alertness to the flow of love.
Love is both a noun and a verb. Sometimes we swaddle ourselves in the noun and forfeit the verb. It is usually a mistake, even with our gods. Love can take care of us only if we take care of it.
In co-dependent connection, we bring forward the parent-child relationship so that we end up feeling trapped, not seeing a way out, often seemingly entirely without volition. But out there, not so very far away, beyond the walls surrounding our childhoods, there is a path. First we envision it, imagine it. Then we lift our gaze to meet the horizon, lift a foot and let it settle a little ahead, and feel the other foot catching us. That is a step, a brave act affirmed. Then again and again and again … your partner has a choice now too.
I am not moving away, you call out, I am simply moving. Your partner can do it as well, catch up even. In the bigger field, out from under the rigid parameters of the original structure, people choose each other in a different way — from among the all. They develop a special language of give and take. When the balance tips, partners feel it. When they are navigating from an old timezone — well, it’s already past, nothing to do. When they are both in the great spaciousness of the current timezone, they can reset the compass toward more.