Answer by Nicole Gravagna, PhD neuroscientist, author of MindSET Your Manners:
I had two codependent marriages for a total of five long term codependent relationships before I decided I'd had enough.
The only thing that was similar in all of these relationships was that the other person was willing to be codependent with me. That was the pattern. Compatibility didn't seem to be as important to the relationship.
The way I describe codependence is an agreement that I'll hold my hand over the gaping hole in his heart, while he holds his hand over the gaping hole in mine. That way we live without bleeding to death. But, if one person moves an inch, it gets painful very quickly. The whole thing is dependent on everyone doing the same thing the same way every time.
These relationships didn't allow for change. I couldn't grow. He couldn't grow. So they didn't last. Who can be exactly the same for more than ten years? I couldn't do it.
I made a decision to overcome it. I didn't know how I was going to do it. I didn't even understand what parts of my relationships were codependent and which were normal (interdependent or whatever you want to call it). I got curious enough to find out.
I hired a therapist and talked to her about what patterns in my relationships were healthy and what was causing trouble. I learned about limerence - this feeling of "love" that is really more like a non-requited attachment. Codependence started to look like limerence but with an added magic that the other person feels it too. When I saw that my romantic relationships were about using each other as a drug to feel good, I really wanted to learn how to love differently.
I remember when I went to my therapist (I saw her like 3x per year so it was a special occasion) and I said, "I don't know what love is." She said, "Very few people do, Nicole."
I was stunned. I had wandered off the path into the forest in search of normal love and I found that normal love is rare. What? Really? OMG. This was crazier than I imagined.
So, I started asking a whole lot of people what their relationships are like. I asked what it felt like to break up. I asked what it felt like when their partners were away. I started to group people into categories in my head.
Some were Arms-length Lovers. These people kept their partners at bay, lest someone break their heart. Some of those people had never been in love.
Another group was the Love-as-a-drug Lovers. Those people got into relationships and sucked the life out of them as fast as they could. Watching those people date was like watching a heroin junkie get a new dealer.
Then there were the folks who walked the middle ground. Sometimes they broke up with people. Sometimes they got married. But it just seemed like love was a casual part of life for them. It wasn't such a dire life or death experience.
I learned to feel through the times when I wanted to turn my lovers into a drug. Instead of creating a push-pull or trying to dive in deeper, I learned to look at this person and recognize them as a fellow human - not as an answer to my problems.
And so it went. It took me 3 years of dating to say that I really overcame codependency. It was trial, error, and study. It's hard work to change your patterns in the world, but in this case, it was well worth it for me.