When you have a history of enabling others or assuming the helping role in a dysfunctional helping (codependent) relationship, you may be concerned this pattern will be carried over into new relationships. Before you build your next romantic relationship, there are ways to alter your behavior to help make the next relationship healthier.
Identify The Source
Finding the source of the problem can be difficult without being objective about your behavior. Involving a neutral party, such as a counselor, can help you sort through your feeling and behaviors while identifying dysfunctional patterns. Look for instances throughout your life that center around acceptance. Whether you felt rejected by family members or peers, finding acceptance is often the root of the problem.
Typically, assuming a helping role or being an enabler can provide a false sense of acceptance and pleasing others. Unfortunately, being overly helpful can eventually morph into a pattern of assuming the helper role in all your interactions with other people. Although you may feel validated when you are helpful to others, you likely find your relationships lack depth and are completely one-sided.
Look For Patterns
Think about your previous romantic relationships and how they started. You may identify certain patterns from the beginning of a relationship. For example, you may notice you are easily attracted to potential mates who need you in some way. You might be attracted to the recovering alcoholic or the person who is down on their luck. There is a difference between being attracted to someone who happens to have a problem and being drawn to them because they have problems. Relationships can transpire out of the feeling that you can help your partner solve their problems or you might be the person to change them. If you notice this pattern, you are better able to avoid beginning a relationship in this manner.
You need to have both personal and relationship boundaries in order to create a healthy relationship. One of the most difficult aspects of creating boundaries is being strong enough to enforce them consistently. You might engage in behaviors that facilitate dysfunctional helping. For example, you may never allow a call to go to voicemail or answer messages promptly, even when you are busy. Consider how often you help your partner with tasks they could realistically do for themselves. There is such a thing as being overly dependable or helpful.
If you notice these are issues in past relationships, write down new boundaries you will set for yourself and keep them visible. You might write down that you will not answer personal messages or phone calls throughout the day. One way to sabotage your boundaries is convincing yourself a phone call or message from your partner might be an emergency. It is okay to check your message to determine if it is a true emergency. If it is not and emergency, reply when it is the appropriate time. Similarly, do not rush to assist your partner with tasks they can do independently.
Be Honest About Your Role
Another problem with dysfunctional helping relationships is they are often mislabeled as romantic relationships. A serious romantic relationship will have many components for it to work. You will likely have physical intimacy and romantic components, but friendship, emotional intimacy, and mutual respect are instrumental in a healthy relationship. Deceiving yourself by believing you are in a romantic relationship, when your role in the relationship is little more than physical intimacy and being emotionally or financially supportive, is common with people who have patterns of enabling.
When you mislabel your relationships, consider what you are gaining with denial. You may find you are scared of being alone or want to keep up the facade of a genuine relationship. Ultimately admitting to yourself that you are stuck in old patterns of behavior might be hurtful, and denying your reality is a method of avoiding deep-rooted issues.
When you have a history of enabling others or being in dysfunctional helping relationships, it is easy to carry the same behaviors into the next relationship. To help you break free of the cycle and establish healthy romantic relationships, serious self-reflection and evaluation of your behaviors are necessary. Counseling can help you do this, so click here for more information about counseling services in your area.