Most people can identify a codependent relationship. It looks like women who always date emotionally unavailable men, or men who always date abusive women.
Family and friends are often able to identify a destructive and damaging partner, before the codependant can themselves. They also know that if their codependant loved one meets a potential good partner, this new partner is immediately disqualified as a potential partner. These behaviors usually follow a specific pattern. If you or a loved one has codependency issues, this is what to look out for.
The Need to Repeat the Relationship Dynamic
This pattern of behavior in choosing a partner for a relationship that is destructive, harmful, and unsustainable, is known as repetition compulsion. This term was first coined by Freud. It’s a coping mechanism that attempts to fix a problem in the problematic partner. This tendency usually stems from dysfunctional family relationships, usually specifically with the parent of the opposite gender. This is why young girls with abusive fathers seem to bad boys. The same is true when young boys are raised by narcissistic mothers.
Throughout life, the individual tries to correct the problems of the past, by recreating them in their adult relationships. The codependant experiences repetition compulsion believing they were the source of strife in their parental relationship. They feel that if they can fix their unavailable partner they can fix their flawed familial relationships.
In this way, the repetitive compulsion feeds the codependency and frustration. No matter how many changes the codependant makes, their partner stays the same. The relationship spirals, just like the previous relationship, and the one before that, which further reinforces the codependent’s belief that they’re damaged goods.
The Healing Process
Because dysfunction in relationships is related to family trauma, simply acknowledging that a pattern exists is not enough for most people to change their behaviors. This is a deeply ingrained coping strategy that was effective for as a child. It’s persisted this long and takes work and patience to change.
Like all trauma recovery, the codependent must face both the emotional and cognitive issues that stem from the original trauma before they can move on.
Therapy is a useful tool for effecting meaningful change. Coming to understand there isn’t a way to fix the original trauma and dysfunction in the family of origin is the first step. Developing healthy emotional tools to cope with their trauma is the next.
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Bowins, B. (2010). Repetitive maladaptive behavior: beyond repetition compulsion. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 282-98.
Diamond, S. A. (2008, June 14). Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: Repetitive Relationship Patterns. Retrieved August 3, 2019, from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/200806/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-repetitive-relationship-patterns
Freud, S. (n.d.). Compulsion to Repeat. Retrieved August 3, 2019, from Sigmund Freud- Life and Work: http://www.freudfile.org/psychoanalysis/compulsion_repeat.html