“Co-dependents often demand that their needs be met by others. In recovery, I find and use resources that meet my needs without making demands on others. I ask for help when I need it, without expectation.” https://coda.org/meeting-materials/service-materials/
For me, making demands was not an obvious pattern of behavior. It was insidiously sneaky, even when I was the one being demanding. I learned to recognize my demands by noticing the anticipated resentment I was ready to unleash if the demand was not met.
Today, I’m better able to notice the difference between making a request and a demand. With a request, I’ll be okay no matter how they answer. With a demand, or as my therapist called it “a unilateral contract”, there will be emotional consequences that stem from a sense that the other person owes me something, even though they never agreed to such terms.
If I have a need or want, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to ask for it. If what I need is not available or given to me freely by the other person, it’s then up to me to find another way to get satisfaction and take care of myself.
A couple of months ago, my romantic partner picked me up to spend a night at their place. I’m a caregiver to my mother and it had been a particularly difficult day. I sorely needed the break that I anticipated getting and I was barely holding myself together until their arrival. The moment I got into the passenger seat, I barked the order to drive away. They kindly reached for my hand and I jerked it away. “I don’t need you to soothe me, I need you to drive!” I was yelling at someone I care about because my illness, my codependency, was running rampant.
After a few minutes on the road, I caught my breath and did a mental instant replay of my behavior. I felt sorry and ashamed. I also felt calm enough to let my recovery guide me. I apologized. I expressed appreciation for my partner’s presence and grace. I told my loving partner what I was feeling. And then I did the bravest thing I could do in that moment, I asked for help. I said that I was exhausted and asked if they would be willing and able to take care of me for the evening. I was ready to accept the possibility that they might say “no.” If that happened, I would have presented them the choice to give me some quiet time to process on my own or to take me back home.
To my amazement, they said “yes.” I burst into tears of relief and gratitude. After another minute or two, the urge to cry faded away and when I looked up, I saw my partner with new eyes. I recognized that their love for me is true, I don’t have to be so afraid of rejection and abandonment from them. It’s okay for me to relax a little. They deserve to have a healthy and loving relationship just as much as I do. I want to be a lovingly egalitarian partner who is present in this relationship, not reliving a dysfunctional past. As long as I keep putting in the work to learn, I will keep discovering new facets of myself and ever greater capacity to be loving, loveable and loved.
Caryn T. ~ 06/11/2022