Supporting A Dysfunctional Lover

Remember, if you are financially and/or emotionally supporting a dysfunctional lover, chances are you are codependent. What this essentially means is you are part of the problem. The only way your dysfunctional lover can remain dysfunctional is if he or she finds and maintains a dysfunctional love relationship with somebody like you. Somebody who is willing and able to take dysfunctional care of him or her as an adult.

A lifestyle of dysfunction originates in a pattern of interpersonal experiences where a parent chronically does things for a child that the child can do for him or herself. What this basically means is, as we develop we have to be allowed and expected to take on more and more of the responsibility that matches our capacities and abilities. This motivates and reinforces self-confidence and independence. Otherwise a child grows a dysfunctional dependency to match a parent’s inability or refusal to encourage responsibility and independence.

So now we have an adult with dependency needs and a dysfunctional lifestyle seeking adult care-takers who will replicate what he or she wanted to experience growing up. If you are in a love relationship with such a person, chances are you are over-responsible, making up for his or her under-responsibility. What are you getting out of supporting a dysfunctional lover? Remember, dependency is limitation and/or sickness if the person can do for him or herself. It’s essentially an effort to maintain an experience of emotional immaturity now in adulthood.

You could be supporting a dysfunctional lover because you need to be in ‘control’ in your love relationship. So your way of being in control (to avoid an experience of emotional vulnerability) is to select dysfunctional dependent lovers. This love-life arrangement puts you in the more powerful position in the relationship. You’re the caretaker and your lover is the recipient of your care taking. You are doing for your lover what he or she can do for him or herself. Your lover is discouraged from doing more for him or herself because he or she doesn’t have to. Sometimes in this kind of love relationship, caretakers complain vehemently about their lover’s absence of responsibility but behind the scenes they are interfering with whatever their dysfunctional lover tries to do to be less dysfunctional.

As a caretaker, you are getting much less than you bargained for. First off, you’re doing all the work. The control you seek leaves you tired and detached in the relationship. You are putting so much of yourself into the relationship and getting very little or nothing back from it. If you get stuck in this over-responsible pattern long enough it’ll burn you out and you’ll start feeling considerable resentment. You want to be loved too, and not just for what you give to him or her. Again the vulnerability of your need for love is probably pretty scary for you. For some reason in your personal past, taking care of others, whether they needed it or not, was easier to do than asking for more for yourself. Now as an adult, you have a chance to change the way you are.

We’ll get back to this issue of change shortly. First let’s talk about how you can determine with some measure of assurance that you are indeed supporting a dysfunctional lover. For starters, you’ll feel like a parent taking care of a grown child. This parent-child feeling is a dead give away that you are in a dysfunctional relationship. Your dysfunctional lover’s need to recreate the disappointed needs of childhood and adolescence now in your love relationship has met up with your need to take care of everybody except yourself. You can also expect that your dysfunctional lover will be variably employed. The inconsistency of his or her employment is an indication that you are being expected to hold down the fort, so to speak.

Along with this variability in employment will come the variability of his or her financial contributions. Your dysfunctional lover will tend not to be focused on providing money unless you bug him or her enough and even then it’s doubtful at best. In addition to this financial dependency there will probably be a excess of emotional dependency. Needing you to reassure or guarantee certain things is one way of obtaining a sense of security from you. Remember, emotional dependency means you are there to make his or her life easier and to correct what went wrong the first time someone was emotionally responsible for him or her. Under these love relationship conditions, you can expect to be doing the lion’s share of work with very little reward.

So what happens when you start growing out of this emotional/financial arrangement? When you get to the point where you get sick of taking care of another adult without compensation of any kind? This is were an opportunity emerges for something better for both of you. I say both of you because this codependent arrangement is limiting both your lives. The first order of business is to directly communicate your unhappiness. If you do it indirectly you’ll get weaker results and you might not be taken seriously. Direct communication means you use words and you say it face to face. Your message is basically, this arrangement we have is not working (not that it ever did). It’s an appeal to make changes together.    Now I suspect your dysfunctional lover is pretty much addicted to the way it currently is. He or she will most likely be less interested in change, regardless of the fact he or she is also suffering from the arrangement.

After the direct communication of unhappiness and the need to change, comes the  ‘limits’ that will be set on whatever you are doing that supports and reinforces dependency and dysfunction. Expect a reaction. You can’t make a change like this and not get a reaction. The reaction is part of the therapeutic effect of setting the right limits on what you’ve been doing. The message now is, you have to start taking care of yourself, because it’s good for you and good for me.

In some extreme situations, you may have to leave or separate to get your point across. Your dysfunctional lover may be so used to you being codependent that he or she needs time alone to process the change and reorient him or herself to the fact that he or she needs to start taking more responsibility. While you’re making these changes the big challenge will be managing the guilt you’ll probably feel, and getting used to being vulnerable to the inborn need for love you have inside, like the rest  of us humans. Dr. T. Jordan







Posted in

Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

Leave a Comment