What comes next when your worst nightmare is over? Many codependents who manage to extract themselves from toxic or narcissistic relationships are often left with this question. Initially, the big danger is that they end up in another toxic relationship similar to the last. This is the only type of relationship they know and they gravitate towards it, always hoping that this one will be different. Invariably, it never is and the cycle continues. In my work in this area, the first stage is actually leaving an obviously toxic, abusive relationship and the second is to ensure it never happens again by working on the issues that caused the issues. Some just have no idea what a nourishing relationship might look like and wouldn’t recognise it if it presented itself. Many make the statement that they never want a relationship again. However, what they are really saying is they don’t want a toxic relationship or to relive those experiences. They would sooner avoid it.
For those who have never been involved in what can be described as a interdependent, nourishing relationship, one can safely say that they have missed out on one of the most endearing aspects of human interaction. A place where you can truly be who you are, be accepted for who you are. A place where healthy boundaries and growth underpin the relationship. I thought it might be useful to look at the main aspects of a “nourishing” relationship in comparison to a toxic one. It is available to anyone who is willing to put the work in on themselves and the relationship continually and consistently.
What is a toxic relationship?
A toxic relationship is one where little commitment is given to the relationship and nothing is done for individual personal growth or the growth of the relationship. A relationship where both may feel diminished as a person and the relationship affects one or both partner’s ability to enjoy the relationship and indeed life in general. To the extreme, it is hostile and places excessive demands on one or both partners. It can also contain elements of repression and physical, sexual, verbal and financial abuse. Ideally, anyone who is in this type of relationship is best served by ending the relationship immediately.
What is a nourishing relationship?
A nourishing relationship is one that is underpinned by interdependency. Interdependency is defined as follows:
Interdependence involves a balance of self and other within the relationship, recognising that both partners are working to be present and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs in appropriate and meaningful ways. Partners are not demanding of one another and they do not look to their partner for feelings of worthiness. This gives each partner space to maintain a sense of self, room to move toward each other in times of need and the freedom to make these decisions without fear of what will happen in the relationship.
This is connection on a deep level and means that both partners are loved for who they really are, not a false image created by one or the other. They feel perfectly fine being together as well as being apart concentrating on individual interests. They can have conflict but it is handled with love and respect. They continually meet their own and each other’s needs. There is a high level of commitment and conscious working on the relationship. This is not codependency where one or both partners are reliant on the relationship for their sense of self or enmesh themselves with another a lose their sense of self. Other elements of a nourishing relationship are:
The relationship focusses on personal growth for the good of the relationship, not attempting to change or fix the other.
Your partner is a mirror to allow you to see parts of yourself you cannot see or avoid seeing. This is done in the form of loving feedback, not criticism.
Both partners concentrate on their own healing or growth journey. This means working on any issues that the individuals have rather than expecting the other to cope with it.
Both are committed to effective conflict management and the lessons that come from such conflict.
Healthy boundaries are given and expected with defensiveness or anger.
The relationship exists in an environment where it is expected that needs can be asked for and met.
Both partners acknowledge and accept that they both might bring fear-based thoughts and behaviour from previous experiences into the relationship. They create a new environment to help heal these issues and commit to it.
It is possible to have what is described above. It might be the road less travelled by many of us but the hard work is truly worth it.