The Secret to Creating Great Relationships
Hi all, this article began as a response to a question I received from an on line program member as part of our group chat forum and it’s such a common experience for everyone who uses food to cope I thought I’d turn it into an article and share it with all of you out there in our global community.
The topic is that of our relationships to other people and how we can get what we need in our relationships with others directly and confidently and not feel so obligated and responsible for everyone else.
The truth is, everyone who struggles with addictions like binge eating, eating disorders, alcoholism, substance abuse, gambling, over-spending, internet, raging, isolating, procrastinating and all other harmful patterns of behaviour struggles first and foremost with this pattern. So, if this is you, you come by it honestly – and the good news is there is a simple fix.
It took me many years of therapy and some fairly crappy relationship experiences a.k.a. significant learning opportunities to figure this one out. My response below is intended to spare you that time and energy and provide you with what I wish I had all those years ago – a simple way of understanding what’s not working and a simple first step for what to do about it.
Question From A.S.:
Something I’m a bit unclear about is the idea that it’s not my responsibility to guess other people’s needs. I spend a lot of time feeling responsible for other people and believing I have to figure out what they need and then make sure they get it. I can see how this causes great stress for me and makes my life much more stressful and complicated than it needs to be.
But I get stuck in my efforts to change this because I believe in treating others the way I would like to be treated myself and the truth is I would absolutely love it if everyone could pick up on my most subtle needs and wants without me ever having to articulate them!
So, when I am taking on responsibility for other people’s moods, needs, and desires, I’m actually wishing that they cared enough about me to do the same. How do I sort this out so I can stop feeling so obligated and insecure in my relationships and get what I really need from others?
The Inside Scoop: What is Really Preventing You From Creating Great Relationships
This really is a great question because it is an issue we all deal with when we are healing a stressful relationship with food and struggling with negative body image. These two very common coping strategies are key indicators of anxiety/insecurity triggered by confusion about what is healthy and reasonable vs. harmful and unreasonable in relationships.
First, let me reassure you that it is perfectly natural and very healthy to want to be cared for, to feel safe and nurtured and to trust that we are important to other people.
The problem isn’t you. It’s not some fundamental flaw in you or something about your weight, hair color, your style, your laugh or your intellect. And it isn’t your need or desire to feel loved and cared for either. The problem is in the way that you, and most others on the planet, have been taught to go about meeting those natural needs for connection and support that is the real issue.
The old approach to relationships is doomed from the start because it’s based on manipulation, guilt, and poor communication which can never lead to a healthy, loving, safe and secure connection with anyone. Instead it leads to chronic anxiety, insecurity and self-consciousness; second guessing everything we say and do; and ultimately feeling hurt and resentful because despite our best efforts we don’t seem to be able to get what we need from the people in our lives.
And this leads to you focusing on food and body image as a means of self-medication and distraction and, so you believe in the moment, empowerment to change so that you can feel better about yourself and these painful and awkward relationship experiences will stop happening….right?….No, actually, and that’s why these patterns get worse, not better, despite your repeated and determined efforts.
So, you come by it honestly – in fact most of the population of the planet has been trained to approach relationships from this co-dependent perspective – so you’re in good company. The answer to why this training is so rampant is another article entirely. You can find some of the answer in an article I wrote a year or so ago which is posted on my blog and entitled: The Way We Were: The Influence of our Ancestors on our Lives Today
So, What Actually Does Create Solid, Loving Fulfilling Relationships?
The fact is, instead of this old, rampant but harmful co-dependent training, what people really need to be shown, if they want to feel confident and secure in themselves and in their relationships, and stop leaning on food, isolation, procrastination, drugs and/or alcohol to cope with their insecurity and stress, is a way of relating to other humans that makes sense, feels safe, and most importantly, gets you what you need (most of the time).
In this adult, interdependent approach to the world:
1. We prioritize respecting how we feel – we don’t dismiss and judge ourselves for having feelings;
2. We take the time to identify and show respect for our needs – we don’t call ourselves weak and needy for having them or let anyone else stop us from respecting them, speaking up about them, or meeting them. We do not give anyone else the power to decide if our needs are reasonable or appropriate – we decide this for ourselves based on how we feel and on our trust in our ability to think rationally and behave reasonably (if you use food to cope, or other harmful coping strategies, you lack this trust and need help to build it – it’s not hard it just takes some guidance and support);
3. We ask confidently and directly for what we need and work with others to find solutions that will work equally well for both of us – and 99.9% of the time there is one! Truly.;
4. We feel strong and confident in ourselves – we trust our perspective and trust ourselves not to compromise ourselves for anyone or anything. We know, in our gut, that we have just as much right as anyone else to take up space and get what we need.
And because we also know that there is almost always a way for both parties to get what they really need we don’t feel obligated to compromise ourselves or to push others into meeting our needs. We feel like we belong. We feel truly grown up; a feeling that only comes from taking full responsibility for ourselves while letting others be ultimately responsible for themselves.
In case you’re wondering, everything we do in The CEDRIC Method, whether it is through individual counselling, workshops, books, workbooks etc., or our online education and support program, is geared towards teaching you how to change your approach to life from the old, irrational, harmful insecure one (a.k.a. Co-dependence) to a strong, straight-forward, confident one (a.k.a. Interdependence).
We do this by teaching you how to identify what you feel; what that means about what you need; and how to meet those needs in ways that demonstrate respect for you and for the others in your life.
If you’ve been engaged with CEDRIC for any length of time, you know already from your experience with this process that your need for food to cope with stress lessens the more you approach life from this adult, rational perspective.
I’ve written a more detailed response to your question below if you’d like to understand my answer a bit more, but in addition to the above, the short answer to your question is:
If you want something – anything, from anyone – you need to ask for it, clearly and respectfully, unless you’re prepared to be just fine with not getting it and you are committed to not telling yourself stories about how people don’t care about you because they’re not reading your mind or don’t care enough to think about what you need.
Those are your options if you want to think and feel the way I described above. It’s that simple.
There are ways of asking for things that will create a greater likelihood of a positive response and they all include self-confidence, self-trust, reasonable expectations, and simple, concise requests. In all my work with CEDRIC members and clients these skills are a key component and lead to increased confidence and happiness overall as well as to a complete release from food and body image stress.
Ultimately If You’re an Adult, The Truth Is You Always Have a Choice:
A. Ask directly for what you need and commit to finding a way to meet your need that demonstrates respect for yourself and others. Or
B. Accept that you aren’t ready or willing at this time to ask directly for what you need and get the support to do the work you need to do to identify what is preventing you from doing so and offer yourself empathy and compassion for the life experience that has led you to feel so frightened of direct and honest communication. (By the way, there is nothing about you that will prevent you from figuring this out – if you haven’t mastered this yet it’s only because no one showed you how.)
C. Keep hinting, manipulating, using passive-aggressive techniques and continue to feel insecure and take things personally, damaging your relationships along the way, thus creating “proof” that you are not lovable, worthy, deserving, and therefore shouldn’t dare ask outright for what you need.
I personally am a fan of options A & B in tandem while you’re learning – some situations and people will be easier to be direct with right away and others will require a little processing and coaching – which you can get through the forums and classes on the web program or through an individual session with me. Ultimately you’ll naturally begin to just live in option A – it’s so much easier once you’re thinking clearly. On that note – let’s look a little deeper into what prevents you from thinking clearly.
What Gets In the Way of you Mastering the Secret to Great Relationships?
In order to sort this out first let’s clarify the key assumptions you’re making here that are harming you. Then let’s explore how to shake them loose and start approaching relationships in a way that will truly bring you happiness, peace, and confidence in life.
If I compromise myself for others they will see that I am doing this and
- a) Like/love me more for doing it; and
- b) Do the same for me.
This will make me happy and lead to healthy relationships where I feel secure and loved.
(Pan to image of green, grassy field with colorful flowers dancing gently in the summer breeze; sun setting as a couple walks peacefully hand in hand over the rise and out of sight.)
Sorry to trash your dream (and mine too in the past) but both of these assumptions are complete fantasy. That’s why we (and soooo many others) feel so unhappy and insecure in our / their relationships.
No matter what we do; how much we bend over backwards for others, we can never feel safe and secure in our relationships and trust that the other person really loves and cares for us if we continue to approach relationships from these assumptions.
Think of it this way, if you know that someone close to you doesn’t ask directly for what they need, but instead:
- uses silent treatment or manipulation or anger, or
- plays the martyr or victim card to get people to do things for them out of pity;
- or says or does nothing at the time but laments after the fact about what they needed/wanted/wished someone would have done.
Really? How much trust and safety will you feel in your relationship with that person?
Or what if someone you know allows themselves to be manipulated by such tactics even though they really don’t want to do those things and they feel frustrated, resentful, obligated, and manipulated, how confident are you going to be that they really mean what they say to you?
How solid are you going to feel in that relationship when you know they aren’t honest with others about what they feel and want and need, and that they express frustration behind the others’ back but seem to do nothing to address things directly so that they can actually be resolved?
You’re not going to feel at all solid or secure or peaceful in those connections. Your trust in that person will be very limited. This is the problem with the co-dependent approach to relationships. The co-dependent approach creates a belief that we have to continue to compromise ourselves.
It says that we can’t possibly just be honest about what we need or feel, or do or don’t want, because if we did the other person would not like us or want to be with us, they’d leave us / reject us, and we would be alone and unlovable. Pan to grubby bag lady on skid row…
This is what I call all-or-nothing thinking (or irrational thinking) but like all irrational thinking, until we are able to see why it doesn’t make sense and learn other ways of getting our needs met, we won’t see how harmful it is or even that our approach needs a tweak.
Sure, we’ll experience the feelings of dissatisfaction and insecurity of this confused and doomed-to-fail approach to getting what we need, but we will mistakenly and confusedly assume that we just need to try harder, do more, be thinner or prettier…and then people will appreciate us, never leave us, and start giving back in kind. Right?? Nope. And you’re living proof of that – as are we all.
It’s the same line of confused thinking that makes us believe that even though every attempt we’ve made at dieting has ended in disaster, we should keep trying the diets because certainly there can’t be anything wrong with dieting – it’s so normal, it’s so popular, it must work, right??
And therefore (the story continues), the problem must lie with us and our intellect (we’re just too stupid), our laziness (we never follow through; we just didn’t try hard enough), our willpower (we just don’t have the inner strength to stick to a commitment), our self-esteem (we just don’t care enough about ourselves to take better care of ourselves) etc. etc.
Not! The problem with diets is that they don’t get to the root of why you have extra weight on your body in the first place.
Why are you eating more than you are hungry for?
What leads you to eat the things you do even when you know they aren’t the best choices for you?
Those are the issues that must be addressed for you to be successful with weight loss and your relationship with food. And once you’ve figured that out your relationship with food will naturally shift and you won’t need any diet program to tell you what’s healthy and what isn’t and when you’re hungry and when you’re not.
The Two Types of People You’re Most Likely To Attract – And Why That Isn’t a Good Thing:
In the same vein, it isn’t that you’re not lovable or worthy of respect and caring that makes people ignore your needs or not pick up on your cues, however subtle or otherwise. It’s the fact that you believe in the first place that you can’t just directly ask for what you want and need and still be loved and cared for. Instead you think that you have to be sneaky or hint or manipulate or just sit back and hope for the best or risk abandonment and rejection and the affirmation of your ‘not-good-enough-ness.’ That is what leads you to experience the pain of doomed relationships and why you will inevitably find yourself repeatedly in relationship with one of two kinds of people:
1. The ‘takers’ are very willing to accept your willingness to compromise and use you as long as you’ll let them.
These people aren’t willing or able to reciprocate in kind and the way you approach your relationships makes it so they never have to. Then as soon as you start to want a little more balance in the give and take department suddenly you’re labeled as selfish, demanding, manipulative etc. and they move on to find another who is willing to meet their needs without them having to reciprocate and you’re left assuming you’re the problem and that it’s all because you asked for what you need. In reality it’s because you were willing to accept a relationship where you met their needs without asking for anything directly in return that got you into that pickle in the first place.
2. Folks like you who don’t feel confident enough in themselves to ask directly for what they need either.
Those that hint or guilt trip or manipulate or sit quietly, giving, giving, giving and then either just leave the relationship, assuming that you’ll never be able to meet their needs or they finally explode with their pain and frustration from their unmet needs; telling you that you’re selfish, inconsiderate etc. etc. when all the while you’ve been desperately trying to be respectful, read their minds, and meet their needs.
This kind of relationship naturally ends with you either feeling highly insecure and dissatisfied because of the lack of direct feedback and communication, or with you feeling totally confused and frustrated because you thought you were meeting their needs – they didn’t say you weren’t – and now they’re telling you you’re selfish or that you can’t make them happy? Argggg!!
Now do you see why this approach is doomed? No wonder people choose the monastery!!…or food…or alcohol…or the internet…
The Real C-Word:
Where things go sideways is in the expectations we have of others and the definitions that we have for what caring, consideration, and importance should look like:
As mentioned above, the approach to relationship that you currently struggle with is what is referred to as co-dependent – and that term simply means that we feel responsible for what other people need and feel, above our own needs, and we expect that they should think and behave the same way.
From the co-dependent perspective someone only loves you and really cares about you when they are willing to intuit your needs and meet them without you asking and when they are willing to compromise themselves for you and do what you want whether it’s what they really want or not – in fact, many co-dependents take this one step further, believing that what they want should be what you want if you really cared about them because your life would be about them being happy first and foremost. Clearly there is no room for different needs or opinions or for individuality here.
If you believe that can’t be yourself and truly respect what you want and feel and need as well as consider the needs of others, you never get to feel the confidence and trust and intimacy that comes from knowing that the other person really sees and fully loves you for who you are. The relationship is doomed to stay in a state of infancy and insecurity and that gets tiring after a while and many people become disillusioned because their fantasy of their needs always being met has fallen through and rather than exploring the rationality of this expectation they end the relationship, move on, and start again with someone whom they believe will really meet their needs this time.
This is a pattern that can play out not just in romantic partnerships but in parent-child and sibling relationships, in friendships, on school PAC’s and in work settings. And if you have this way of thinking it will permeate all of your relationships not just your romantic partnership.
It is helpful in shedding our old co-dependent approach to relationship to see it not as a flaw of character or some innate dysfunction but for what it really is:
A kind of developmental delay (due to poor role modeling and relationship training) that we can outgrow fairly quickly with the proper education and support.
The Secret to Creating Great Relationships – What Healthy Human Relationships Really Look Like:
Think of it this way:
It’s perfectly appropriate for a little child – an infant, toddler, or preschooler, to expect that their caregivers are going to meet their needs without them having to ask for it because these little people are largely incapable of meeting their own needs or even communicating what they are.
Sure, the little one cries or screams and smiles or laughs to indicate their needs and pleasures but the adults around them have, ideally, been thinking ahead to when they’ll need feeding, changing, clothing, napping etc. and have been meeting those needs without being asked to do so. In essence the world truly does revolve around us when we’re little people, and given we have no other frame of reference for life at that point, this experience gets lodged as peachy keen and as the way we can expect that things will always be.
As we get a little older, we naturally want to explore the world a bit more and unconsciously we still expect our parents or caregivers to be at our beck and call and to solve any problem we might have, usually without us asking. Tantrums ensure when boundaries are set but these can be reduced and set aside with caregivers who demonstrate through their words and actions that they are there for us, they care, and that things are changing and that it’s okay to start thinking about other people as well as yourself.
Ideally at this stage we are gently encouraged to step out on our own a bit, take a bit more responsibility for ourselves (put away our toys, put our dishes in the sink, tidy our room with some help etc.) but ideally the safe container of our caregivers is always there, gently supporting us to take steps to independence but there to catch us if we fall or just to hear about the day’s events and keep us safe from harm that we are too young to foresee or understand.
At this stage, which carries through into our adolescence, we should feel safe and supported to explore the world knowing that we have reasonable, loving people who have our back and will help us to sort out things that don’t make sense, and who will also set reasonable boundaries to help us understand what is healthy and what is harmful, and what is reasonable human behaviour.
From this place we naturally launch, often still with natural trepidation for the newness of it all, into a life that is more independent – whether living on our own or simply spending more time with school, work, and friendship pursuits. The safe container is still there but we feel supported to launch and live our lives, free from any sense of emotional burden or guilt or need to compromise ourselves for our parents or anyone else.
Caring but not Compromising
From this place, we naturally care about others and what they feel and need and we are more than happy to help people out when we can, but we know that we are not in any way obligated to compromise ourselves or our needs for others and that if we want something it’s up to us to ask for it and make it happen.
From this perspective it also becomes clear to us that if someone else wants something the same is true for them: They need to not expect us to meet their needs unless it’s been previously agreed that we will and they need to ask clearly and respectfully for what they need or experience the natural consequences of their needs not being met as they would like or perhaps even at all.
From a healthy independent place we also know that we are not obligated to meet anyone’s needs and that our responsibility is, first and foremost, to be clear on what we feel, what that means about what we need, and identify ways that we will get what we need that do not compromise or demand things of other people.
We know that if someone feels they have to compromise themselves or their plans to meet our needs it will only damage the relationship and create a sense of burden, obligation and resentment on the part of the compromiser and some sense of expectation of us making a compromise in return. This, we know, is not an acceptable choice if we value our connection with that person and so we will not knowingly support others to compromise themselves nor will we do that ourselves.
Instead, we will talk with the other involved to explain our needs and to understand theirs and to find a solution that works for both of us, if we can (and 99.9% of the time you can) and if we can’t, we agree to go our separate ways on this subject, and possibly, depending on the issue, for good. But even in that worst case scenario parting-of-ways outcome we know we did our best and we have no guilt, no regrets and move on feeling clear and clean.
If you’re not approaching your relationships in this way you are stuck in the old co-dependent training but you don’t have to be.
The First Step to Changing from Co-dependence to Interdependence:
Try a little experiment this week: You’ll learn a lot and it will set the stage for safe, stable, simple, respectful change.
For this week (or for as long as you’d like):
Notice: anytime you’re feeling annoyed, irritated, resentful, resistant or impatient with someone. Or times when you are avoiding seeing or speaking to someone or responding to their communication via text or email.
Then: Ask yourself these 3 questions as often as you notice the above (Hint – making notes makes things move faster…):
1. What is it that I really need from/with this person in order to feel open and peaceful with them?
2. What would I need to say to them to communicate this clearly – what specific, concrete, request could I make that would allow me to feel more safe and respected by this person?
3. Can I commit to doing that asap? If so – go for it!!! If not – why not – what am I telling myself will happen if I ask for what I need.
This exercise will teach you a lot about what you think of yourself and others and what beliefs you carry about asking directly for what you need – prepare to learn lots and then reach out and let’s get cracking on making the shift from co-dependent to interdependent.
Remember, it’s natural to have doubt about anything new, but change doesn’t have to be hard, slow and painful – in fact it can be simple and even fun and exciting when you’re ready and you have the right guide and the right tools.