It takes courage to get out of unhealthy relationships that are wounding you. There are so many fears surrounding ‘abandoning’ codependent relationships such as:

  1. Being alone and without them
  2. Hurting them if you leave
  3. Never meeting anyone who will love you again

There is also so much fear in general when it comes to changing and facing the unhealthy things inside of us.

I first met Tim 11 years ago when I decided to reach out for counselling. I had already been sober for 5 years through AA at this point, but I had just lost an old friend that I previously used with through suicide so I reached out for counselling with the goal of processing that loss. Although it seemed as if Tim wanted to help me with that loss, he also saw that even though I had worked through the AA steps, I had many underlying issues that I had not dealt with. He definitely had another agenda in our sessions. One of the issues he told me I should deal with was the fact that I was holding onto an old using friend out of “loyalty” because we grew up together. We had been writing each other emotional letters and our romantic feelings would come and go over the years. I did not want to lose him but Tim said something to me that hit me like a baseball bat in my gut. He said “If you don’t let go of this guy, your growth will be very limited.” What?! Let him go?! I was terrified! I thought to myself, “How could I let him go? He would hate me! We’ve been friends for 15 years! I would feel so alone and empty! I have no one else!” I painfully wrestled with this decision, but I wanted to grow more than I wanted my old life and old friends, so I wrote him a letter saying goodbye. It was then that I began to form friendships with people on the same path as me, who loved Jesus with their whole heart and wanted to live a life of love, service and growth.

Once I let go of my old life, as hard, painful, and scary as that was, God was able to fill my hands with better things – healthier friends! Making true close friends in recovery was, and is, never easy for me.

It brought up a lot more of those ‘underlying issues’ Tim was telling me I had to deal with such as my insecurity, jealousy, shame and abandonment fears. At times, I coped with this well, but at other times, I would let control, manipulation, and anger get the best of me. One of my friendships in particular started off really well. We both encouraged each other spiritually; we travelled, danced, had awesome deep talks and she helped me heal from a lot of my issues. I had never had a close friend like this before in recovery! We blessed each other with wonderful things for many years! It felt so good to get that love, attention, and validation that I so desperately craved my entire life. After a few years, she went through some deep suffering and she changed, and I felt more insecure because of this and our friendship was never the same.

This triggered me a lot and after a while I began to think (subconsciously) that this friendship was the solution to my abandonment, insecurity, and shame issues. I pursued her even more intensely. I looked to her to look out for myself so that my emotional needs that were not met from childhood would now be met. I was hoping SHE would solve the soul wounds. I took one of the 12 needs (relationships) and overindulged that to feel okay emotionally. Thus, addiction to a person began, codependency took root and I began displaying some narcissistic tendencies making the entire relationship about my needs (most of the time). Addictive behaviours came out – impulsivity, terrible boundaries, using each other, etc. At times, we struggled with communicating needs and resolving conflict and just like an addiction, it gradually got worse and worse. I had become blinded and was in total denial at how unhealthy I had become for both of us. I got to a point over the years that the unresolved issues felt like a boulder we were trying to push up a hill. Due to a variety of factors on both our parts, we both were not in a good place where we were healthy enough to deal with all this baggage. We were feeding each other’s shame, wounding each other and making ourselves sicker. So again, I found myself back in Tim’s counselling office having that hard discussion about how I need to let go or it would keep me stuck in these shame and codependency behaviours. Thus, it was time to say goodbye for now. Grieving this friendship has been one of the hardest and best things I’ve ever done in my recovery. I was in the anger stage of grief for about six months before I was able to move onto the acceptance stage. The song below is a break-up song: the lyrics are incredible, and it has really helped me put words to the toxic part of the friendship and come to terms with its end. I hope it speaks to you about a relationship where maybe you need to “let it go”, as much as it may hurt.

You Say by Lauren Daigle

“I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough. Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up. Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low? Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know, ooh oh.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak and you say I am held when I am falling short and when I don’t belong, oh, you say I am yours and I believe (I), oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) I believe.

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me. In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, ooh oh.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak and you say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours and I believe (I), oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) Oh, I believe.

Taking all I have and now I’m layin’ it at Your feet. You’ll have every failure God, You’ll have every victory, ooh oh.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing. You say I am strong when I think I am weak. You say I am held when I am falling short. When I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours and I believe (I), oh, I believe (I) What You say of me (I) I believe. Oh, I believe (I), yes, I believe (I) What you say of me (I) I believe (oh)”.

I’m carrying you all in my heart.

With Love,

Marie Thiessen

Tim has talked about examples of boundaries in dysfunctional homes and although I believe I can write a novel on this from my own family history and life experiences, I will keep it brief.

As children, boundaries were not an option, we were to do what we were told with no questions or pushback and never challenge authority, as it was viewed as disrespectful even when a child’s needs were not met.

As I got older, my self respect and knowledge of what I was allowed to say no to, got blurred. If someone challenged me or told me I was unworthy of a boundary. I accepted it and diminished my own being. Encompassing all this pain I eventually turned to vengeful acts and became manipulative and shameful towards others.

It was not until I reached recovery that I came to realize my boundaries were what could protect me, build me up, and give me back my value. That boundaries would and should be respected by those who care for you.

To this day, I constantly remind myself I am worth the boundaries I have set and I am allowed to protect my own peace.

With Love,

Kari Keam

We are going to talk about trust and respect. As children or in past relationships, so many of us have had our trust broken to the point where we think we may never trust again.

For me personally, there was one major event that broke my trust as a child and I believe that it was the beginning of my Complex Trauma. I was raised in a Catholic family and we had many ‘rules’ of how to and how not to act. When I found out that one of the major rules that had been preached to us had been violated, I had such a sense of betrayal and it was the event that put a stop to my spiritual growth. I felt like my parents were hypocrites and they nor God could be trusted. I also feel like if my parents had admitted the mistake, owned it, and apologized I could have gotten over it but because it was swept under the rug and we were not allowed to talk about it, I did not have a chance to process the situation and allow my trust to be repaired. This one major event has impacted me my whole life and I had a lot to deal with when I entered recovery.

Today, lying is a huge trigger for me and I will not tolerate it in my relationships. Throughout recovery I have learnt to form relationships with people I trust and respect. Having those relationships is an integral part of my recovery and I believe everyone needs to work on building friendships and relationships with people that they can trust.

Relationship red flags are something that I found to be very revealing in my own life. Having had few boundaries growing up, I tolerated a lot of unhealthy boundaries in my relationships with both family and friends. As I journeyed the road of healthy boundaries, I learned which red flags I was not willing to put up with. The boundaries were hard and often painful but the resulting freedom and peace that I received in the healthy friendships was well worth the work put into it. I learned and often continue to learn that the relationships that are healthy will be those who respect your ‘no’ and will encourage you to maintain healthy in your choices.

With Love,

Shannon Block

I find it very helpful to observe the patterns in my relationships so that I can work towards establishing healthier ones. Let’s discuss the type of people we meet in recovery and the kinds of supports we need to have a successful recovery.

A healthy relationship consists of two well-intentioned people with good character freely sharing mutual resources of time, money and energy. On the other hand, we often get caught up in one sided relationships where one person is doing most of the giving.

When I first got into counselling, I had the desire to help, but my motives weren’t pure. I was often in relationships with needy people, or nobody at all. By finding people with more obvious issues, I could ignore mine and pretend I had it all together. In a sense, codependent relationships gave me a sense of worth and protected me from myself. However, this is not satisfying! I would live, work and volunteer in the inner city all day and every day. Eventually, I became exhausted and realized I needed to let go. Sometimes setting boundaries is hard because people can see me as selfish or like I don’t know how to love myself without feeling ‘useful’. The rescuer can easily become the rescued by falling trap to the lie that someone else’s affection is the antidote to your pain and weariness. I now realize that whatever I’m struggling with needs to be dealt with directly and comfort is only a temporary solution.

I also kept myself around broken people because I feared the rejection of healthy people. On some level, I thought if they didn’t need me, they wouldn’t stay. When I was growing up, I was given the message that I was undesirable so I thought a healthy, loving relationship wasn’t in the cards for me. Emotional abuse felt normal, so it didn’t raise red flags.

So how did I change this? A few ways! I realized that I stunted my own growth by only focusing on other people and began to work on myself. Sometimes I still crawl back into the familiar cave of codependency, only to drag myself out again when I failed to change another person. I started sharing on a deeper level, so real intimacy became possible. I have developed friendships, and because I am no longer controlled by pity, I can help others. I no longer feel ashamed of getting support. I also realized what is unhealthy, which makes it easier not to fall for things like gas lighting. I also learned that no matter how fun or exciting people are, what matters most is character. When I decide to trust people now, this is what I base it on. Of course these are ongoing issues but I am in a much better place than I was.

And with time, you can all grow and overcome unhealthy relationship patterns in your life too.

With Love,

Kayla Nyugen

“When we have secure attachment, we have confidence in ourselves and others. This allows us to enjoy quality time together, as well as quality time apart.”

This is an important theory that can give you insight into how you respond in relationships. We should have a healthy balance of interdependence, so that we can both take the initiative to meet some of our own needs, and also reach out to our relationships to have needs met. Unfortunately, this security can get damaged very early in life when we try to attach to our parents and find a roadblock. When that happens we often develop an attachment style of hanging on for dear life (anxious attachment), resisting intimacy (avoidant attachment), or being hot and cold in relationships, both leaning in and pulling away (sometimes referred to as ambivalent or disorganized attachment).

We don’t necessarily have a fixed attachment style for life but can grow and adapt depending on the circumstances. When I was young, I had an angry parent and a passive aggressive parent. Having said that, they weren’t bad people, but just weren’t able to communicate love and safety in the way I needed. Because I felt unloved by my parents, I didn’t attach to them very well emotionally. I also was bullied in my youth and got a lot of messages about being different or weird. As a result, I hid my true self, only spending time with others who were ‘different’ or didn’t fit the mold either. In a sense, I was avoidant – not wanting to risk the pain of real intimacy, because any real feelings I expressed in my home were met with rejection and misunderstanding. However, when I finally decided to give vulnerability a shot, I flipped to anxious and/ or ambivalent attachment. I would sometimes put up walls or boundaries, but I couldn’t let go of the connection that filled my longing.

Just like it took years to get past the barrier of shunned emotion and avoidant attachment, it also took years to work through the insane loyalty of anxious attachment. And of course, in order to be healthy in our relationships, we also have to have another person who is willing to work on their attachment issues with us, or who are already securely attached. Even if our parents were not safe havens, we can find new supports as an adult who can become that safety net for us.

With Love,

Kayla Nyugen

Kim and I had been married for about 3 years. This one particular Saturday morning, we encountered the worst fight we had ever experienced.. After arguing throughout the morning, we weren’t any closer to resolving it than when we started. We had remained respectful to each other, communicated as clearly as we could and worked hard to understand each other’s perspective, but we were still not even close to resolving our conflict. In fact, it was beginning to feel like we were at war and that the only way to resolve this would result in one of us winning and the other losing. When we were married, we had made a commitment to each other to resolve conflict.

At this point, part of me wanted to resolve conflict, but another part wanted to win this fight. There was a lot of tension between the two of us so we went to separate parts of the house and avoided being in the same room together. Eventually, I went into the kitchen where Kim was, took both of her hands in mine, faced her and said,

“Instead of looking at this as if we are on opposite teams wanting to win, why don’t we look at it as if we are on the same team, working together to find a solution.”

That changed everything. Within a short period of time, we were able to resolve our conflict.

Here’s what I have learned over the years:

  1. Much of our lives are about relationships
  2. There is nothing more difficult and rewarding than healthy intimate relationships although healthy relationships take a ton of work.
  3. A healthy relationship will only happen if both parties are willing to change and grow. That is the only way to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
  4. I don’t like conflict, but I have learned that it is inevitable and necessary, and if conflict is responded to in a healthy way, much good can come from it.

I hope this story will inspire you to pursue growth, and that you will continue to develop the tools for healthy relationships.

With Love,

Tim Fletcher

Over my years as a counsellor, here’s what I have seen to be the most common relationship issues:

  1. Inability to let go of a relationship
  2. Not knowing how to end a relationship
  3. Picking someone who is emotionally unavailable
  4. Getting into a relationship too quickly
  5. Not knowing how to rebuild a broken relationship with one’s kids
  6. Lack of healthy boundaries
  7. And an inability to find healthy people in recovery to build relationships with

I have seen that the issues go much deeper than those listed above. The main underlying issues are:

  1. Shame – unless one’s core belief about themselves changes, healthy relationships will almost be impossible
  2. Fear of abandonment
  3. Fear of being authentic
  4. Complex Trauma – the survival skills necessary to survive Complex Trauma and make healthy relationships impossible

In other words, in order to have a healthy relationship, one must be willing to take the huge risk of getting rid of their old tools and learning a new set of tools. My hope for you is that you will be willing to learn a new set of tools and apply them in your life. It will be scary, but I think you will find it is worth it.

With Love, 

Tim Fletcher