Stop me if you’ve heard these before: “She’s my better half.” “You complete me.” “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”
It’s how most of us talk about our partners. Pick up any romance book or turn on any sappy movie and the message is the same: once we find someone to complete us, then we’ll be whole and happy — not before.
There’s something inherently wrong with this way of thinking — that we, as individuals, aren’t enough. Many of my clients come to therapy with this mindset and wonder why they’re miserable. But we don’t have to feel incomplete. We don’t have to depend on someone else to make us feel happy or whole.
We have the power to make ourselves whole and escape the cycle of toxic relationships and feelings of inadequacy that accompany them.
But first, we have to break out of the “50–50” mindset. Here’s how to stop being codependent and start being happy:
The Problem with 50–50 Thinking
Here’s how the old math works: You are 50%, so you find someone else who’s 50%, and, together, the two of you equal 100%. As long as you two are together, you’re whole and happy.
But what if you’re not 50%? What if, because of trauma or other emotional baggage, you only bring 30% to the table? Now the equation is: your 30% + your partner’s 50% = 80%. Where’s the other 20%? Even though you’re with someone, there’s a lot missing from your relationship unless your partner pulls double duty — which rarely ends well.
If you’re only happy when your partner is happy, if you let people walk all over you or take advantage of you because you’re afraid of disappointing them, if you constantly sacrifice your own happiness or wellbeing for other people — you might be codependent.
This opens you up to a host of toxic relationships. When you come across as insecure and incomplete, you’re more likely to attract manipulative and narcissistic people who will prey on your vulnerabilities. Maybe you’ll luck into finding a healthy, supportive partner, but most people get caught in the cycle of one toxic relationship after another.
“All men are assholes,” or “All women are crazy.” No, they’re not all bad. You’re the common denominator, so ask yourself why you attract — or are attracted to — these people.
The answer is probably something to the effect of: they initially validate you and fill the need you have of having someone — anyone — to take care of your emotional wellbeing.
But it always ends the same: they eventually start to use your insecurities against you — gaslighting you, withholding affection or validation as a means of manipulation, coercing you by guilting you into doing things you don’t want to do or making you apologize for things that aren’t your fault — as you slowly develop some weird version of Stockholm Syndrome. You’re a prisoner in your relationship. But because you need them, you accept being treated like shit.
Side Note: This isn’t talking about domestic violence where your safety could be in danger. If this is the case, contact a DV hotline or shelter if you need assistance. Don’t put yourself in potential danger just because you read an article on the internet. Get professional assistance.
So how do you prevent falling prey to predatory people?
A Better Equation for Happiness
“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.”— Agnes Repplier
If you’re 50%, even if you find a suitable partner, you’re still an incomplete person. But if you work to become 100%, all on your own, everything changes.
Can you stand to be by yourself, left alone with your thoughts? If not, those thoughts swirling around your head can guide you to the very things keeping you from becoming whole. When we aren’t distracted, our insecurities come out — this is also why many people have trouble getting to sleep at night because the thoughts they’ve been running from all day finally catch up to them.
Learn to be ok being by yourself, and you won’t need to always have someone around to distract you or validate you. If you aren’t running away from something, you can enjoy being in the moment. Go to therapy to work through childhood or adult trauma, toxic relationships, depression, or other emotional baggage or insecurities. Learn to validate yo’ damn self and practice self-compassion. You can heal yourself; it just takes time and practice.
You’ll never get to 100% being with someone who constantly tears you down and makes you feel inadequate — they need you to be incomplete, so you continue to be codependent.
Want vs. Need
If you’re 100%, you’re far less likely to attract people looking to exploit your vulnerabilities and insecurities. And if they do come around, you’ll be able to kick them to the curb because you don’t need someone to complete you — you’re happy as you are, on your own.
This opens you up to wait until you find someone who’s also 100%. 100–100 relationships are fundamentally different than 50–50. 100–100 relationships are about wanting each other, not needing each other.
This means that every day, you actively choose to be with your partner. If you’re happy on your own but less happy when you’re with them, you can walk away from the relationship. But if you’re 50% or less, even if you’re miserable with your partner, you’ll stay with them because you’d rather be miserable than alone. Learn to be happy alone, and you cultivate the power to walk away from toxic relationships and find healthy ones.
Being 100% means you set healthy boundaries, practice enthusiastic consent, and only date people who are up to your standards and treat you right — Mark Manson calls this the “Law of Fuck Yes or No.”
Getting to 100% is the goal, but even getting to 60–70% will do wonders for your personal happiness and relationship satisfaction. Everyone starts at a different percentage-distance away from 100%. Maybe you’ve got a lot of psychological stuff to work through and are at 30%; think of how much better you’d feel if you got to 60% — that’s twice where you’re at right now. The closer you get to 100%, the better you’ll be able to weed out manipulative people, walk away from toxic situations, and make room for a good life.
It’s better to be by yourself and happy than be with someone who makes you miserable.