I didn’t understand.
Not for years.
As I worked -and was failing – to get out of a codependent relationship they asked me: “What are you getting out of this?”
I wasn’t getting anything out of it, I replied. I hate this codependency.
“But you’ve got to be getting something out of it,” they replied. “Otherwise, why else do you keep going back?”
They were right. It’s taken me years to realize I was misinterpreting what they asked.
I kept thinking the question was “What pleasure are you getting out of this?” The simple, true answer was “not a damn thing.”
But that wasn’t the real question, because it wasn’t just about pleasure or “good” things. It wasn’t just about what positive feedback I got from that toxic relationship. It included negative rewards as well.
I would often jump whenever my ex would make demands – or even hint at something that might be a demand. I’d drop what I was doing – no matter what it was, or who I was with – in order to deal with their demands so it didn’t turn into a crisis. (Note that last bit; we’ll come back to it.) Doing so annoyed the everloving crap out of me, and wasn’t pleasurable in the slightest.
But that wasn’t the real thing I was getting out of reacting to her demands.
I thought that by reacting quickly I was controlling things – minimizing the chance of a blow up or further disruption. I thought I was reducing a negative stimulus – a bad thing. And because the blowups were so hard on me by that point, simply avoiding one seemed like a “win”.
But I was wrong. Because in an abusive relationship, nothing will ever be enough. My “reward” was imaginary. Once I realized that I was being rewarded by the illusion of control I was huge steps forward on my path to healing. But until I realized what I was really getting out of those interactions with my ex, there was no way for me to realize how illusory those benefits were.
While my initial experience with this was rooted in a toxic relationship, it’s an extremely useful way to evaluate all sorts of situations. It doesn’t matter what kind of “situation” you have: a romantic one, a personal one, a business one. The same question applies.
What are you getting out of this?
Maybe what you’re getting is pleasurable. Maybe it’s healthy, and helping everyone in the relationship work towards the best versions of themselves. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s not be something pleasurable. Maybe it’s avoiding a fear, or the anticipation of a fear.
But taking the time to figure out what you’re really getting out of the situations and relationships you’re in will help you know if the situation or relationship is a good one, or one you should leave.