The one thing I hear women complain about in their relationships is the level of emotional labor that they render to their partners that is often never reciprocated. I have wondered why women were the ones who seemed to be plagued by these one-sided relationships until I came to a realization that women might be the ones guilty of enabling this behavior in their partners.
I have noticed that many women are unaware of their co-dependent nature; a trait that I strongly believe originates from both nature and nurture (socialization). If you are not sure of what a co-dependent relationship means, I have an article that explains it in details, but the gist of it is that a co-dependent relationship is one where one person is giving more in the relationship because the other person requires more attention and psychological support.
But why do I believe women enable this behavior? Well! Because, of what we call the Female Ego- where women take pride in nurturing their partners or people around them. This ego is fostered by socialization as women are often taught to “serve”, that when one is asked of the qualities of a good woman, it is not uncommon to hear that she must give a lot of herself and sacrifice for her partner or children. But, this ego is not only fostered through socialization, but nature also comes into play as some women are innately more nurturers than men.
This ability to nurture is certainly not a bad trait to possess but once one begins to determine her self-worth from her ability to nurture people then it sends a red flag.
A prime example is when a woman dates a “bad boy” with the belief that she would be the one to change him, and even though she might not recognize that train of thought, it becomes evident when there’s a little change in his behavior and she takes pride in the fact that she was the one who changed the man.
However, things could easily go down South from there. For instance, If the woman is dating a man who drinks a lot and begins to realize that he has reduced his alcohol intake and continues to spend more time around her; both of them love the change and the woman is happy because she has rescued him from himself and can finally be with the King she knew he could be. But after a while, he goes back to his old habit, and instead of walking away from the situation that she knows would drain her emotionally, she refuses and takes it as a challenge to work harder to rescue him- after all she has done it before so she can do it again!
A good woman is meant to be there to rescue her man and reap the rewards when she succeeds
This need to rescue the man means that she has to become more understanding, compassionate and nurturing; and just like every human, the man knows this and continues to take advantage because he knows she won’t leave him in that state. So, even when she is frustrated, she can’t let go because she has convinced herself that the man needs her- even when this need to care is clearly her ego aching for her to prove her worth as a woman, after all, what kind of woman will she be if she leaves her man in that low state without trying to fix him?
A good woman is meant to be there to rescue her man and reap the rewards when she succeeds- This played out recently with the death of Rapper Mac Miller, the ex-boyfriend of the Pop Star Ariana Grande. He had overdosed on drugs and trolls went on her Twitter and Instagram to blame her for his death; also a few months before his death, he had been arrested for drivingunder the influence and people also blamed Ariana for not caring for him but this time replied with this- “I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety and prayed for his balance for years,” she wrote. “But shaming/blaming a woman for a man’s inability to keep his (expletive) together is a very major problem … I will continue to pray from the bottom of my heart that he figures it all out and that any woman in this position does as well.”
Some women see the potential in men even when the men don’t see it, but this so-called potential is what holds most women captive in emotionally draining relationships
Codependent behavior is also evident in mother-son relationships because so many mothers give their sons all the emotional support that they need, that many times the sons become oblivious to what their mothers are going through.
This is one reason on twitter why there is always a gender battle – where men say they want wives just like their mothers and women reply that no one wants to be like their mothers because of the hardships, their mothers have had to endure in silence.
Another prime example I believe illustrates this, is the work women do during the moment of Ramadan (Muslim Fasting Period), as the women have to wake up really early to prepare the meals for the family. The men always praise their mothers on their steadfast ability in providing their meals and of course, this appeals to the female ego- the fact that she’s fulfilling her womanly duties. But at that time, what she needs might not be ego stroking comments but for him to assist in the kitchen. Sadly, this rarely happens because the women might never speak up due to the passive-aggressive leanings of many women and their need to hold their own as a nurturing woman, so they hold it in and foster resent towards that person.
One thing that I also find interesting is that even when the man asks to help, we may refuse immediately but quietly hope that he insists so we can soothe our ego by telling ourselves that we had no choice. This happens in different scenarios- wives who hover over their husbands when he decides to care for their child- they find it so difficult to let go of that control they have over that “territory” even when they know they need to!
The female ego tricks us into staying in painful relationships because it deceives us into believing that the amount of suffering and sacrifice we can endure is a clear determinant of how womanly we are
So, when we women complain about the fact that our partners are burdening us with their troubles, we need to stop and ask ourselves – Do I derive pleasure from offering this help? Underneath this anger and frustration, is there somewhere that leaps for joy when I know I can be the one that nurtures him back to peace?
Sometimes, this need to nurture can become very toxic- I can’t help but reminisce about the time I was co-dependent and very passive aggressive- I dated men who wouldn’t ask about me, the same way they burdened me with their troubled and because I couldn’t vocalize my frustration, I would manipulate my way to ensure I hurt him where it hurts. You see, as one nurtures, they come to possess intimate details of their partner and therein lies their power- I would say mean things purposely about his insecurities just to bruise him because I knew I would be the one to fix him and nurture him back to peace. It became a vicious cycle!
We, women, need to learn to be selfish! We complain that men are selfish but the truth is we are just not selfish enough – the movie Acrimony depicts this perfectly!
The female ego tricks us into being in painful relationships because it deceives us into believing that the amount of suffering and sacrifice we can endure is a clear determinant of how womanly we are; we need to learn to walk away from things that appeal to our ego but doesn’t soothe our soul because once we are done nurturing everyone, what time do we have to nurture ourselves?
Lolo Cynthia Is a public health specialist, sexuality educator and founder of the social enterprise LoloTalks, that employs all forms of media (online and offline) to create awareness and sustainable solutions to our contemporary social and health issues in Africa. She also doubles as a documentary and talk show producer and lends her voice on issues regarding interpersonal relationships, sexuality, gender, and social issues through her YouTube channel LoloTalks and her blog.