Thursday, November 26, 2009


Contracts are made every day. They are most familiar in business transactions but we also make implicit contracts with friends, family and even strangers.

I once had an unspoken contract with a neighbour due to “untidy” feelings towards each other. We tacitly agreed never to be in the apartment hall at the same time. It was rather easy to achieve as the walls were thin enough and as a result, we lived in relative harmony. I had another contract with family that said never talk about how a certain relative died. I broke it on occasion, enduring the uncomfortable silence – the penalty for broken contracts – until it was ever so carefully reconstructed and “harmony” could once more return.

I recall a relationship I had a few years ago. Although my friend and I had times of mutual sharing, for the most part, I was the listener; she the talker – that was our contract. It seemed there was always something dramatic going on in her life with which she needed support . Our time together became mostly about her. Then one day she said to me: I know the balance is skewed between us. I don’t feel good about it but I really need and appreciate your support. How do you feel about our friendship?

It was a courageous move on her part. I hadn’t complained nor made any moves to change the dynamics but here she was, the seemingly main beneficiary of our friendship, asking if I wanted or needed something different. The contract was up for negotiation. I had to think about that.

I got off the phone and began questioning what I got from our friendship. I knew that I enjoyed listening to her stories – they were alive, colourful and dramatic. I felt a part of her life which is an important part of friendship. However, I also know a part of me liked the aspect of being needed. When I felt needed, I felt more whole. The friendship was definitely fulfilling that part of me. And, a little deeper within, was a part of me that was scared. If I spoke up, expressed my needs, would she listen? What if she listened and then rejected what I had to say? Beneath the surface of listening to my friend’s stories was the fear that if I expressed myself, she would hold my vulnerabilities against me and leave the friendship.

In codependent relationships we try to get our internal needs of love, validation and/or safety met by looking anywhere but within. We do things to or for others in hopes that they will fulfill what is missing inside. I was missing an internal sense of validity and safety. I was looking to my friend to fulfill both needs. The problem, however, is that those needs can never be fully satisfied in that way. The gnawing emptiness within will always return.

We could have gone on for some time like that: me pulling on her for safety; she pulling on me for support but sooner or later, that internal emptiness would demand more and one of us would start resenting the other for not fulfilling the contract. Fortunately for me, my friend intuited what was happening and spoke up.

We ultimately explored the issue and because of that not only did our friendship strengthen but ironically, in expression, I felt safer. In committing to be more honest about our needs, wants and fears we renegotiated a contract that fed, rather than pulled on our relationship.

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