Different people may define codependency in different ways, but there is always one unanimous takeaway – that it is not a healthy relationship paradigm. Learning how to overcome codependency must be prioritized, if you feel an undercurrent of unhealthy relationship dynamics.
Any relationship with lopsided roles, marked by the excessive needs of one partner and the other playing into their wishes cannot sustain for the long haul. Not without taking a toll on the mental wellbeing on the one who is bending over backwards to make things work anyway.
To break codependency habits, you first need to learn to differentiate between healthy and dysfunctional relationship. Next comes, the resolve to reclaim control of your individuality. Neither is easy. But with the right support and guidance, it is possible to overcome codependency in relationships.
Codependent Relationships And Its Signs
A codependent relationship is one where the needs – physical and emotional – of one person overshadow that of the other. Consequently, the purpose of the other partner’s life is reduced to catering to the needs of their partner and the relationship.
What causes codependency? A codependent personality can often be traced back to childhood experiences. Parenting approach as well as the relationship dynamics between the parents have been established a key factor that causes children to internalize codependent behavior. As they grow up, these childhood influences begin to impact the way they handle their adult relationships.
Related Reading: 11 Signs You Are In A Codependent Marriage
Attaching one’s self-worth to the opinion of others, a fear of rejection and being alone and a lack of independence are some of the underlying factors that lead to codependency in relationships.
If you feel responsible for your partner’s behavior and emotional state or see your relationship as the sole focus of your life, pay attention to these tell-tale signs of codependent relationships:
- Not having a life of your own and always wanting to do things together
- Feeling guilt for anything and everything that goes wrong in the relationship or your partner’s life. And always wondering what more you could have done to prevent an issue or make things right
- Covering up your partner’s inexcusable behavior
- Doing things you’re not comfortable with to please your partner
- An inability to say no
- Not sharing your grievances and expectations with your partner out of fear of being left alone
- A compulsive need to ‘fix’ your partner
- Putting up with unhealthy behavior, including physical or emotional abuse, in the name of love
- Assuming the sole responsibility to make the relationship work
- Feeling responsible for your partner’s well-being
Examples Of Codependent Behaviour
Mental health therapist Gopa Khan says, “Individuals who lacked emotional security as children often become codependent in their adulthood. They are perpetually insecure, clingy and look for validation from their partner. When a partner sees signs of codependency they should make every effort to keep their individual existence intact – relationship with friends and relatives, career, hobbies – should not be compromised.”
It is hard to make out if your relationship is in the dangers of codependency. The bestselling author of the book Codependent No More, Melody Beattie says in her book, “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
If we are talking about examples of codependency then let’s zoom into the relationship of Andrew and Tasha (name changed). They were childhood friends who fell for each other. As a friend Andrew was a progressive, erudite and sensitive person but when they got into a relationship Andrew completely changed.
He wanted to take control of Tasha’s life and take every decision for her that could range from what she would wear at a party to whether she should take up the new job offer.
Tasha initially felt it was Andrew’s powerful love that made him so involved in her. She felt flattered by his attention but as the days went by she went on sacrificing her friends, her interests, her passions for the sake of the relationship.
Then there came a point when Tasha didn’t want to sacrifice anymore and then the fights started. Andrew hated the fact that she was trying to take back the control of her own life.
“The worst thing was I had known Andrew all my life but never knew he could be like this. As soon I said yes to a relationship he started controlling my life. Initially I felt he was so much in love he couldn’t manage a minute without me then I realised it was his way of keeping a tab on my every move,” said Tasha.
It was Andrew who finally let go because he just couldn’t deal with Tasha’s rebellion anymore. They broke up and Tasha found her freedom.
Another example of codependent behaviour is what David keeps doing with his wife Maggie (name changed) after 50 years of marriage. He keeps hollering to her because he doesn’t know where most of his things are. If he is going for a bath Maggie has to get his towel, his clean clothes and his innerwear.
In case she is gardening at that time he would shout from the window that he can’t find clean innerwear. She would drop everything and go up the stairs at the age of 75 only to find her husband’s stuff neatly kept in the drawer.
But Maggie says she has become used to this after so many years of marriage and when her grown children talk about her relationship being a codependent one she fails to realise that there can be a different equation between a husband and a wife.
8 Ways To Overcome Codependency In Relationships
You may be sacrificing yourself at the altar of your relationship willingly. But this tendency is going to take a toll on you, your partner and your bond with each other in the long run. After all, you can’t seek your happily-ever-after from an unhealthy relationship.
The good news is the codependent behavior is a learnt personality trait. Even if, it is something you imbibed in your childhood, you can unlearn it. That is a pre-requisite when you’re exploring how to overcome codependency.
While learning to break codependency habits is essential to keep your relationship and understand what it means to love another person without losing yourself, it’s not easy. To help you make positive changes, one step at a time, here are 8 ways to overcome codependency in relationships:
1. Explore your past to understand codependent behavior
The first step to break codependency habits is to understand the underlying triggers behind it. That requires putting your past life experiences under the scanner. Take time to assess your childhood experiences and family history.
Did you suffer emotional abuse or neglect as a child? Were there any specific events that may have caused you to ignore your own needs? At what point did you lose touch with your emotions?
Codependency can also arise from alcohol addiction, drug abuse or sex addiction. Addiction is often seen as one of the major causes of codependency that can lead to depression later.
However, this journey of introspection and reflection can be an emotionally overwhelming experience. If you find yourself struggling to make sense of your thoughts and emotions, consider seeking the guidance of a therapist. If you can get to the root cause of codependency then you can have a strong and healthy relationship.
Related Reading: How To Build An Interdependent Relationship?
2. Acknowledge denial about codependency in relationships
As a codependent partner, you may have mastered the art of sweeping the unpleasant realities of your relationship under the carpet. That’s one of the dangers of codependency. But you cannot resolve an issue unless you recognize and acknowledge it.
Once you’ve learnt how to be in touch with your emotions and thoughts, use it to spot and analyze problematic behavior in your relationship. In doing so, don’t just focus on your partner’s actions but also your own.
Justifying codependent behavior is easy, countering it is the hard part. That’s why many people learn to intellectualize their relationship dynamics overtime. It helps them to avoid the uncomfortable truth that their relationship is unhealthy.
Being honest with yourself is a critical part of the process if you want to overcome codependency and live a fulfilled life.
3. Learn to let go to overcome codependency
To break codependency habits you have to learn to focus on yourself. Be seen, be heard, become an equal partner in your relationship. None of the is possible as long as your partner and their needs are the sole focus of your existence.
So, you must learn to let go of what the need to control, rescue and please your significant other. Of course, such a change cannot happen overnight. Bracing yourself to move in the right direction, even if it means taking baby steps, is what counts.
Let’s say your partner has got into trouble at work for misbehaving with a colleague. As someone with a codependent personality, your first reaction would be to get in the middle of it and try to broker peace somehow. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself that they’re an adult perfectly capable of handling the consequence of their actions. And let them.
Learn to differentiate between problems that are your own and the ones you adopt to bail out a loved one. Handle the former, and let the latter take their course.
It can be a liberating experience to finally draw the line between where your life ends and the other person’s begins.
4. How to overcome codependency? Set boundaries
Progression of codependent relationship stages often leads to a complete lack of healthy boundaries between partners. They begin to exist as a single entity rather than two individuals connected by the bond of love. Naturally then, drawing some boundaries is essential if you want to stop being codependent.
This can entail a number of things, depending on your relationship dynamics. First and foremost, you must learn to say no.
Stop sacrificing your convictions and beliefs to please your partner. Secondly, start asserting yourself and letting your partner know what is acceptable and what’s not. If you allow yourself to become a doormat then let us tell you codependency and depression go hand in had.
Them shirking all responsibility in the relationship is not acceptable. Neither is verbal or physical abuse. Boundaries mean standing up for yourself and telling the other person where you draw the line.
Most importantly, set boundaries for yourself. When your instinct tells you to do something, stop and question why you’re doing it. Are you doing it at the cost of your well-being and happiness? If the answer is yes, then that’s a boundary you ought not to cross.
Related Reading: How Do You Set Emotional Boundaries in Relationships?
5. Self-care is among key codependency recovery stages
When your entire life revolves around catering to the needs of another person, your own well-being takes such a backseat that you lose touch with its importance altogether. One of the key codependency recovery stages is reversing this course.
Become aware of your feelings, thoughts and needs, and prioritize fulfilling them.
The process can seem strange and alien at first, but that’s kind of paradigm shift in outlook needed to break codependency habits. Of course, self-care involves eating right, sleeping well, exercising and taking care of your body. But it also means taking care of your mind.
Making social connections, going out with friends, spending time with family, taking part in activities that make you happy, and taking some me-time to wind down emotionally. Be open to trying new things to see what truly elevates your sense of mental wellness. And plunge into it head-on. Do so, without seeking your partner’s approval or validation.
6. Learn to be on your own
The fear of being alone is one of the underlying triggers for codependent behavior. To overcome codependency in your relationship, you need to face your deepest fears. Learning to be on your own is also an important part of reclaiming your individuality.
So, begin by taking some time off to be alone now and then and enjoy your own company. It will break the pattern of seeing yourself and your partner as one entity and give you a sense of independence.
Pursue an individual hobby, go out for walks by yourself, try therapeutic activities like painting or pottery-making to be at peace with the idea of being alone. Once you start enjoying these little routines, take a book and spend some time alone at a café. Perhaps, graduate to taking a solo weekend trip.
Eventually, you will learn to reclaim your individuality and become a wholesome person who doesn’t need someone else to complete them.
7. Don’t be too harsh on yourself
Another classic codependent personality is to assume responsibility, blame and guilt for everything that goes wrong in your relationship and your partner’s life. Except, you’re not responsible for your partner’s life and only in part for your relationship.
So, learn to let go of the ‘what more could I have done’ or ‘why wasn’t I able to prevent this’ or ‘how can I make this work’ attitude. When the old and familiar feelings of guilt and shame begin to cloud your mind, take a breath and tell yourself ‘you are doing your best’.
Don’t hold yourself to impossibly high standards in your attempt to make a dysfunctional relationship work.
Related Reading: 8 Things That Ruin Relationships And You Don’t Even Realise it
8. Prepare yourself to move on
Once you’ve gone through the churn of codependency recovery stages, take a stock of your relationship. Have things improved? Is your partner willing to make a change? Can you grow together as individuals to make your relationship more wholesome? Is how to overcome codependency even a valid question for your relationship?
If not, be prepared to move on. Free yourself from the guilt that by reclaiming your life, you may be putting your partner’s in jeopardy. The hard truth is that no one is indispensable.
Your partner was getting by just fine before you came along, and they will manage in the future too.
It is possible to free yourself from codependency in relationships. While these tips can help you make a start in the right direction, making this transition on your own can be difficult. If you’re in a codependent relationship and want to make a change for the better, working with a trained professional is your best bet. Whether you’re seeking individual or couples’ therapy, the right help is only a click away.
Codependency refers to a relationship dynamics where one partner’s emotional and physical needs dominate and the other goes above and beyond to accommodate them.
No, codependency is an acquired personality trait – often as a coping mechanism to deal with difficult life experiences – and can be corrected with the right guidance.
Codependency is the very definition of dysfunctional relationship dynamics. These are unhealthy and can become toxic to an extent that they start affecting one or both partner’s mental well-being.
Addiction or substance abuse is just one of the many factors that may lead to the manifestation of codependent behavior. But it can be seen in any dysfunctional relationship and can be traced back to childhood experiences.
Overcoming codependency is often a long-drawn-out and emotionally taxing process. It is best to seek help from a professional to guide you through the process.