Codependency in relationships can be hard to identify, especially for the two people trapped in this toxic cycle. If you look closely, all codependent relationships are characterized by skewed parameters of equality. In such a connection, one partner gives and gives, and the other just takes. The giver and the taker become so closely enmeshed with one another that they lose all sense of individuality. Over time, this can lead to the relationship becoming fraught with exhaustion, anger, resentment, suffocation and victimhood. 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 well-being of the one who is bending over backward to make things work anyway. Even the taker in the relationship begins to feel stifled beyond a point, brimming over with a compelling desire to break-free. Any attempt on the part of the taker to assert their independence is met by even stronger controlling tendencies by the giver, triggering codependency anxiety and resulting in a toxic power struggle.
To break codependency habits, you first need to learn to differentiate between healthy and dysfunctional relationships. 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. We’re here to offer you that support to overcome codependency in marriage or relationship with the help of psychotherapist Gopa Khan (Masters in Counseling Psychology, M.Ed), who specializes in marriage & family counseling.
Codependent Relationship And Its Signs
How to overcome codependency and live a fulfilled life? This can be a pressing question when you’re in a relationship that is centered on catering to the needs of your significant other, often at the peril of your own. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you’re beginning to see the signs that your relationship is far from a partnership of equals it was meant to be, then you need to address the following questions first: What is a codependent relationship? What causes codependency? And why am I codependent in relationships?
Coming to the first, 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.
Gopa explains, “Codependent relationships can be at times difficult to spot. The easier ones to detect are the abusive relationships. In a codependent relationship, there is an inherent need to feel constantly loved, validated and to receive approval from the partner. The codependent person does not have boundaries and cannot separate their needs from their partner. They constantly fear the partner leaving them and are willing to do anything to please the partner even at their personal cost. They can be termed people pleasers.”
What causes codependency? A codependent personality can often be traced back to childhood experiences. The parenting approach, as well as the relationship dynamics between the parents, have been established as key factors that cause children to internalize codependent behavior. As they grow up, these childhood influences begin to impact the way they handle their adult relationships. Simply put, codependency in relationships is closely tied to the attachment styles psychology.
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 are wondering, “Why am I codependent in relationships?”, it’s likely because your emotional needs as a child were not adequately met by your primary caregivers. This led to you developing an insecure attachment style, which could be fueling your codependent tendencies.
Do 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, according to Gopa:
- No individuality: Not having a life of your own and always wanting to do things together. One of the partners is over reliant on the other and both have no personal life of their own
- Doing the lion’s share of work: Assuming the sole responsibility to make the relationship work. Feeling guilty 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: Covering up your partner’s inexcusable behavior and apologetically making excuses for them
- Never saying ‘no’: An inability to say no. Doing things you’re not comfortable with to please your partner
- Bottling up feelings: Not sharing your grievances and expectations with your partner out of fear of being left alone
- Control: Feeling responsible for your partner’s well-being. A compulsive need to ‘fix’ your partner. You feel an inherent need to solve people’s problems. You feel responsible and obligated to ” fix” any problems in your relationship or your partner’s life
- Accepting ill-treatment: Putting up with unhealthy behavior, including physical or emotional abuse, in the name of love
- Needy and clingy: Partners in a codependent relationship are extremely needy and clingy. This behavior stems from the fear that their partner will leave or abandon them
- Constant reassurances: A codependent constantly needs self-assurance to know that they are loved or wanted
- Avoiding conflict: You go to great lengths to avoid conflicts at any given time. Codependency in relationships is marked by a need to always wanting to keep peace, not “rock the boat” and to maintain calm even if the partner is wrong or excusing their bad behavior so the relationship can be maintained at all costs
Examples Of Codependent Behavior
Gopa 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 danger 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 (names 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 into an overprotective boyfriend.
He wanted to take control of Tasha’s life and make every decision for her, right from what she would wear at a party to whether or not she should respond to a new job offer. Tasha initially felt it was Andrew’s powerful love that made him so involved in her life. 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 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 as 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 realized it was his way of keeping a tab on my every move,” said Tasha.
Another example of codependent behavior is what David keeps doing with his wife Maggie (names 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 realize that there can be a different equation between a husband and a wife.
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Can a codependent relationship be saved?
If you relate to the signs and the examples of codependent behavior, it’s only natural that your mind is swarming with questions right now. “Why am I codependent in relationships?” “How to overcome codependency and live a fulfilled life?”
“How long does it take to overcome codependency?” And so on. Before we begin to assuage your concerns, let’s take a moment to understand can a codependent relationship be saved. Is there hope for you and your partner if your bond has been steeped in codependency right from the beginning?
Addressing the question of can a codependent relationship be saved, Gopa offers hope but also cautions that such a bond may not always be salvageable. “A codependent relationship can be saved if the person being codependent learns to set healthy boundaries. However if the relationship is abusive and the codependent person is at the receiving end, then they need to leave. For example, a young client of mine was being blackmailed by her boyfriend and he had released her nude pictures on social media. This was clearly a bad situation for her and the relationship needed to end,” she explains.
There is no magic formula to overcome codependency in marriage or a long-term relationship nor is there any one-size-fits-all answer to this complex dynamic. The odds of success depend on a host of factors such as other underlying issues festering in the relationship, your ability to recognize the unhealthy patterns for what they are and the willingness of both partners to do the necessary work for effecting change.
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 that codependent behavior is a learned personality trait. Even if it is something you imbibed in your childhood, you can unlearn it.
However, there needs to be self-awareness about the unhealthy nature of your bond and a will to break existing patterns. These are the only prerequisites when you’re exploring how to overcome codependency. Gopa says, “To overcome codependency in marriage or a long-term relationship, one needs to learn to be a “healthy narcissistic”. That is to embrace themselves as they are, to practice self-love and let go of being a people pleaser.”
While learning to break codependency habits is essential to keep your relationship going 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:
Related Reading: How To Build An Interdependent Relationship?
1. Explore your past to understand codependent behavior
How to overcome codependency? First and foremost, you need to address, “Why am I codependent in relationships?” Gopa explains, “The journey of understanding how to overcome codependency and live a fulfilled life begins working toward more self-awareness. It entails asking yourself, “What do I want?” or “How do I feel?” as opposed to “How will my partner feel, react, think?” or “What if my partner doesn’t like me or leaves me?”.
“This is tough work. To be able to let go of the weight of other people’s opinions is not easy for a codependent person since most of their life, they have looked for approval and validation from others.” At the same time, to break codependency habits you need to understand the underlying triggers behind them. 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, seeking the guidance of a therapist is highly recommended. A skilled therapist can help you get to the root cause of codependency, helping you foster a strong and healthy relationship. If it’s help you’re looking for, Bonobology’s panel of counselors is only a click away.
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 learned 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 over time. 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.
If you’re wondering, “What can I do to stop being codependent on my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse?”, it’s time to brace yourself for some introspection and recognize your part in the dysfunctional nature of your relationship. Face the unpleasant realities, only then can you take a step toward breaking free from them.
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 this 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 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.
Seeing yourself and your partner as two individuals rather than parts of a whole is essential for overcoming codependency as a man or a woman. “The answer to how to overcome codependency lies in letting go of the need to solve other people’s problems or take responsibility for their actions. For example, a wife taking responsibility for making her spouse angry or his drinking problem are classic signs of codependency. To be able to break this pattern, she first needs to stop feeling responsible for his actions,” says Gopa.
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 consequences 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. Assert yourself and learn to accept that people may leave her and that it is okay. One of the first signs you’re healing from codependency is the ability to identify toxic relationships and set healthy boundaries for yourself and for others. So work toward that if you want to overcome codependency in marriage or a relationship,” says Gopa.
Stop sacrificing your convictions and beliefs to please your partner. Start letting your partner know what is acceptable and what’s not. 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
Codependency anxiety can be all-consuming, leaving little room for you to cater to your own needs and desires. Think about it, when your entire life revolves around catering to the needs of another person, it’s only natural that your own well-being will take 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 the 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. That is a crucial step for anyone who’s constantly wrestling with the “how to stop being codependent on my boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse” dilemma.
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”, “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. At the same time, don’t beat yourself up if the signs you’re healing from codependency don’t manifest as swiftly as you’d hoped.
When you’re dealing with unhealthy behavior patterns stemming from complex trauma, recovery is neither linear nor swift. Be compassionate and kind to yourself. Celebrate small milestones and commit yourself to doing the necessary work to emerge on the other side stronger, no matter how long it takes.
Related Reading: 8 Things That Ruin Relationships And You Don’t Even Realize it
8. Prepare yourself to move on
Once you’ve gone through the churn of codependency recovery stages, take 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.
Codependency refers to 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 partners’ 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.
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