Many people come to therapy questioning whether they are in a codependent relationship. They may say things like:
- “I feel obligated to take responsibility for my partner’s happiness.”
- “My partner’s approval makes me feel good about myself.”
- “I must prioritize my partner’s needs above my own.”
- “I can never live without my partner.”
- “I prefer not to communicate my needs and desires with my partner as it might upset them.”
Codependency can be defined as the tendency to form unhealthy relationships with other people wherein one person needs the other person and the other person needs to feel needed.
Codependent relationships are usually one-sided, with one person being overly dependent on the other for emotional support and validation. This dependency often leads to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and even anxiety.
According to one study, codependent women show excessive dependence on their partners for a sense of self-worth. They let their partner take responsibility for them and expect their partner to be the driving force in changing them for the better.
Men, on the other hand, may be expected to show control over their partner and take up responsibility for their well-being.
Here, I’ll talk about three steps you can take to manage codependent tendencies that arise in your close relationships.
#1. Look for the tell-tale signs of a healthy relationship
In order to break out of codependent patterns, you need to first understand what a healthy, loving relationship looks like. A healthy relationship is where:
- Both partners feel equally supported and needed by each other
- Both partners are able to openly communicate their needs and wants without fear of judgment or rejection
- Both partners feel secure in the knowledge that they are loved and valued unconditionally
- Both partners are able to set boundaries with each other and respect each other’s space and privacy
- Both partners feel free to pursue their own interests and hobbies out of the relationship
One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed data from over 11,000 romantic couples and found that relationship commitment — or, more specifically, the belief that the relationship would last forever — was the most important factor in predicting the overall quality of the relationship.
Believing that your relationship is built to last can ease many of the anxieties that lead to codependent patterns of behavior.
#2. Set healthy boundaries
Happy couples respect each other’s boundaries while also being supportive of one another. What you are willing to accept in a relationship and how you want to be treated is your choice. Think carefully about your expectations and what you consider to be acceptable.
When setting boundaries with your partner, adopt a gentle tone and try to understand what your partner wants but resist letting their issues influence your non-negotiables.
Boundaries with your partner can sound like:
- “I need some time to think about it clearly. Let’s talk about it when I am calmer.”
- “I would appreciate it if we could talk this through rather than leaving it unresolved. It will only build resentment between us.”
- “Please don’t raise your voice during conflict.”
If your partner can’t come to accept and respect your boundaries, you may need to exit the relationship.
#3. Prioritize yourself
People in codependent relationships often lack self-confidence. Start by valuing yourself if you want to stop being codependent. Discover more about your happiness and the kind of life you wish to lead. Self-care can look like:
- Carving out a significant chunk of time in your schedule to engage in activities that you enjoy. It can be as simple as lighting up a candle to set up the mood for meditation or journaling to release pent-up emotional energy.
- Rephrasing negative thoughts and swapping out pessimistic ideas for more optimistic ones. For instance, if you fear being judged by your partner for being yourself you could try to reframe it positively. Here’s an example. Instead of thinking, “I fear if I am my crazy, carefree self around my partner, it will turn him off,” you could say, “He might have many reasons to dislike me which I cannot control so I just need to be true to myself and be the way I like to be.” By changing unpleasant self-talk, we are able to change the way we feel about ourselves.
- Focus on your physical health by nurturing it with the right kind of nutrition, relaxation, and self-care that will contribute to emotional stability.
Maintaining a healthy, balanced relationship is essential for both partners’ well-being. If you find yourself becoming too focused on your partner to the detriment of your own needs, it may be time to reassess the situation. By communicating openly, spending time with loved ones outside of the relationship, and participating in activities that make you happy, you can begin to overcome codependency and create a healthier, more balanced relationship with your partner.