In any relationship – whether with friends or a romantic partner, there needs to be a healthy level of compromise for it to be safe and beneficial for everyone involved.
So, what happens when you find yourself compromising far more than the other person?
What happens when you feel paralyzed in making decisions without your partner?
If you’re beginning to notice signs that may point to codependency, you might be wondering if it’s too late to salvage your relationship. At what point is a codependent relationship deemed too far gone?
Can you ever come back from a codependent state?
In this article, we’re going to discuss all things codependency.
Let’s chat about codependency, the signs you may be in a codependent relationship, and how to overcome this toxic cycle and heal the bond between you and your loved one.
- What Is Codependency In a Relationship?
- What Are Some Signs I May Be In a Codependent Relationship?
- What Causes Someone To Be Codependent?
- How Do Codependent Relationships End?
- Can a Codependent Relationship Be Saved?
- What Does Recovering From Codependency Look Like?
- Final Thoughts: Should I Just End My Codependent Relationship?
What Is Codependency In a Relationship?
If you were to look up synonyms for the word ‘codependent,’ you’d find terms such as ‘addicted,’ ‘attached,’ or ‘interconnected.’
Another way to describe this unhealthy type of bond in a relationship is mutually dependent.
While in a relationship, it’s natural to want to spend time with your significant other, go to events together, and eventually make big life decisions with one another.
When this becomes toxic, you aren’t able to distinguish who you are from the relationship.
Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition characterized by excessive reliance on another person. This reliance can be psychological or emotional and can easily hinder an individual from having a healthy relationship.
What Are Some Signs I May Be In a Codependent Relationship?
A hallmark sign of any codependent relationship is the imbalance of effort.
In these situations, one person does the bulk share of the work and often loses themselves to satisfy the other. They will do whatever it takes to make the relationship work, even if it means abandoning their own wants, needs, or goals.
I found myself in a codependent relationship for almost five years in my early twenties, and it was one of the most emotionally and professionally stunted periods of my life. I should have been finding myself and thriving, but the relationship paralyzed me to the core. I ended up abusing alcohol to cope.
A few signs you may be in a codependent relationship include:
- You feel as though you need to save them from themselves
- You find yourself self-sacrificing often
- You find yourself neglecting your own needs
- You feel like you need to change who they are
- You feel selfish for taking time for yourself
- You feel as though your relationship is difficult to explain to others
- You feel anxious when you don’t hear from your partner
- You find yourself unhappy being alone
- You find yourself canceling your own plans often to spend time with your partner
- You feel as though your partner can do no wrong
- You find yourself needing constant reassurance from your partner
It’s important to remember that many of these feelings are normal in any healthy relationship however, the main difference is that they don’t stick around.
It’s normal to feel anxious when you don’t hear from them all day, but in a mature relationship, those feelings are fleeting as you feel secure in yourself and your partner.
In a codependent relationship, these feelings take over and can even ruin your entire day.
You may spend all night worrying that they will leave you or end the relationship. This may disrupt your basic human needs for sleep, food, or self-care.
What Causes Someone To Be Codependent?
Our childhoods play a massive role in who we become as adults. As with many behavioral patterns, being codependent in relationships often stems from how we were raised.
As children, we learn how to treat others, form bonds, and keep attachments based on how we perceive our parents caring for us.
If we were raised in homes with overprotective parents or under protective, we might end up becoming adults with an excessive need to rely on others. Let me explain:
Overprotective and Under-Protective Parenting Explained:
Overprotective parenting can create codependent adults that stem from children who were always shielded from the world’s dangers.
As a child, you may have relied heavily on your parents to tell you what was safe or unsafe to do and, therefore, never gained the self-confidence to try new things or make independent decisions.
If you were always coddled as a child, it’s likely you grew into an adult that never learned how to regulate your own emotions without the help of others.
On the flip side…
Under-protective parenting can thus create codependent adults that stem from never receiving the nurture and care they needed as a child.
In healthy child-parent relationships, a solid foundation of independence blossoms into self-confidence.
When a child is left to fend for themselves, they may feel incredibly alone and unsafe in the world. So, they may need another person to ‘cling’ to feel safe when they become adults.
In addition, many adults who display codependency in relationships come from households where one or more parents struggled with mental health problems or addiction/substance abuse.
As the child grew older, they quickly learned to neglect their own needs and wants to take care of their parents. In these situations, the child tends to become the caregiver, and the roles are reversed. This can cause them to grow into adults that always need to ‘fix’ others.
How Do Codependent Relationships End?
Ending a codependent relationship is incredibly difficult and oftentimes painful. It involves a great deal of inner work and recognition of the toxic behaviors within the relationship.
If you’re the person suffering from feeling codependent, you may:
- Feel guilt or shame about needing to end the relationship
- Worry about how the other person will care for themselves without you
- Give in when your partner pleads for you to stay
- Find yourself going back time and time again
Codependent relationships often end when the other person’s addictive or self-destructive behavior becomes dangerous or abusive or when the codependent person begins to realize the toxic pattern they’re stuck in.
It’s likely you may begin to see your choices.
Love is blind. Codependent love can feel paralyzing.
You may slowly realize you have a choice in how your life plays out. You may realize that you don’t have to live in a relationship that takes far more than it gives.
It may be scary at first to begin to lift the veil that has blurred your vision for so long, but once you do, it’s difficult to unsee those things.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Can a Codependent Relationship Be Saved?
While it may be difficult to explain why you’ve stayed in a codependent relationship for so long, sometimes the heart wants what it wants. In this situation, you may wonder if your codependent relationship can ever be healthy.
A codependent person, by nature, plans their life around their partner and their relationship.
Whether you realize it or not, you probably make all decisions in life with your partner in mind. You’re always trying to please them, or at the very least, keep the peace with them.
This has to be taken care of before a codependent relationship can be healthy again.
If you’re the codependent one, it will take inner work and even professional help to heal years of codependent behavior. You’ll likely have to unlearn many behaviors you exhibit in your everyday life (not just with your partner!).
If you’re on the other side and your partner is codependent, they will have to work to fix this part of themselves. Therapy is a wonderful option for those struggling with codependent behaviors.
Once this aspect of your relationship is fixed, you and your partner can move on to setting boundaries, laying out expectations, and healing from your past. But it all starts with inner work.
Relationship therapist, Michelle Farris, has a helpful take on this topic, which I’ll drop for you here:
A few ways to create a healthier relationship amidst codependency are:
- Communication: Be brutally honest with your partner. Let them know you realize your relationship dynamic is unhealthy. Show them the work you’re doing to fix your behaviors. Let them in on your healing journey.
- Make Your Own Decisions: This may feel scary or uncomfortable at first, but when an opportunity presents itself – make a decision for yourself, not them. If your friend asks you to go out for drinks Thursday night, instead of calling your partner to ask if you two are going to have plans, do what you want to do. The more you build a life outside of just your relationship, the less time you will have to be entirely dependent on it.
- Find What Makes You Happy: Have you always had a love for painting? Or, maybe you’ve always wanted to try snowboarding. Find something outside of your relationship that makes you happy, and do it. Once you realize you can make yourself happy outside of what your partner wants, you’ll need to rely solely on them for joy. This will benefit both of you in the long run – some space in a relationship is healthy.
What Does Recovering From Codependency Look Like?
Even if your relationship ends, codependency will not simply go away on its own. The behavioral patterns associated with codependency will jump from one relationship to another. This is why working to recover from codependent tendencies is so important.
Thankfully, you can recover from codependency to move forward with happier and healthier relationships.
Here is what recovery may look like for you:
Reading About Attachment Styles:
Knowledge is power. Many people with codependent behaviors have an anxious attachment style.
They fear that people will leave them as they were in childhood, so they people please and often sacrifice their own desires to keep those they love close to them.
Reading and finding resources to help you overcome this attachment style can help greatly understand why you act the way you do and how to overcome this.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Attachment Theory in Practice by Susan M. Johnson
- The Power of Attachment by Diane Poole Heller, PhD
- Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin, PsyD
- Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment by Amir Levine, MD, and Rachel Heller, M.A.
Find Others Like You:
If there aren’t any support groups around you, many podcasts and social media groups are dedicated to healing from codependent behaviors.
Finding others like you can help you get the support and advice you need from those who have walked this path before.
While it’s important to have a support system of friends and family, there’s something powerful about having encouragement and words of wisdom from others that have struggled with the same problem.
Taking Care Of Yourself:
If you’ve struggled with being codependent your entire life, it’s likely you’ve never truly taken time to care for yourself.
Practice self-care techniques like meditation, journaling, reading, or indulging in a new hobby.
The more you spend time loving yourself, the more comfortable you will be in being alone. When you begin to feel confident being alone, you will need less dependence on another person for happiness.
Find Ways To Manage Your Anxiety:
Breaking free from a codependent relationship is by no means easy. It may provoke debilitating waves of anxiety, at least at the beginning.
You’re detaching yourself from something that has become your entire identity – it is normal to feel this way.
Final Thoughts: Should I Just End My Codependent Relationship?
Let’s take a minute to review what we just discussed.
While every relationship requires a level of dependence, there is a fine line to walk. In codependent relationships, one person is so reliant on the other that they depend on them for decision-making, happiness, emotional and mental security, and more.
It becomes a problem when one person relies too heavily on another to make them happy. In most cases, the codependent person is willing to set aside their own wants and needs to make the relationship work.
When this happens, a toxic cycle begins.
However, codependent relationships are not doomed forever. They just require intention and work.
It is not easy to overcome tendencies often rooted in childhood, but it is possible. First and foremost, you and your partner must sit down and communicate about the unhealthy patterns you’re witnessing.
Once this is done, there needs to be a mutual agreement to work on creating a healthier dynamic.
If both you and your partner can work together to heal from past behaviors, work on creating lives outside of the relationship, and communicate when problems arise, there’s no need to jump ship just yet.
Just remember: you’re not alone.
Many therapists are ready to help you and your partner work on breaking these codependent cycles, as well as support groups, podcasts, and books to get you on your way to becoming a healthier and more independent version of yourself – for both you and your relationship.