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How To Not Be Codependent In An Intimate Relationship

Steven Losardo, LMFT

Having an innate desire to care for those closest to us is part of what makes us human. However, when those needs become excessive and unhealthy, this can be a sign of codependency.  The term ‘codependency’ refers to emotional, mental, or physical reliance on another person.  Codependency often stems from unstable attachments formed during childhood that then arise later on in future adult relationships (Fellizar, 2022; Gould, 2020). Codependent relationships are an unbalanced dynamic in which one person’s needs become far more important than the others (Fellizar, 2022; Gould, 2020).  A codependent partner – often referred to as the ‘giver’ feels worthless and unfulfilled unless needed by the other person (Fellizar, 2022; Gould, 2020).

Does this sound like you? Is it possible to recover from being codependent in a relationship?

If you feel as though you may be struggling with codependency, understand that it’s treatable with effort and consistency.

Understand Your Codependent Tendencies:

One of the easiest ways to begin your journey into healing from codependency is by becoming self-aware of your actions (Gould, 2020). You may find yourself often sacrificing your time or energy to benefit others to your detriment (Gould, 2020; Utti, 2016). You may have a hard time saying no, for fear of what the other person might say or do. Another sign is that you find that your mood, sense of stability, and/or happiness are defined, or easily persuaded by your significant other. If these resonate you may be codependent. 

Other characteristics of codependent behavior may include (Gould, 2020; Utti, 2016): 

  • Feeling responsible for your partner’s actions 
  • Avoiding confrontation out of fear of retaliation 
  • Ignoring your own needs to avoid your partner becoming upset with you 
  • Constantly feeling the need to ‘rescue’ or ‘fix’ others close to you 
  • Unconsciously feeling pressure to contribute more than your fair share in a relationship 
  • You feel guilty asking for your own wants and needs
  • You feel “mean” or “rude” when saying ‘no’
  • Feelings of anxiety arise if things in your relationship aren’t going perfect

A large majority of our waking hours are spent in an unconscious state. Those unstable attachments developed in childhood may be calling the shots behind the scenes, whether you realize it or not. Becoming self-aware enables you to not only stop those behaviors in their tracks but helps you become more in touch with your own inner desires.

Begin To Recognize Your Own Wants and Needs 

A hallmark sign of codependent behavior is excessively caring for others, at the expense of yourself. When beginning the journey of breaking free from codependency, you may feel as though you’re being “selfish.”  This is far from the truth, as taking time for yourself is incredibly important to avoid damaging your own mental health.  Remind yourself, that in healthy relationships, both partners have identities outside of one another. It’s perfectly normal, and even encouraged, to participate in activities or interests without the other person. 

Be sure you are active in some hobbies or activities you enjoyed before you met your partner. Honoring your own wants and needs is a radical act of self-love that will only benefit you and your relationship.

Learn How To Set Boundaries

In codependent relationships, it can be difficult for the giver to clearly see where a partner’s needs end, and theirs begin. Setting boundaries with intentionality can help you develop a stronger sense of self, and boost your confidence (Fellizar, 2022; GoodTherapy, 2019).  One of the easiest ways to begin setting boundaries with others is through practicing clear, precise communication (Fellizar, 2022; GoodTherapy, 2019). 

Example:

If your partner asks you to drive them to the airport at 4:00 in the morning, the day of a big exam, instead of saying, “Well, I’m going to be very tired for my test that afternoon”, in hopes they get the hint, make it a point to reply in a way that avoids any confusion. “I can’t take you, I have an exam. I’m not willing to lose sleep because of that.” 

Your own actions teach others how to treat you and remind you how to treat yourself as well. When you set boundaries with others, you are prioritizing your own best interest, while showing your partner you still love them (Fellizar, 2022; GoodTherapy, 2019).

Determine Your Core Values and Make Time For Them

Think back to before your relationship. What were the most important aspects of your life? Things such as family, creativity, and cooking healthy meals might be at the top of your list.

When a partner becomes codependent, the energy that was once used for self-fulfilling activities is now channeled into worrying about and relying on another person (Utti, 2016). Take time to sit and write down a few core values (Utti, 2016). Once you have done this it is important to intentionally carve out time to nurture those things (Utti, 2016).  If your relationship with your sister was once a core value, make it a point to meet up with her for lunch every week.  When you set time aside for areas that are important to you, you’re creating a healthy space in your relationship (Utti, 2016).

Consider Help From a Professional

In some cases, codependency is rooted in emotions far too big for you to understand on your own. This is when seeing a mental health professional can benefit you tremendously (GoodTherapy, 2019). There are thousands of counselors out there trained and willing to help you overcome your own codependent behaviors. Not only will a therapist guide you into becoming more independent, but a therapist can also enable you to identify codependent behaviors, and help you understand precisely where these tendencies are coming from, such as family-of-origin modeling or a past relationship (GoodTherapy, 2019). 

If you find yourself struggling with codependency, chances are you may have a low-self-esteem or perfectionist tendencies (GoodTherapy, 2019). Therapists are able to equip you with practices that enhance self-compassion and boost your overall self-love (GoodTherapy, 2019).

How To Navigate Not Being Codependent:

If codependency is an issue you struggle with, don’t worry. Reading this article may be your first step into overcoming codependent behaviors. So, how do you navigate not being codependent as part of your ongoing growth?

  • Overall, keep yourself at the forefront of your mind. Focus on your own self-growth and wellbeing. You can do this through daily reflection, or meditation (Fellizar, 2022).
  • Remind yourself it’s entirely acceptable to say no if a situation simply doesn’t align with what you’re realistically capable of (Fellizar, 2022; GoodTherapy, 2019).
  • A codependent partner engages in overprotective or over willing behaviors with their significant other out of fear they may leave or become upset (GoodTherapy, 2019). Take a gut check to be sure that is not you.
  • Keep in mind you are the only adult you can control. Allow yourself to make decisions in your best interest, and understand that you cannot control the outcome of others (Fellizar, 2022; GoodTherapy, 2019). 
  • Remember: Being needed doesn’t define your worth, and anyone meant to be in your life will agree (Fellizar, 2022; GoodTherapy, 2019).

If you would like to talk to a therapist about codependency in your relationship, Symmetry Counseling is here to help. Reach out today to get paired with a Chicago therapist.

References

Fellizar, K. (2022). How to Stop Being Codependent: Recognizing and Moving Past

Codependency.  Retrieved from https://blog.zencare.co/how-to-stop-being-codependent/

on May 4, 2022.

GoodTherapy. (2019). Recovery from codependency. Retrieved from

https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about

therapy/issues/codependency/recovery#:~:text=A%20 therapist%20can%20 help

20a,have%20transferred%20to%20other%20relationships. on May 4, 2022.

Gould, W. (2020). What is codependency? Recognizing the sign. Retrieved from

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-codependency-5072124 on May 4, 2022. 

Utti, C. (2016). How to fix an addicted and codependent relationship.  Retrieved from

 https://willingway.com/fix-addicted-codependent-marriage/ on May 4, 2022.

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