When it comes to relationships, we have been told again and again that it’s better to love others more than you love yourself. Sacrificing yourself is said to be the best way to show your love for someone.
However, when we consistently put another’s needs before our own to our detriment, the relationship may be based upon a codependency; that is, the relationship stops being healthy when you start prioritizing others’ needs at the cost of your own.
A classic example of this extreme emotional or psychological reliance on a partner is a relationship where the partner has a drug or alcohol addiction. The addiction is enabled when you do everything you can – subconsciously or not – to maintain the addiction, because as long as the other partner needs your help, you feel valued and needed.
However, codependency is no longer just identified in relationships with drug or alcohol problems. It can also be seen in relationships with other issues, e.g., a partner with a lingering illness, irresponsibility, immaturity, or poor mental or physical health.
Codependency then exists when you show your love for the other primarily by giving assistance, while the other person feels loved when they receive your assistance. The more that the other person needs help, the more that you feel valued in the relationship.
Some sort of codependency in any relationship is normal, according to psychologists. After all, there are times when we do sacrifice our own needs to keep a relationship going.
However, in cases when you no longer consider yourself in a mutually rewarding and supportive relationship and just define yourself through the other person, that’s when codependency really begins to surface and potentially cause problems. Without the other person, you don’t feel complete, you don’t see yourself as okay on your own. You think you can never be happy anymore if you’re no longer needed by others.
In a codependent relationship, the problem is not just with the person being helped, but with the helper, too. You love relationships where you can be seen as a rescuer and supporter. As long as the person you’re helping is functioning poorly – e.g., actively addicted, or in poor physical or mental health – you’re happy because you feel needed. Your self-esteem is boosted by feelings of competency as well, relative to the other person you’re taking care of.
You may be in a codependent relationship if you fit any of the patterns below:
You’re a people pleaser.
You do everything you can to make other people happy. You avoid confrontation, letting your partner make all decisions. What matters to you is that they get what they want all the time. You’re afraid that if you insist on your own desires, they will leave you.
You care too much about what others think about you.
As much as possible, you want others, including your partner, to think highly of you, so you do everything you can to meet their expectations, even though it isn’t what you want.
You ignore red flags in the relationship.
You ignore your partner’s problematic behaviors e.g., cheating, possessiveness, violence, and think you can change it by changing your own behaviors. You may think, for example, that if you stop nagging them about coming home late, they will eventually change.
You give so much to the relationship that you simply can’t say no anymore.
You give all your time and effort in keeping the relationship, even though you feel taken advantage of already.
You stay with someone who is emotionally distant or abusive.
Despite knowing that it’s only you who is trying to keep the relationship alive, you still stay with the other person because you’re afraid of being rejected and growing old alone.
Complete codependency is definitely not healthy for any relationships. It affects all the people involved and traps them in a relationship where no growth is possible.
If you’re in a codependent relationship as a helper, for example, you become stuck with someone who’s either unwilling or unable to meet your emotional and other needs. Your other relationships will also be affected. Friends with whom you have confided your difficulties will find it hard to remain friends with you, knowing that no matter that they do, they cannot help you with your problem. Family members may also feel frustrated that their advice goes unheeded.
The other person in the relationship becomes affected too. When you do everything you can for them, they lose the chance to mature in the relationship. Their confidence in themselves may be affected, since they always have you to take care of them. And since their actions or state gets them your love and care, they may never get motivated to change.
This high degree of mutual dependence on each other makes codependent relationships highly resistant to change. After all, both parties benefit from it. It may also be that you may be blind to it, not realizing that your total subservience to your partner may already be unhealthy.
The good news, however, is that codependency can be reduced to more healthy levels. With therapy, your motivation as a helper can be examined and you will gain a deeper understanding of your motivations in continuing to be in the relationship. If you think you may be in a codependent relationship, contact us today. We are here to help!