You like to think you have all the skills to have a healthy, thriving relationship, but do you really? Codependency is a major issue for many people and if not identified and corrected, it can mess up not just your bond with your partner but your life as a whole. Here’s what you need to know about this toxic trait and how you can change course.
What does it mean to be codependent in a relationship?
Codependency is a relationship dynamic where one partner is constantly elevating the needs of their significant other above their own. In a codependent relationship, there tends to be an extreme power imbalance. It’s often a one-sided enmeshed relationship in which one person takes on the role of the giver and the other as the taker. For example, one person may contribute more time, focus, and energy to the partnership than the other person.
In a healthy relationship, both partners have their own interests, with their own sense of self-independence from one another. Kathy Hardie-Williams, a marriage and family therapist, tells the Huffington Post that a codependent love “exists when each partner ends up giving up a part of who they are in order to keep the relationship. The dynamic in the relationship is one of manipulation, control, enmeshment, and giving up aspects of yourself.”
Signs you’re in a codependent relationship
- Your mood is based on the status quo of your relationship You could be in a codependent relationship if your happiness is defined by another person. Oftentimes in this role, your partner’s happiness becomes your top, and sometimes only, priority. In other words, if your relationship is going well, then you feel on top of the world. But, if your partner is experiencing mood swings, you tend to take on their emotions and worry about the status quo of the relationship. In healthy relationships, it’s common to be empathetic and supportive of your partner, but you can also acknowledge them and separate your own feelings from theirs.
- You tend to avoid conflict To keep the peace, the giver in the relationship has difficulty communicating and expressing themselves out of fear of driving their partner away. Communication is crucial in any relationship, but when you feel like you are “walking on eggshells” to avoid any arguments this might be a red flag. If you find yourself being hesitant about speaking up about your needs, boundaries, or concerns you have, this may be a sign of a codependent relationship.
- You feel anxious if they don’t contact you It’s healthy in relationships to have time apart. In a codependent relationship, alone time can trigger sadness or abandonment in one of the partners. If you are constantly checking your phone, stressing out about what they are doing, or getting anxious when your messages are left on read, you may be in an unhealthy relationship. These are all signs that you are overly reliant on your partner to feel happiness and at ease.
- You don’t like to be alone In healthy relationships, both partners lead independent lives separate from each other to focus on their own interests and hobbies. But if you find yourself anxious every time your partner does an activity without you, this could be a giant red flag. Feeling threatened and anxious about your partner’s independence can feel like abandonment for the codependent partner. To combat these feelings, take time apart and find ways to maintain a healthy sense of independence.
- You’ve lost touch with your closest friends Often in enmeshed relationships, the giver starts to prioritize their partner over other relationships. This can include canceling plans with your friends and loved ones to spend time with your significant other. Over time, those in codependent relationships start to lose touch with their support system since they are solely focusing on their partner.
- Your sense of Identity changes In a balanced relationship, each person has their own interests, identity, and hobbies. Whereas in codependent relationships, it is not uncommon for the giver to lose their sense of identity, including their interests, hobbies, and passions. It often seems like the giver is changing their personality and their tastes to be identical with their partners. To maintain the relationship, one partner gives up a part of who they are and there is no differentiation or individual sense of self.
- You feel empty unless you’re in a relationship A codependent partner often feels incomplete unless they are in a relationship. This means they often jump from one relationship to another immediately once one ends. Since a relationship defines them, they are afraid to be single and there is no time to heal or focus on themselves. They tend to place their self-worth and happiness based on their relationship status. Often, they tend to look past red flags and jump into the next relationship just to not be alone. This means getting into dysfunctional relationships where these patterns are often repeated.
How to break the chain of codependency
If you find yourself in a codependent relationship, there are some things you can do to find more balance.
- Learn to find pleasure in your own company. Part of the reason many of us end up being codependent in a relationship is that we’re not comfortable with ourselves. We hate being alone and will go to great lengths to ensure that we’re not. That includes clinging to unhealthy situations or turning a healthy relationship into a toxic one by refusing to give ourselves and our partners space to breathe. Learn to truly enjoy being on your own. You might be surprised by what good company you are.
- Find ways to boost your confidence. You need to believe that you’re strong, interesting, capable, and worthy even without your partner by your side. If you’ve become codependent in your relationship because you’re using your partner as a shield against all the things in the world that you’re afraid of, stop. Whether via meditation, repeating daily affirmations and mantras, joining a gym, or any other number of activities, find ways to boost your self-belief. The more you love yourself, the easier you’ll find it to stand up on your own.
- Take small steps to separate yourself from the relationship. Invest in new friends, pursue your hobbies and interests, and seek activities outside of your relationship. It’s crucial to practice self-care and reconnect with your long-term friends and loved ones. Maintaining your own identity is crucial no matter how much you love your partner. In fact, it’s even more important that you invest in yourself as an individual rather than who you are as part of a couple.
- Seek therapy if necessary. Experts recommend individual therapy or couple’s therapy from a trained professional so you can explore healthier relationship dynamics and rebuild your sense of self. It also allows you to develop coping skills so that if your relationship ends, there are ways to heal from codependency so you don’t repeat patterns and find yourself in another toxic relationship.