To understand how to stop being codependent in a relationship we have to first be able to recognize a codependent relationship.
Here are some examples of what a codependent relationship looks like
1) May is in her 50’s. She is very hardworking and reliable. She has been working with her company for 20 years. She has 3 daughters. All of them are adults. Her husband moves from one job to the other and has a hard time staying employed. Now he has stopped looking for work and spends most of the time at home. He lies and hides information from May.
She nags at him constantly and complains about him to her kids. However, she is unable to set boundaries with him. She does all the work at home, takes care of everyone’s needs. Her youngest daughter lives close by. May shows up at her daughter’s house unannounced and cleans her house and does her laundry. This upsets her daughter, but she does not seem to understand what about her behavior is upsetting to her daughter. She is exhausted and is starting to notice some health issues but keeps dismissing and minimizing the symptoms.
2) Maya and Sam have been together for a long time. Sam has cheated on Maya several times over the course of their relationship. Her friends and family think that she should end the relationship. But, Maya does not want to. She dismisses and minimizes the betrayal she is experiencing and says that she cannot leave him because she believes that people can change and she does not want to give up on him. He has a lot of financial issues. He cannot hold a job. Maya bails him out of difficult financial situations all the time. She knows that he needs her and that he is dependent on her. Maya’s life revolves around Sam.
Codependency is not something you only see in a romantic relationship. One can be in a codependent relationship with anyone including their parents, grand parents, friends.
In a codependent relationship one person is always giving way more than they are receiving. Codependent people have the need to be needed. They overlook their own needs and prioritize other people. They rely on external validation and their self worth is rooted in what they do for other people. They have a difficult time asking for help.
To stop being codependent in a relationship it might be important to know what a healthy relationship looks like. Now that you have a glimpse into what a codependent relationship looks like let’s look at some of the traits of a healthy relationship.
Here is how healthy relationships look like
A healthy relationship feels smooth and easy. It feels secure and safe to be vulnerable.
Healthy adult relationships are reciprocal. There is a mutual understanding and people take care of each other.
They give each other space and boundaries are respected.
The people involved in the relationship whether it is in a family setting, friendship or romantic relationship are able to be their authentic selves.
They can express their feelings and needs openly and honestly and the other members in the relationship dynamics are receptive.
There is scope and a safe space for difficult conversations. A disagreement does not mean that the relationship will end.
Being a support system for each other in a way that builds each other up and is not enabling.
In a healthy romantic relationship no one is trying to ‘fix’ or rescue anyone, they make room for the other person in their lives and let their partner have their own individuality.
The difference between codependent and healthy relationships is that there is a balance and a sense of security in a healthy relationship that is missing in a codependent relationship.
Individuals in a healthy relationship have their own life, hobbies and friends while making space for their partners and kids. One does not have to sacrifice their own needs to be a good parent or a good partner. In a healthy relationship your self-worth does not come from what you do for your partner and other family members.
How to stop being codependent in a relationship?
Here are a few things you can start with in your process of stopping being in a codependent relationship.
Gain awareness– To stop being codependent in a relationship first gain awareness about your codependent patterns and learn how a healthy relationship looks like. Check in with yourself and see if you are giving more that you are receiving. Ask yourself the following questions-
Are you filling up all your time with meeting other people’s needs?
Do you feel exhausted and in spite of everything you do, nothing feels enough?
Connect with yourself– Get to know yourself better. Learn about your likes and dislikes. Learn about things that make you uncomfortable and things that you enjoy doing. This might not come easily, start with pausing and checking in with yourself to learn why you are doing whatever you are choosing to do. Learn to associate feeling words with your experiences. Identifying how you feel about something will tell you if you want to do it or not. Ask yourself the following questions.
How do I feel about taking on this responsibility?
What do I feel will happen if I say no?
Set boundaries– Getting to know yourself will help you set boundaries. Boundaries are for us, it’s the way we communicate to the people around us what makes us comfortable and what we are uncomfortable with. Setting boundaries is a very vulnerable experience, it’s not easy. Especially for a codependent person who is a people pleaser it is very difficult to do. In the beginning set some rules that you could follow. For example,
Wait for people to ask for help, don’t make everything your responsibility
Always make it a point to take some time to think before committing to anything
Stop minimizing your needs– Your needs are as important as that of other people in your family. Stop minimizing and dismissing your needs. Connecting with yourself will bring your needs to your attention.
Start with journaling, write what you felt about an experience and what you needed in that situation
When the urge to minimize your need comes up, consciously notice that and then notice what happens if you choose to not dismiss that need.
Stop making other people’s problems your problem– When you make other people’s problem your problem you will try to fix it as well. You take control of the situation and you feel like no one else can get them out of the situation other than you. In doing this you end up enabling them. Instead of fixating over other people’s problems try the following.
Understand that just because their problems are making you uncomfortable, you don’t have to take them on.
When you notice yourself getting anxious because of someone else’s difficult situation, Focus on grounding and comforting yourself.
Work on strengthening your self worth– You are important for who you are. What you do is not what makes you important to people who value you. Showing self compassion is what will help you find self worth. When you are nice and kind to yourself you will also value yourself.
Make a list of things you like to do and do one thing from the list everyday
Take care of yourself
Give yourself the validation you are looking for from others.
Learning to break your patterns and stop being codependent in a relationship is a process. It takes time and a lot of self awareness along with consciously choosing yourself and setting boundaries. If you would like to learn more about setting a boundary by saying no, check out my article on how to say no politely. The article on how to set emotional boundaries has a few good tips on setting boundaries remember to check that out as well.
I am passionate about working with individuals who find themselves in a codependent dynamic and would like to work on getting out of that. Check out my article on individual therapy for relationship issues to learn more about the healing journey. If it resonates with you then get in touch with me for an appointment.
I’m struggling within myself to break free from codependency and toxic relationship while a good relationship not waiting much longer for me to get my mind together.
Hi Tracey, Thank you for sharing. This must be so difficult. I hope you find the help you need to be able to listen to and follow your inner voice.
I’m learning that I’m codependent. My issue is in doing everything possible to avoid conflict. I hate the feeling of incompetence and fear I feel when others are angry with me. I feel like a I don’t have permission to stand on my own ground. I have to agree with others even when I don’t. I end up making apologies I don’t feel like I should have to make and conceding that they are right and I am wrong. I struggle to assert my own position when it alienates or threatens her security. This makes my wife feel like she has to parent me which in turn builds resentment in me.
Hi Don, Thank you for sharing. It sounds like you are going through your journey of curiosity and gaining more awareness about your inner world. It takes a lot of courage to accept these feelings. This is the first step towards healing.