Last blog we talked about how fear can be affecting your relationship, so this week we thought we’d dive a little deeper into relationships and explore an all too common pattern that can develop without either partner noticing.
Codependency is an unhealthy relationship pattern that can appear in any type of relationship—friendships, child-parent relationships, romantic relationships or even work relationships. Codependent relationships can leave you feeling totally drained, frustrated and unhappy. This blog will help you recognize the signs of codependency in your relationships as well as give you the answers to the question: what next? But first—what exactly is codependency?
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is a relationship pattern where one or both partners feel completely reliant on, dependent on, emotionally fused and/or anxiously attached to a relationship.
While it is not unusual for those in healthy relationships to support each other emotionally and/or financially, complete dependency on a relationship comes with a slew of unhealthy patterns. Many codependent relationships also involve an element of abuse.
Oftentimes there is fear to end the relationship even though it may be of poor quality because you fear what will happen to the other person without your support.
In any codependent relationship there are two roles: the caretaker and the dependent. These mirror the roles of a parent-child relationship, and indeed a number of parent-child relationships do become codependent. The difference between a healthy parent-child relationship and a codependent one can be generalized to respecting boundaries. A caretaker (or unhealthy parent) will sacrifice themselves, always know what’s best for others, feel unappreciated, and be judgemental and controlling. A caregiver (or healthy parent) will take care of themselves, respect others’ opinions, not take things personally, and express empathy and support.
Signs of Codependency
Some or all of the following may be present in a codependent relationship. This is not an exhaustive list however—every relationship is different and codependency can manifest in different ways unique to each relationship.
You find yourself constantly worrying about what your partner is thinking or feeling, or what they’re doing. You feel the need to protect them from difficulties, and believe that if you don’t help them something bad will happen.
This need to fix may become a need to control. You may resort to nagging, ultimatums, or giving unsolicited criticism and advice, all in the name of fixing or rescuing your partner.
Fear of Abandonment
There is a pervasive and deep-seated fear that your partner will leave you. You may walk on eggshells around your partner to avoid the “inevitable breakup”; you may take on your partners interests and opinions, or suppress your own feelings and beliefs. Bad or unhealthy behavior may be ignored or preemptively forgiven. You may say yes to things you don’t want to do and you won’t ask for what you want.
One partner in the relationship works hard and the other does not. One partner is responsible while the other is totally care-free. One partner understands the consequences while the other does not. Often it falls on the responsible partner to deal with the fall-out of the other’s actions—you spend your time cleaning up messes and making excuses for your partner’s bad behavior. You might think of this behavior as watering a dead plant. You feel that you’re always watering and never see the growth you expect.
Sacrifice and Martyrdom
Your partner’s happiness comes before your own. You downsize your goals to fit the relationship. It could be career, your health, your values or friendships—none of it is safe from the chopping block when your partner needs something. You may begin to feel guilty when you do something “unnecessary” for yourself like take a nap or practice self-care.
This often lends itself to a type of martyrdom. You feel like you give and give and give but never get anything in return. You resent your partner for taking so much from you, but you are ever ready to give it up.
You feel like you cannot leave the relationship, even after you realize the toxicity of your situation. You fear what will happen to your partner if you aren’t there to take care of them because you see yourself as wholly responsible for their wellbeing.
What Can I Do About Codependency?
So what can you do if you think you may be in a codependent relationship? The first thing to do is to examine the relationship. Is it a relationship you want to continue? Is it a safe relationship for you? If not, you may want to find help leaving. Help Guide has a good article on how to leave an abusive relationship. (Note: you may want to view this article in an incognito browser)
If it is a safe relationship that you want to continue, you can take some of the steps below to begin freeing yourself from codependency. You’ll notice many of these steps focus on making changes to YOU, not your partner, because we just don’t have control over other people.
Explore your sense of self. One common effect of being in a codependent relationship is losing one’s self into the other person. Get acquainted with your real preferences and hobbies. Take yourself on a date, spend time by yourself and see who you are.
Give space to your partner. As you take space for yourself, give space to your partner. A little bit at a time, try to let go of your worry or desire for control. Letting go doesn’t mean you love them any less—it just means you are learning to trust, which can lead to a deeper more satisfying relationship.
Improve your self-esteem. Make a to-do list every day and complete what you can on it. Do something creative. Take pride in your appearance. Set a few simple boundaries. Low self-esteem can be a big part of a codependent relationship. It can take years of work to build your sense of self, but every step you take will count towards a better tomorrow.
Get counseling. Individual counseling or couples counseling will be extremely helpful if you are trying to detangle from a codependent situation. Codependency can be complicated and difficult to address because it is created by two people, rooted in two people’s history or trauma. If you are serious about addressing codependency in your relationship, reach out to the trained professionals at The Truism Center today. If you’re curious but want to learn more, we talk about what to expect in couples counseling in this blog.