Ever wonder how you’d survive without your partner?
Once upon a time, telling someone you can’t live without them would have been considered the height of romance.
Being not only wanted, but needed was a sign of deep desire.
But these days, as we’ve moved towards greater independence and prioritised the concept of a sense of self, people are starting to recognise that a relationship where two people entirely depend on each other might not be so healthy.
This type of relationship is called codependency, and it’s something most experts would advise against.
The tricky thing, though, is that we’ll often find ourselves in codependent relationships and not recognise what’s going on.
This can cause all sorts of issues – resentment, anxiety, a major dip in self-esteem.
So it really is important that we all get to know the meaning of codependency, learn the signs, and figure out how to break out of a codependent relationship.
What is a codependent relationship?
The clue is in the name – when you’re in a codependent relationship, you entirely depend on your partner. And in return, either your partner will entirely depend on you, or they’ll need to be needed.
This is more than just offering support to someone you’re dating, or being a bit clingy.
If you’re experiencing codependency, you’ll centre your entire life around your partner, who will soak up the sacrifices you make as a sign you really like them.
Your self-worth will be entire dependent on your partner’s approval, and you’ll do whatever you can – even if that means making yourself miserable or entirely changing who you are – to please them.
‘When you’re co-dependent, you live your life around another person,’ explains relationship psychotherapist Heather Garbutt. ‘You really have little sense of what is important to you and feel dependent on their happiness and wellbeing for your own.
‘You may have a little understanding about what floats your boat, what you need to truly nourish or fulfil you, what other skills and talents you have that you could be expressing, what gifts and contribution you could bring to the world.
‘Your whole consciousness is focused in a kind of anxious way on the other. You are a great giver, sometimes to the point of martyrdom.
‘Love hurts for you. It’s almost as if love is not love without sacrifice, like you only know you are loving if you are making such a sacrifice. The converse can also be true, that you don’t know you’re loved unless the other person is making a sacrifice and yet you will feel guilty if they do.
‘You will likely have little self-confidence, wondering if you could ever manage your life alone, considering yourself less than worthy of true loving attention, or of receiving kindness.’
Signs you are in a codependent relationship
Tune into how you’re really feeling, and take a moment to analyse your behaviour. Keep an eye out for these signs of codependency:
- You are obsessed with keeping your partner happy and constantly worry about bothering them or ‘putting them off’
- You get satisfaction from self-sacrifice
- You have few, if any, interests outside of the relationship
- Your needs are never a priority
- You can’t imagine how you would manage alone outside of the relationship
- You need to be needed
- You struggle to feel happy when you’re apart from your partner
- You’d do anything to please them
- You have a hard time identifying your own feelings and needs
- You find it impossible to make decisions about the relationship and would rather deflect to your partner
- You’re terrified of being left
- You feel responsible for everything your partner feels, as though you are to blame if they aren’t happy
- Your self-esteem depends on what they think and say about you
- You’re always anxious about the state of the relationship
- You don’t have any boundaries
- You’re not sure who you are if you don’t have your partner
How to fix a codependent relationship
In some cases, the relationship might not be worth ‘fixing’. Remind yourself that it’s okay to be alone, and that if the only reason you’re staying with this person is out of fear, it’s unlikely to be a healthy relationship.
But in other cases, there are things you can do to bring a relationship back from codependency.
The first task is to prioritise open and honest communication, so you feel able to express your needs and wants, and tell your partner if something they are doing is hurting you.
You should look back at your past relationships and see if there are any patterns of codependency. Do you consistently choose to be with people who take up all the space in the relationship? Do you feel like you have to hurt yourself to prove your love?
It’s a good idea to seek counselling – whether as a couple or solo – to explore the root triggers for codependency and work out why you’re prone to certain relationship behaviours.
Make space for confrontation, and give yourself permission to stop people-pleasing. You are allowed to disagree with your partner, or be upset, or complain.
Make sure to carve out time and space for yourself. Arrange catch-ups with friends and family – and don’t bring your partner as a tagalong. Find a hobby you can do that’s just for you. Try doing things you used to enjoy, to remind yourself you don’t need to spend every moment with your partner to be happy.
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