6 Steps To Break Free from Co-Dependency
If you feel like you’re in a one-sided relationship where you’re doing all the work, it’s time for a change.
If you have the feeling that your partner doesn’t give, compromise, or sacrifice as much as you do to make things work, there’s a chance you may be in what’s called a co-dependent relationship.
It’s not uncommon to feel drained after rearranging your schedule to make time for your partner’s last minute requests one day, then the next feel at peace because he seems happy and laughs at one of your jokes — a reassuring sure sign to you that things are okay.
It’s a constant up and down, dictated by your partner’s mood and behavior.
Co-dependency occurs when your self-worth is contingent on external approval. What results is a dysfunctional relationship dynamic characterized by poor boundaries and a cycle of anxiety.
You feel like you’re constantly juggling your partner’s needs and doing all of the accommodating, while they sit back and call the shots.
Shame underlies co-dependency and can stem from early experiences with rejection and blame. Consequently, you internalize the belief that you’re flawed, unlovable, and not appreciated as an individual. You develop a habit of managing others’ emotions to keep the peace.
The result? You seek validation from romantic partners in an unhealthy way and hinge your self-esteem on pleasing your partner. If a relationship ends or conflict bubbles up, you believe it’s the result of your inadequacy.
For example, if a long-term relationship ends after 5 years, you may feel guilty because you weren’t desirable enough, remaining blind to the fact that it ended as a result of your partner’s fear of intimacy and commitment.
Signs You’re In a Co-Dependent Relationship
Every relationship requires give and take, but if you find yourself growing resentful of your other half then you may be involved in a co-dependent relationship, where ultimately you are acting more like a caretaker than an equal partner.
Here are some signs you may be in a co-dependent relationship:
Sacrifice and people pleasing
You cancel plans last minute to accommodate your partner’s schedule, bring him ice cream if he says he’s angry about a bad day at work, or flake on a friend’s birthday because she wants to spend the weekend on the couch.
You feel like you’re on high alert all the time and are easily affected by your partner’s mood. If something triggers her to be upset, your entire day has a black cloud cast over it as well.
You’ve lost touch with friends and family and have dropped activities you love as your relationship continues to require more of your time and attention.
You find that you aren’t happy doing something if he isn’t involved in. Yet, when you do hang out with your partner, you spend more time talking about your relationship rather than actually enjoying time together.
Instead of growing together, you deteriorate together.
Shame and guilt
You’re unhappy, but embarrassed and ashamed about what’s going on. It’s hard for you to say “no” without feeling guilty, so you agree to things you rather not do.
Recognize the Cycle of Co-Dependency
While being supportive and flexible are important qualities to have in a relationship, your actions toward your partner are also damaging.
By constantly bending to fit your partner, you stay in a holding pattern that only sustains the problem. Because you’re doing the caretaking, your partner avoids the need to change.
You are actually doing your partner and yourself a disservice when you try to “fix” all of their problems.
You increase the likelihood that you are going to burn yourself out, feel resentment, and strain your relationship in the long-term. Your partner may feel entitled to keep acting in the same inconsiderate way because his negative habits are continually being supported and enabled by you.
Though your flexibility keeps things agreeable in your relationship, you’re only temporarily band-aiding underlying issues.
Changing a Co-Dependent Relationship
You don’t want to encourage these types of unfavorable behaviors, yet you aren’t sure how to approach your partner and communicate your unhappiness.
This is a tough predicament to be in, especially if you fear being alone or your partner leaving you, but there are ways to cope.
Here are some ways to start shifting away from co-dependency towards a productive, healthy two-some:
1. Speak up about your preferences, likes, and dislikes.
Focus on finding outlets that make you smile as well as make you feel enriched and productive that are separate from your partner — your own hobbies and interests that bring you joy even when you practice them alone.
2. Spend more time with family members, friends, or co-workers without your partner being there.
Connect with people outside of your relationship so you feel a sense of mutual connection with people other than your partner.
3. Examine childhood relationships and family problems that may be contributing to your need for acceptance and dependence.
Perhaps you have a difficult relationship with a parent that you need to address before you can feel secure in your romantic relationship.
4. Practice saying “no” more often.
Get comfortable with not always compromising. For example, if you need to have an important conversation about how you’re both spending money and you aren’t happy with his suggestions, offer up some of your own and explain the objective reasoning behind your point of view without pointing fingers or blaming.
Remember, “no” is a complete sentence.
It may be hard at first, but start stating your point of view and leaving it at that. There’s no reason to over-explain yourself.
5. Resist the urge to “fix” things all the time for other people
When someone tells you about a problem, it’s perfectly healthy and appropriate to listen, show empathy and compassion, but not feel the need to take solving the problem into your own hands. Sometimes people just want to be heard. Your support is enough.
6. Practice being more mindful and aware of your own needs and feelings.
Check in with your body periodically: are you feeling hungry, tired, wired and anxious?
Take the necessary steps to alleviate any physical discomfort you have whether that’s a quick nap, time alone, or eating a snack.
When you aren’t feeling your best, make self-care a priority instead of giving all of your attention and energy over to others.
Although you may have feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and uncertainty when you try moving away from being the helper in your relationship, this is ultimately what will serve you both best and strengthen your bond long-term.
By shifting the dynamic and ending the cycle of emotional dependence, you have a much better chance of feeling happy, appreciated, and fulfilled in your relationship down the road.
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