Being codependent in a relationship is more than being “needy.” It is “setting yourself on fire” to keep your partner warm because you believe you would not be okay without them. You probably sacrifice your comfort just to get them to stay in the relationship. Unconditional sacrifice might be your way of expressing love — and you might not know it yet but it is unhealthy.
If you are prioritizing someone else’s needs over your own, you might be codependent. The good news is that you can change once you figure out whether and why you exhibit such behavior. Here is everything you need to know.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is impulsively stepping in and helping a loved one at your expense. It is a pattern of enabling behaviors that can be frustrating and cause emotional difficulties. In a codependent relationship, there are no boundaries.
One partner takes care of the other at the expense of their own needs. Usually, it is one-sided in that the partner being taken care of does not reciprocate. Codependency is common in romantic relationships but may also be apparent in friendships and family relationships.
Why Does It Happen?
Many people do not understand what causes codependency. So, they struggle to change their unhealthy behaviors. Because codependence results from one’s childhood, it may be hard to understand its causative factors.
Everyone learns how to form attachments to loved ones while growing up. However, not everyone learns healthy ways to do it. Psychologists use attachment theory to explain how one’s childhood may lead to codependency in adult relationships.
If your caregiver was absent, dismissive, or unpredictable, there is a high likelihood of you being codependent in your relationships. You might have felt emotionally neglected and developed a fear of abandonment. So now, you put the needs of others ahead of yours to stop your loved ones from leaving.
Children learn codependency by watching and imitating family members who display similar behavior. If you grew up watching your caregivers in a codependent relationship, you might repeat the pattern.
Your family members may have experienced anger, fear, or shame for one reason or the other. You are likely to have an unhealthy relationship if you witnessed someone in your family do any of the following:
- Constantly cover up for someone who has a substance addiction
- Stay in relationships despite physical or emotional abuse
- Care for someone with chronic physical or mental illness
Adults who have been abused as children have anger, safety, trust, and authority issues. They might have an extreme need for approval and go to great lengths to make others happy. The abuse might have been physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual.
Because their trust was broken and they did not feel safe as children, they may not know how to have healthy relationships as adults.
What Are the Signs of a Codependent Relationship?
The signs of codependency are easy to miss. It is normal to sacrifice for someone you love. However, you may notice when you neglect your own needs for the sake of others.
Knowing what to watch out for can help you identify when your codependent patterns start.
In a codependent relationship, one party makes drastic sacrifices for the other. You support your partner at the cost of your mental, emotional, and physical health. Because your partner’s happiness is your ultimate priority, you may neglect your needs.
Even when your conscience warns you about something, you ignore it. Your values may pale in comparison to your partner’s happiness.
Having Little or No Interests Outside Your Relationship
You are unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of your partner. Although you had personal interests before meeting someone, you readily ignore them. You derive pleasure solely from your codependent relationship.
Without your significant other, you have no sense of self. Thinking about or expressing your desires makes you feel guilty.
Walking on Eggshells Around Your Partner
You are constantly afraid of doing or saying something that will annoy your partner. You may avoid expressing your opinions or asking for what you need. You may also say yes to things you don’t want, just to avoid arguments.
Although some of your partner’s requests drain your time and energy, you find it difficult to say no.
Not all abusive relationships are codependent. However, if you struggle to leave someone who hurts you, you may have codependency. Conversely, people who exhibit psychological or physical abuse may do it to prevent their partner from leaving.
You have a strong need to fix or rescue your partner. Therefore, you resort to criticism, ultimatums, nagging, or tantrums in an attempt to control their behavior.
7 Ways to Overcome Codependency in a Relationship
Figuring out how to stop being codependent can seem like a difficult task. You have probably had the same habits for years and do not know where to start.
Here are 7 effective ways to overcome codependency:
Identify Patterns in Your Relationships
Codependency does not look the same to everybody. Perhaps you resort to manipulation to avoid confrontation, or you sacrifice too much for others.
Reflect on your past and present relationship to understand which patterns are unique to you. Acknowledging your patterns is key to overcoming them.
Learn What Healthy Relationships Look Like
To understand how to break codependency habits, you must identify healthy ones. A healthy, loving relationship involves making time for each other while maintaining independence. Ideally, partners should trust each other, feel secure in their self-worth, and compromise.
A codependent relationship is not doomed – you can work on it with your partner. Together, you can create healthy patterns and get rid of codependent behavior. It takes a lot of effort and commitment, but it is worth it.
Identify Your Needs
What do you need from your partner? Because fears and anxiety trigger codependency, reassurance from your partner may be important to you. Your needs may be physical or emotional. They are the things you would use manipulation or guilt-tripping to get while you were codependent.
By identifying your needs, you know what to ask of your partner. You can identify and express what it takes for you to be happy and content in a relationship. You also acknowledge that your significant other has needs that must be met.
Now that you know what you need, you have to ask for it and stick to your guns. It is good to sacrifice for people you love. However, there should be a limit to how far you are willing to go.
Sacrifices should never be made at the expense of your physical, emotional, or mental well-being.
Be clear about what you are not willing to compromise on. Know that establishing boundaries is not being unreasonable. Instead, it is a form of self-preservation that ensures you do not always sacrifice yourself for the sake of others.
Instead of focusing your time and energy on others, focus on yourself. Now that you know what you need and how much you are willing to give others, spend some time nourishing your life. You do not have to depend on others for what you need.
Self-growth is a gradual and complicated process. Take time to learn new crafts, exercise, meditate and do whatever makes you happy. Eat healthy foods, get enough rest, and drink plenty of water.
As you pay more attention to yourself, you pay less attention to others. You realize that you can give yourself most things you need.
Resist the Urge to Fix, Control, or Save Others
When you are codependent, you have an impulse to fix others. Being conscious of your triggers and codependent behaviors is a great way to overcome them.
When you feel the urge to rush to someone’s aid, slow down and think first. Take a pragmatic approach and ask yourself whether your intervention is necessary. If it is, determine how much help is reasonable to give.
Learning how to stop being codependent on your own is not easy. Because some habits are learned from childhood, you might need professional help to unlearn them.
Talking to a therapist can help you overcome codependency. An experienced therapist can use techniques such as Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you identify and control codependent behavior.
The Bottom Line
Codependency stems from traumatic or abusive childhood experiences. Although you cannot change your past, you can change your present. Breaking codependency habits allows you to have healthy relationships with your partner, family, and friends. You can work on yourself by acknowledging and overcoming unhealthy impulses.
You can also seek help from a licensed therapist to stop being codependent and enjoy life.